When to schedule bookstore events (and when not to)
Friday night I was chatting with a novelist friend who said she was a little surprised her publisher wasn’t sending her on a book tour, given that her last four books have sold well (and that she had offered to pay her own way). Admittedly, bookstore events have seen better days. Still, it surprised me when my friend mentioned her publicist had refused to schedule a New York event for her. (She’s a native New Yorker, who — four bestselling books ago — managed to pack The Corner Bookstore to within an inch of the fire marshal being called.)
Very mysterious. Something wasn’t adding up. Although we aren’t the same readers who catapulted Jacqueline Susan’s Valley of the Dolls to bestsellerdom as she road tripped across the country 40 years ago, a popular author speaking in her hometown is, well, a pretty safe bet. (Or at least, as safe as they come.)
This got me thinking about why bookstore events should and shouldn’t be scheduled. For the benefit of authors and book publicists, I’m listing some issues to consider while planning an author’s schedule. (Thanks to the tweeps who already contributed to this post and readers please feel free to add your own ideas in the Comments section — or by emailing me — and I will try to update the post.) Also, do share the list with all and sundry if you think it will be useful.
Note: This post has been modified from the original to reflect reader feedback.
Why you should not schedule a bookstore event:
— Topic: Some books, often of the self-help variety (finance, parenting, self-help, some cooking and humor) can present certain challenges for bookstores. It doesn’t mean readers won’t buy these books — and it doesn’t mean talks won’t work in other settings — but are 50 people really going to pop into Barnes & Noble to listen to what types of nonallergenic foods they should be feeding their babies? Book publicist Adrienne Biggs, who has scheduled many successful bookstore talks for lifestyle and self-help authors, advises stores, publicists and authors to rethink the “traditional” bookstore talk for these types of books. That means that if anyone isn’t willing or able to be a little more creative with these events (regarding outreach, promotion, type of event, timing, etc.), it could end up being more productive to promote the book in other ways, i.e., by scheduling media interviews.
— Timing: With a handful of exceptions, bookstores like to hold events within about a month of the book’s publication. Stores typically schedule events between two and six months in advance of the event / publication date in order to have time to adequately promote their events. This means that suggesting events two weeks before a book’s publication date will not elicit a favorable response. From anyone.
— Hidden Costs: As The Bookish Dilettante’s Kat Meyer points out, even if an author pays his / her own way, events take time to set up and money to promote. Event coordinators often work odd hours and typically aren’t planted in front of their computers when they are in the store. They’re also juggling dozens of events and publicists and dates. Case in point: I first got in touch with one events coordinator in December about an April event. Between my trying to sort out the author’s availability and her trying to sort out the store’s availability, we only just finalized a date — two months and numerous email messages later. Then, once an event has been scheduled, the store must then invest time and money in promoting it. Finally, at least one (additional) staff member must be paid to oversee the event. This just isn’t a process that can be ironed out with one phone call.
Why you should schedule a bookstore event:
— The author is local. Many bookstores try their best to support local authors. Plus, they know they can count on the support of the authors friends and family members. (Fortunately for authors and bookstores, although these are the people who probably could wrangle free books from authors, they often end up buying books to support the author.)
— The author has a good track record. Often, the best predictor of how an event will go is how the last (somewhat recent) event turned out. This is one of those situations in which no track record won’t hurt an author (there are plenty of first-time authors who draw healthy crowds to bookstore events and plenty of stores willing to schedule events with these authors), but a good track can really help.
— First editions: Books on the Nightstand‘s Ann Kingman reminds us that some stores host first edition book clubs, whose selections can be dependent on an author coming to speak and sign books. Also, for certain types of (mostly) genre hardcover books — mystery, science fiction, romance, etc. — but some others as well, signed first editions go over really well with readers whether or not the books are selected for book clubs.
— The store requests an event. For logistical and financial reasons, publishing houses can’t schedule events at every single store that requests an author. (And certainly, successful events have been held at stores that did not request authors.) But when a store expresses interest in an author, it can be a sign they’ll try their darnedest to get a crowd and sell that book. Michele Filgate of Reading is Breathing (and events coordinator at the Portsmouth, NH RiverRun Bookstore) says events are critical for independent bookstores who are trying to be/become community — as well as reader — destinations. (Not that events aren’t important for the chain stores too.) Plus, an added benefit, courtesy of Teleread‘s David Rothman: hand selling. Author appearances keep books at the forefront of employees’ minds (and at the top of their recommendation lists).
— An investment in the future: Published & Profitable‘s Roger C. Parker notes that events can teach authors what questions readers will ask and what topics they’re most interested in. For authors who have more than one book in the pipeline, events can be a good way to build a following.
What are your pros and cons? Have you ever scheduled a bookstore event when you didn’t feel it was appropriate? (Or vice versa?)
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