Prairie Bound

My next blog post was meant to be about how I came up with the idea for Spirit Bear, but I am going to bump that storyline in favour of relating my experiences on my first ‘book tour’ of the Prairies.

As mentioned previously, the Moose in a Maple Tree  Christmas collection was my first experience with children’s books–I illustrated the three-book series for my friend Troy who has his own publishing company, Polyglot.
He wrote and I drew, and for the past two Christmases I have worked various tradeshows and Christmas markets selling the series along with a compilation CD featuring musical versions of each book.

This year it was decided that I would do a Prairies tour. I have visited Edmonton and Saskatoon before, as I have family there, but Regina, Calgary, Lethbridge and Fort McMurray are all new to me. I’m excited!!! Fort McMurray in particular interests me, as I plan to drive North to the Tar Sands to observe the situation up there for myself. I understand it’s a treacherous drive, and tourists aren’t exactly welcomed, but I intend to have my own Tar Sands experience and report on my findings here, so stay tuned.

Troy has kindly agreed to let me to sell Spirit Bear alongside our MIAMT books, so this tour will be a great opportunity to test out our newly printed book on the Prairies markets.

The Dragon's Nest B& B

The Dragon’s Nest B&B, my home for 3 days in Regina

My tour began in Regina at the Signatures show. I arrived at 2pm on Halloween day and got settled in at my B&B, a delightful character house called the Dragon’s Nest. My room was lovely and cosy, and cost a modest $70 per night. It was perfect with a little desk for my computer and a full bathroom down the hall shared with one other guest. I soon discovered that this place was famous among the locals for the colourful dragon statue that sat above the front entryway, as I had only to mention the name when I was out exploring the neighbourhood, and people knew exactly the place I spoke of.

I must say that my first day in Regina was all I could have expected it to be–everyone I encountered was incredibly kind, friendly and helpful, living up to the reputation that Prairie people have earned over the years. Even the neighbourhood animals shared the same warm, welcoming demeanour–cats and dogs alike rushed up to me as I walked down the street, greeting me with wagging tails and friendly purrs, begging for a bit of affection, which I was happy to proffer.

I was fortunate to find that two ladies from Red Deer who were staying in the downstairs suite at the Dragon’s Nest were also working the same show selling Christmas fruitcake, and they kindly offered me a ride to and from the show each day. They even helped me to unload my gear at the B&B on their way to the airport (I had planned to walk and take cabs, as the show was only about a kilometer away).

The first day I arrived at the show to set up, Spirit Bear was there waiting for me. It was my first time seeing it in print, and I held my breath as I turned the pages. I had been terrified that the recycled paper would make the colours look too washed out and dull, and that this would hamper sales. I was prepared for the worst,  so I breathed a sigh of relief as I flipped through the pages–it looked alright! Yes the colours were duller than those in other children’s books, and it lacked the lustre of MIAMT’s coated pages, but it didn’t look bad, and the illustrations were strong enough to shine through despite the natural, muted tone of the pages.

A first copy of 'Spirit Bear,' hot off the presses!

A first copy of ‘Spirit Bear,’ hot off the presses!

My first day at the show, however, I began to worry once again. People didn’t seem to see the tiny, thin paperback stacked neatly beside the colourful MIAMT hardcovers, and passed right over it to pick up the bigger, shinier books. I found myself ignoring Spirit Bear myself and focusing on the Moose books, or selling it with a half-hearted pitch that impressed no one. Had I made a huge mistake? I began to wonder if I should have gone against my beliefs and printed hard covers on new paper–the books would look so much more impressive that way, and would certainly capture people’s attention. But that was not the intention of this project, the whole purpose was to create a book with a low ecological footprint, something that we could be proud of as a ‘green’ company, something that could stand out as a good example in an industry that relied upon new trees and chemically-coated paper to attract buyers. Was it possible that no one would ‘get’ what we were trying to do and actually buy our book?

As the day wore on, my sales pitch got a little better, a bit more confident and concise. I began to realise that I had to ‘sell’ Spirit Bear in the same way I ‘sold’ the MIAMT series, by showing it in it’s best light, and keeping the pitch short and to the point. This had been a struggle for me to learn with the MIAMT series in my first year of selling, as I am no sales person by any stretch of the imagination. But over time you learn what to say and how to say it.

