Taking Bookselling To New Heights

For 20 years Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist has been searching America for the wackiest and most wonderful people, places and things. Now that he's finished a book about his adventures, he finds that actually selling it is an even tougher job.


This is my 20th anniversary on "Sunday Morning" and I've written a new book, coming out this week, featuring some of my favorite stories. It's a great summer read!

Traveling this country for two decades, I've been to some far-out places and met some pretty unusual characters, like 92-year-old Hal Wright, America's oldest pilot and a small town newspaper publisher who delivered his papers by airplane to his far-flung subscribers.

And then there were these ingenious entrepreneurs who suck problematic prairie dogs out of the ground and resell them as pets in Japan.

But even with tales that good, it's tough to sell a book these days — what with tens of thousands of new titles coming out each year, you've got to be creative. So I decided to peddle my books in Times Square, using a wheelbarrow to hold my wares.

You've got to do whatever it takes: battling the crowds, dodging the cops, finding the right street-corner.

"With New York, it's location, location, location," a street vender told me.

Not to mention dealing with shoplifters — this isn't easy! One woman had the audacity to simply walk up and take a book without a second thought. Where are the cops when you need them? But I ended up selling my book to one guy for $15.

After all, who could turn down a book with a story about a headless chicken? It's an inspirational tale about a chicken who didn't squawk about losing his head and went on to enjoy a two-year career in show business. You'd think a book like this would fly off the shelf, but no, you've gotta get out there and sell it.

You have to think outside the box, so I tried selling from a toll booth on the New Jersey Turnpike. The toll would be $30, but you get a free book.

Motorists will enjoy chapters on the town where they celebrate the day the sun sets in the middle of the railroad tracks, and another town that celebrates a frozen dead guy kept on ice in a backyard shed where you'd normally keep the lawnmower.

Books can take you places you've never dreamed of. I met Rachel from Nevada who believed she arrived on earth via UFO.

"I am Ambassador Merlin from the Alpha Dracona star system," she told me.

That story is in the book. I also write about medieval wars, figure eight school bus racing, swamp buggies and the Nut Museum, which is a museum devoted to nuts.

Books can take you places you never dreamed of. Books introduce you to people you'd probably never meet. People with unusual pursuits — proud people, people like Kristie Reinbolt: 12-time watermelon speed-eating champion.

It's good stuff, but you have to saturate the market and make it available everywhere. I tried waiting tables at Sardi's Restaurant in Manhattan and along with the tiramisu and cheese cake, I offered my book.

An important part of any marketing scheme is promotional tie-ins and product placement, so I put my book in boxes of Cap'n Crunch.

And you have to have an audio book. My first chapter begins, "Waylon, Minn. is a bucolic little town."

You may remember that one. It was a town so small they have to hold parades where the crowds walk around the stationary parades, otherwise the procession would be over before it began.

Well, this trip down memory lane has been great, but now it's time to get out there and sell.

Bill Geist's "Way Off the Road: Discovering the Peculiar Charms of Small Town America" is available in hardcover from Broadway Books. Look for the author with a wheelbarrow at a bookstore near you.
  • Caitlin Johnson

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