Good News, Bad News at the Mechanic's Institute Library in San Francisco

by | Apr 14, 2011

Good news: I was invited to speak to a group of people involved with self-publishing that meets at the Mechanic’s Institute Library on Post Street in downtown San Francisco. I was happy to accept and took the opportunity to meet up with my friend Paula Hendricks, who had made the introductions.

Bad news: Somehow my schedule went sideways during the day and I ended up very late to arrive. This bothers me because I don’t like it when other people are late, so I try to be on time.

Good news: The Mechanic’s Institute Library (crisply classical architecture by Albert Pissis) is located in the Institute’s historic building. High ceilings, wood-frame doors with shining brass hardware and glass panels make you feel like you’re in a landmark from another era.

Bad news: I got busted at the doorway to the library. This is strictly members-only and I must have looked guilty because the Librarian pounced on me, instantly recognizing an alien presence. Paula, waving the membership card she had swiped to gain entry to the locked main library room, came and saved me.

Good news: We got to set up for the presentation in a private reading room off the main floor of the library. Dark wood everywhere and heavy wooden tables. People drifted in, and we pulled the screen down for the slide show.

Bad news: The projector and laptop promised by the group hasn’t arrived. Leaning over to allow someone to squeeze by in the tight space, a metal rod protruding from the bottom of the projector screen slashes my forehead. I’m now standing in front of my audience with blood gushing from my forehead.

Good news: The beautiful Men’s room is right down the hall, complete with gleaming white tile and more brass, which I barely notice trying to stem the flow. It works, and I’m soon back, ready to start the show.

Bad news: It’s fifteen minutes late now, and we find out the laptop, projector and technician will not be showing up. Surprise! I’m now giving a presentation on book design, interiors and exteriors, without the 45-slide show with all the examples of same.

Good news: The group of people gathered for the presentation are a wonderful crowd. I’m told that each is seriously involved in a book project of his or her own. Some are multi-published authors and entrepreneurs. One man walked the line between sci fi and fantasy. An astute crowd.

Bad news: Due to selling out my book at the last BAIPA meeting, I have no books to sell at the end of my talk. This is like the number one sin of self-publishing: never go to a talk without any books. Instead, I get the last ARCs together and take them.

Good news: The presentation goes amazingly well. Without visuals, I’m forced to step up my presentation skills, to make an essentially visual discussion palpable just through words and our shared memories. Also, I used my own book as a sample.

Bad news: Although I had 4 books, I only sold 2. I’m not complaining. I was quite clear about the fact they were ARCs and we even had a mini-lesson on why they don’t have bar codes. But they are collectible, you know. I guess I should save these for posterity.

Good news: Great questions and a group of people that somehow allowed me to connect to my own passion for publishing. I was thrilled that these writers took the publishing process seriously.

It’s not that easy to publish a book, but people who persevere will add to the richness of the accumulated life and wisdom of the world, and I met some of those people tonight.

Photo by gruntzooki

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Ilana DeBare

    Joel, it was a great presentation even without the visuals. I hope the head gash at least turns into a good book-talk war story. (We all sustain ego wounds when three people show up at our Borders readings, but how many of us get actual flesh wounds?)

    I think people didn’t realize you had more copies of the book to sell. It seemed like you only had two; I suspect if they’d known, they would have bought all four.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for the thought, Ilana. Yes, it’s a great “war story” for sure, and it’s healed nicely. Next time I come down there I’ll bring a big “Books for sale” sign with me!

  2. Roger C. Parker

    Dear Joel:
    Yet another great post from several perspectives: the uncertainties, frustrations, and lessons on one hand, the spectacular idea of using a “bad cop/good cop” structure to organize a blog post.

    I’ve never seen the technique used so effectively before.

    Your posts, Joe, the past week, or so, have been really strong. Your Border’s post was really exceptionally fine; few have pointed out the anticipation and serendipity that comes with visiting a well-stocked bookstore–not knowing what you want, but recognizing it when you see it.


    • Joel Friedlander

      You are very kind, Roger, and thanks for that. I do try to keep a rhythm to the subjects I write about when possible, and I’m glad you are enjoying them. As you might expect, a year and a half of intensive practice has improved my blogging quite a bit.

  3. Joel Friedlander

    Chris, thanks for that. I now understand completely the idea of having a plan “B” and “C”!

    Judy, it’s much better today, thanksl

    Jennifer, thanks, I had fun writing it. I don’t know where these ideas come from, but when I thought of the “good news/bad news” idea, it just seemed so right.

    Linda Jay, yes, you hit it. The whole event had a lot of uncertainty, but it was a wonderful group of writers and I enjoyed myself immensely.

  4. Linda Jay Geldens

    Joel, This post has all the suspense and intrigue of a good mystery! Will Joel triumph over the Librarian who suspects he’s an alien presence? Will Joel’s head be bloodied but unbowed after the run-in with the metal rod on the projector screen? Will Joel be resourceful enough to create an unplanned “visual” talk despite the lack of a projector on which to show his 45 slides? Great to know that the answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes!” You are a trouper!

  5. Jennifer Robin

    Joel, this is an adorable post. I chuckled all the way through it. And I had tears in my eyes when I read your recent post about Borders closing. You are managing to make us feel we are in this together, and that we need to feel pride in our accomplishments as indie authors and publishers. My tears for your Borders post were because we are never far away from the longing we feel to make a differerence with our books. I love the snappiness of this post and it reminds me to try different formats. I just wrote a media pitch that started with a quiz. Whatever works! Thanks for your efforts that brighten my day.

  6. Judy Croome

    Gulp. Every speaker’s nightmare. Sounds like you handled it with aplomb, and your audience seemed very nice too. Hope your slashed forehead has healed!
    Judy (South Africa)

  7. Christopher Wills

    Well done, you deserve a medal. As a former teacher myself I recognise most of your problems (I’ve never been attacked by inanimate objects lol) and you overcame them admirably. It pays to have a plan B and a plan C when doing this sort of thing. A tip also is to be adaptable even when everything is perfect. Sometimes no matter how good you are it doesn’t feel right and a change of tack can work wonders if you have the ammunition ready in your pack.


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