By the end of the show I had a short, confident pitch for my new book that engaged people and made an impact on them, whether they bought the book or not. I discovered that there were a lot of people who really loved the concept, and felt that it was a truly wonderful idea and a beautiful book. They understood the importance of using recycled paper, and once I filled them in on the reasoning behind the choice we had made, they decided they really loved the natural look of the pages. Once again, I breathed a sigh of relief.

The show was a moderate success. I sold 30 copies of Spirit Bear as well as 190 books and CDs from the Moose in a Maple Tree series. I will approach upcoming shows with new confidence, and the knowledge that there are people who can appreciate Spirit Bear, as well as the shiny, colourful books I’ve been known for in the past. I even connected with several Regina-based teachers interested in booking me for school visits in the New Year. So many possibilities ahead, it’s truly exciting.

Earth Bound Bakery and Delicatessen, an amazing organic cafe in Saskatoon.
A great spot for coffee and blogging.

Today I sit in a lovely organic cafe in Saskatoon. I drove up last night from Regina via Moose Jaw, where I stopped in at the Temple Gardens Mineral Spa for a much-needed massage and dip in the mineral pool. After a weekend of sales at the Regina show my neck and back where in rough shape. The deep-tissue massage was wonderfully rejuvenating, and the pool was just incredible, the highlight being the outdoor section where steam rose off of the heated waters into the chilly night air. Floating on my back in the warm mineral water, I had a view of the lamp post and a leafless tree dotted with white Christmas lights, set against a dusky cobalt sky, as tiny flecks of icy snow swirled down and stung my cheeks. It was truly heavenly. A short stint in the steam room completed the visit, and I was ready for my trek to Saskatoon by 7:30pm. It begs mentioning that Moose Jaw certainly earns its reputation as the ‘Friendly City’–everyone I encountered seemed in the best of spirits despite the icy weather, and treated me like an old friend being welcomed back to my hometown. I certainly recommend stopping in at the spa, and Veroba’s on Fairford Street is a great spot for some solid home-cooked food made from scratch.

Mar19 MJ POOL

The beautiful outdoor section of the mineral pool at Temple Gardens Mineral Spa in Moose Jaw

Good home-cooking at Veroba's in Moose Jaw

Good home-cooking at Veroba’s in Moose Jaw

That night I set out in my little mid-sized rental car on roads that had been receiving a healthy dusting of snow throughout the day and over the course of the previous evening. My first hour on the road was clear and ice-free, but as I neared the halfway point of my journey, the roads became caked with snow that was rapidly approaching the consistency of ice. There had been a bit of salt applied in places, it seemed, but overall the highway was incredibly scary. At times I drove straddled between both lanes, as that was the only way to avoid driving on top of what was fast becoming a skating rink. Not a few times I found myself beginning to lose control of the car, and at one point I was certain that I was bound for the ditch, as my little Mitsubishi began fishtailing wildly across both lanes. I kept my cool, pumped the brakes rapidly and steered into the swerve as I’d been taught, and managed to regain control. Thankfully I was alone on that strip of highway–had traffic been heavier at that moment, things could have taken a disastrous turn. For most of the drive I was far from any other cars, with the exception of a number of semis that I passed along the way. It was a good experience in Canadian winter driving for me, and it gave me new confidence in my ability to handle treacherous, icy roads in the dark.

I arrived an hour later than expected at my family’s house, where I was warmly greeted by my cousin’s husband with typical Saskatchewan-style hospitality. He was off to Hawaii first thing in the morning, my cousin was working the late shift and their daughter was already in bed, so he and I stayed up for several hours visiting and pouring over their travel photos from Australia and Cancun. When I finally hit the sack at 1:30 in the morning, I slept like the dead.

I’m beginning to enjoy this Prairie life.

Next Blog:  Headed for Lethbridge

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About jensera

Jennifer Harrington is a Toronto-based illustrator, writer and graphic designer. She illustrated the best-selling children’s book series 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' which includes the titles 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' 'The Night Before a Canadian Christmas' and 'Canadian Jingle Bells.' She is also the owner of JSH Graphics, a boutique graphic design agency that specializes in print and web advertising. With her latest project, Eco Books 4 Kids, Jennifer has partnered with illustrator Michael Arnott to create a series of ecologically-themed ebooks for children. Her next book, 'Spirit Bear,' is due for release in the Summer of 2013. Jennifer offers two different school presentations for her 'Moose in a Maple Tree' collection, an illustration demonstration and a Christmas concert series, which can be booked at www.amooseinamapletree.com. She will be taking bookings for school readings of 'Spirit Bear' beginning in October 2013.

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