A not-so-secret book signing

I spent yesterday morning scribbling away at a book signing. Unless it’s for a new blockbuster written by a top-tier author, I’ve come to realize that a book signing is something that most often occurs adjacent to other, more important events: I distinctly remember walking through Elkhart’s old Pierre Moran Mall with my dad in 2003 or 2004 while a local author named Terri Kay sat at a table outside of Cali Nails to sign and sell copies of her new murder mystery. In similar fashion, yesterday found Kathy Flatter and me sitting at a desk in Toyota of Muncie as we signed and sold copies of One Secret Christmas as the events of the Secret Families Christmas Charity swirled around us.

One Secret Christmas, a children’s book I worked on whose proceeds support the Secret Families Christmas Charity.

Secret Families got its start in 2004 when its founders decided to forgo buying each other gifts and, instead, use the savings to provide a tree and presents for a local family in need. After seventeen years, the group’s given a festive Christmas to more than 3,500 families across East Central Indiana. For a $550 sponsorship, each family gets a Christmas Tree, a family Bible, a $100 Meijer gift card that pays for an extravagant Christmas dinner, and presents for everyone in the household. Kathy -friends with one of the co-founders and a long-time volunteer and sponsor- was so moved by Secret Families’ mission that she decided to write a children’s book about the impact their work has. A couple of prospective illustrators dropped out during the book’s ideation phase, and that’s where I came in. After lots of work and several delays, One Secret Christmas was released last year just in time for Secret Families Day.

Here’s how the day unfolds: Early in December, the group takes over the Muncie Meijer, a regional big-box store. Starting at 6:30, teams of shoppers armed with Christmas lists buy up everything they can and put their bounty into marked bags which are driven across the road to the Muncie Toyota dealership. At 7:30, teams at Toyota start wrapping the presents, which are re-bagged and set in front of the dealership for pickup. A second shift of wrappers starts work at 9:30, as tree-decorating teams convene back at the Meijer parking lot. At 10:00, deliveries of commence and, eventually, an evening pizza party caps the entire thing after an exhausting day. 

Teams of volunteers wrap hundreds of presents at Toyota of Muncie.

I’m ashamed to admit that, aside from learning to avoid Meijer on Saturdays in early December, I knew next to nothing about Secret Families before I helped out with the book. On the day of, the atmosphere at Meijer and Muncie Toyota is chaos as nearly two thousand people come together to give these families a memorable Christmas! Last year, Kathy and I were asked to be there to sign books at both Meijer during the shopping spree and Toyota for the wrapping efforts. We sold a ton of books! 

One Secret Christmas was also available at select local retailers, with 100% of the profits returning directly to the charity. Yesterday, we skipped Meijer and just set up shop at Toyota. Sales were understandably lower since most people come prepared to work, not shop. But we received a warm welcome and I was encouraged to hear that in addition to a couple hundred physical copies we’ve sold, more than eight hundred books have sold through Amazon. Even my beloved old high school librarian ensured that Burris got a copy!

Before I started, I thought that illustrating One Secret Christmas would be a cakewalk. After all, I defined the first part of my professional career by doing graphic design for a number of storied household brands. From the get-go I figured I’d draw the book with an Apple Pencil, using Adobe Illustrator on my iPad for the outlines and Photoshop for color and shading. After each scene was drawn, I moved them over to Photoshop on my Mac, where I ran each image through a couple of automated processes to help ensure the aesthetic continuity from page to page.

Wrapped presents await pickup outside Toyota of Muncie.

“One Secret Christmas is an inspirational story of real-life angels. Katelyn’s mom is a single parent with four children, unemployed, and wondering how to tell the family that Christmas might not come. Even nine-year-old Katelyn is worried. She worries at school when she has to write Santa a letter, on the bus when her friends brag about all the presents they hope to get, and at home wondering how her mama can get her sparkle back. On Christmas, however, Katelyn was in for a huge surprise! This inspirational story will touch anyone who has ever felt the wonder of Christmas. See how everyday people became angels who changed Katelyn’s life forever after that one secret Christmas.”

Kathy did a great job writing One Secret Christmas, but I’m not sure that my contributions represent my best work. It turns out that drawing pictures for a book is worlds away from designing packaging or an infographic! In retrospect, I’d make a lot of changes towards my approach in illustrating it. The people who’ve read it truly enjoy it, though, and its sales have helped sponsor more families like Katelyn’s fictional one, which is what’s most important. That’s how I get over my reticence enough to come to the occasional signing. 

A signed copy of One Secret Christmas.

It doesn’t hurt that Kathy’s an enormously-popular retired elementary school teacher, which makes my job at these events extremely easy. I’m generally happy to make small talk and politely sign books while Kathy greets and chats with friends and former students, but there’s nothing like having a stranger clasp your hand, look you in the eye, and sincerely thank you for bringing a happy part of their childhood back to mind while their own kids stand in tow as a new generation ready to help give the gift of Christmas to those who are less fortunate. 

Interactions like that have made helping out with One Secret Christmas humbling, rewarding, and gratifying. If you want to learn more about Secret Families, click here. If you want to learn more about One Secret Christmas, click here or search Amazon.

One thought on “A not-so-secret book signing

  1. That sounds like a real experience! The idea of illustrating an entire book sounds as possible for me as moving a 100 foot tall tree. But then the artist’s skillset is one that has eluded me.


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