Eighty-one-year-old Larry Jacobsen, author of Jewel of the Kootenays, presented Yukon Public Libraries with an irresistible offer, a book tour “with all the work done when we were really busy,” says Mairi Macrae, public programs librarian.
“Normally, Yukon public libraries wouldn’t have a situation like this,” she says, noting library tours are usually in conjunction with the spring Yukon Writers’ Festival and fall Canadian Library Month.
Each of Yukon’s 15 public libraries has an independent board and Jacobsen contacted each one to set up presentation times and dates, “which is a huge job”, Macrae notes.
“My only stipulation was to be billeted at each venue,” Jacobsen says, which was covered by a small honoraria from libraries.
“We were fortunate to be able to help him visit as many libraries as he did,” says Macrae.
Not only did Jacobsen make initial contact seven months early, but he also created the itinerary and supplied print and e-mail posters for the seven libraries he visited from Watson Lake to Dawson City.
“Advertising doesn’t have to be putting up a poster six weeks in advance,” Macrae says. “It’s making sure people attend.”
When Jacobsen heard Teslin had short notice for his event, he phoned members of his “extended mining family” and addressed an audience of a dozen people.
“Larry has immense energy to do such a physically challenging tour, and libraries are eager to host events,” says Macrae. “The communities were very happy to have him visit.”
In addition to superb organization, the “mining mentality” described in Jewel has appeal as it recounts the lives of families at the Emerald, a community not unlike Faro.
Spurred by stories he heard at a reunion in nearby Salmo, British Columbia, Jacobsen interviewed more than 90 people who lived and worked at the Emerald from the 1940s to the 70s.
Like him, many of the old-timers worked well into their 80s. From their children, “The most repeated phrase I heard was, ‘It was wonderful!'” writes Jacobsen. Mining historian Beth Simmonds notes in the foreword that wives raised families in primitive conditions, but “would not have changed the time they spent at the Emerald”.
Jacobsen embarked on his new career as a self-published mining chronicler after retiring from paid work for the last time at the age of 78. And while Jewel might not have the commercial appeal a traditional publisher seeks, 1,000 copies have sold regionally.
“Self-publishing has a stigma attached and some bookstore managers won’t talk to you, but there are more and more successfully marketed books out there,” says Jacobsen, especially when authors take an active role in selling their own work.
Jacobsen admits libraries are poor venues for making sales, but great for making contacts. “It’s what happens between the libraries that counts,” and that’s how he sold 150 books from his Port Coquitlam home to the Yukon.
“Be persistent,” advises Jacobsen, whose distributor, Gordon Soules Book Publishers Ltd., told him he had the right attitude. “I treat it as a hobby, not a living.”