Entertaining Angels

My illustrator, Tom, with one of 48 hot dogs we grilled at a book event.
My illustrator, Tom, with one of 48 hot dogs we grilled at a book event.

I’ve been  marketing books of mine now for more than 20 years but only recently realized a big mistake I was making:

Thinking it was only about books and sales. 

Instead of, say, salt and light. Or experiences. Or giving instead of getting. 

Example: I used to fret when I’d show up for an event and only a handful of people would be there. It made me feel like a failure. Like I was wasting my time and, given my poor-me attitude, the time of those who showed up.

Then it dawned on me: God must have some purpose for me to be wherever I was. And if people are important to God then they should be important to me, whether three or three hundred show up.

“I don’t worry about the folks who didn’t show up,” I now tell people if there’s a sea of empty chairs. “I’m just thrilled to be with those of you who did. Thanks for coming.”

Changing my attitude changed everything. Realizing my worth is defined by God’s love for me and not by any popularity I might get from people, I loosened up and had more fun.

Sure, I’ve had my moments, but, more often than not, I started laughing at situations that otherwise might have angered me. “OK, OK,” I might say to a group of eight people amid 25 chairs, “let’s all scoot to the center to make room for others.” (Proverbs 18:12: Humility comes before honor.)

I became less concerned about selling books than about making sure people were having a good experience.

I became more attuned to others, reminding myself that perhaps there was just one person in the audience who needed some inspiration or a good laugh from me that day.

Recently, one event hammered home this lesson. In the spring I had set up an event at a small-town library regarding a new children’s book I’d written and my friend Tom had illustrated. At the time, I had casually joked with the librarian that maybe we’d make it a barbecue.

Six months later — and three days before an event that I’d all but forgotten about — I got an e-mail from the librarian. “Can we help you at all with the barbecue Wednesday night?”

I called Tom. “I guess I sort of promised we’d do a barbecue for their town,” I said.

He didn’t say, “You WHAT?” He’s way more grounded than I am. Instead, he said, “Let’s do it, baby!” and organized who would bring what. 

As I rolled down a freeway with a grill in the back of my ’95 pickup, I said to myself: Are we really putting on a barbecue in a town of 600 people?

That’s when I heard a thud. Despite my tie-down job, the grill had flipped over, its guts strewn around the pickup bed. It was 95 degrees. I was on the side of a freeway trying to re-secure a grill. And I was not happy. Does John Grisham have to do stuff like this to sell a few books? 

Once Tom and I reached the town, 30 minutes away, nobody showed up. At first.

Then, slowly, people trickled in. Five. A dozen. More. Tom started grilling dogs. A group broke out in “Happy Birthday” to a friend of theirs. I realized people were having a blast. 

A woman took me by the arm. “I brought my neighbor,” she said. “She’s dying of cancer and said she would love to meet you. She loves your writing.”

Two hours later, in the pink light of an Oregon sunset, Tom and I were heading home when he said something I’ve never forgotten: “This was one of the coolest nights of my life.”

Same here. We’d grilled and given away 48 hot dogs, sold two dozen books and brought together people in a small town for an evening of fun. 

What’s more, I’d had the privilege of spending time with a woman who would, three months later, be dead, but who somehow thought seeing me was important.

Now, I don’t even like to call it “marketing.” I call it a privilege to spend time with people — sometimes many, sometimes just a few — who think I’m important enough to give up a few hours of their time to see.

And I remember Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

17 Replies to “Entertaining Angels”

  1. This is, by far, the most uplifting post I’ve read in a long while. As someone who lives a service oriented life (I’m a hairstylist),I am encouraged to read of other creatives who have discovered the joy is found in the relationships.
    Thanks for writing!

  2. Thank you, Bob ~ I’m in the midst of arranging my first ever book signings, and I’m printing your post and tucking it in my calendar book, along with Hebrews 13:2! btw – Beachside Writers at Yachats was fantastic – Tom and I came away inspired, empowered and ready to write!

  3. Bob, Thanks for this awesome post. And for reminding us of what it’s all about.

  4. A wonderful post, Bob. I’ve had the similar experience of feeling that God put me there for someone in particular when I have low-attendance booksignings. But your BBQ story is giving me a whole new perspective – I’m going to start thinking of my events as my gift to others, and not as a benefit for me! Th

  5. I’m at a loss to count the number of ways I love this post and your attitude. YES! It’s all about people. Just recently had someone planning her debut book-signing for a tip on how to make it successful. My response– make sure the people there matter to you and that they know it. Invest in them. If it’s about the sales to you, nothing you do will really matter because they’ll know that instinctively. 🙂 Great post~

  6. Thank you for this: “I became less concerned about selling books than about making sure people were having a good experience.” and this: “I call it a privilege to spend time with people — sometimes many, sometimes just a few — who think I’m important enough to give up a few hours of their time to see.”

    Humility does come before honor. And people come before praise. Thank you for reminding me what it’s all about before I venture out this weekend with boxes of books and a bunch of women. They matter more. Most.

    p.s. I just might have to make my next book release a summer BBQ. Thanks!
    Blessed to read this blog,

  7. Hi, I’m visiting from Henry McLaughlin’s blog. VERY cool post; so glad he shared! As a pre-published writer, I realize I can live like this right now with respect to my readers. You never know how God may use the simplest contact to bless someone.
    Thank you.

  8. Hi Bob, I’m jumping in from Nick Harrison’s post on Facebook. Thanks for your openness to share about your attitude adjustment. Good news to hear on this windy wet day.

  9. Bob,
    Thank you for a wonderful post and a great reminder that it’s not all about us. We don’t own any of the gifts we’re blessed with. God expects us to give them away and concentrate on helping others, be it one or a hundred and one. I’ll remember this at my next book signing. Love every word and I’ll be sharing.

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