Back to 1997

Just found some fun photos from the family archives. These are from 1997, the first year I was published. We walked into a Barnes & Noble and were so amazed to see my books on display, and a poster advertising my upcoming signing, that we just had to take pictures. That’s me and Becky, with Haley age 3. The book in question: Big Red Tequila, the first private eye novel featuring Jackson “Tres” Navarre.

Like most ‘overnight successes,’ I toiled in obscurity for decades before I was published, and it took another decade after I was published before anyone knew who I was. Still, this was a big moment for me — walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelves for the first time. I had my share of empty signings or poorly attended ones. I remember sitting outside a table at Waldenbooks in the mall in Concord, CA, giving directions to Sear’s. I think I signed one bar napkin that day. Sold zero books. I remember walking into another store with fifty chairs set up for the signing and two people waiting to hear me. Neither of them bought my book. They were there to get advice on getting published.

I would talk to any group that would have me: nursing homes, private book clubs, church groups, even an association of bricklayers (tough audience). I used to sit in Barnes & Noble for a two hour signing time and watch people making a wide arc to avoid me. I’d pass my time keeping notes on interesting people who walked by, practicing my character descriptions. To this day, whenever I go to an event, I get the nagging doubt that no one will show up. It happened to me often enough in the old days! That’s another reason I’m grateful for the success the books have had — because it didn’t come easily or quickly, and I know what it’s like to be on the bottom rungs of the publishing ladder.

1997 seems like so long ago. It was a pivotal moment for this writer, but I sure am glad I’m not there anymore! The funniest thing: occasionally a fan of my adult mystery series will still wander into one of my Percy Jackson events, completely oblivious to my children’s series, and demand with exasperation, “Where did all these kids come from?” Thank goodness for all those kids. They are my audience!

Rick Riordan