The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

What do you do when an author event is cancelled?

Yesterday I received an email blast from a bookstore informing me that an author event had been cancelled.  I felt a twinge of sympathy, since yours truly — and, indeed, most book publicists — have had the pleasure of having to deal with a cancelled event, whether it be the result of illness, travel delays or an act of God.  (Although I did once have an author, who, upon being informed of a tornado watch for the area after having arrived at a library, simply packed up his laptop and decamped for the building’s basement; the staff equally calmly shepherded all 300+ audience members to said basement.  That one left me speechless.  Truly.)

Last-minute event cancellations are a nightmare.  There’s simply no other way to put it.  Bookstores have already spent money promoting the event (and time talking it up).  This money has now gone down the drain.  Further, there’s no way to keep track of who is planning to attend an event, so there’s no effective way to contact everyone to inform them of the cancellation.  Lastly, stores are counting on the revenue generated by author talks, since attendees often browse and buy before and after the talk itself.  (And that’s just from the bookstore end — the publicist meanwhile has spent time getting the word out about the event and before that time scheduling it.)

So what can bookstores (and book publicists) do in the event of an unavoidable cancellation?  First, to get word out about the cancellation, the store posted the cancellation on their web site and also sent out a notice to their subscriber list in an attempt to give people a heads up.  I’m assuming they would also have posted a sign in their store to that effect.

In some cases it might be possible to reschedule events, but realistically, given how far ahead of time events are scheduled — at least two months, usually, but up to a year or more in some cases — and how limited an author’s time often is, rescheduling isn’t viable.  Another option is arranging for signed books, since many people do, after all, go to readings to get books signed.  (The bookstore in this case did offer signed books to interested readers.)  Publicists, for their part, should offer to make arrangements to have an author sign — and if possible, personalize — books for a bookstore whose event was cancelled.

What did you (as a book publicist or author) do the last time an event was cancelled?  Any event cancellation “success” stories?

March 12, 2009 - Posted by | Events |

4 Comments »

  1. An author of mine had to cancel an event recently at the Yale Club due to a family emergency – just three days before the long-planned lecture was to occur! That gave me just enough time to work with the events coordinator to find a list of comparable authors we published, and go through the names one-by-one, checking their availability. I was finally able to find a local NYC author to give a lecture (complete with PowerPoint presentation!) and bring his own books to sign and sell. Crisis averted!

    Comment by Julia | March 12, 2009 | Reply

  2. I had a bookstore owner (who shall remain nameless) threaten to sue me for his expenses spent promoting a big-name journalist’s offsite author event. Reminder: it’s actually not the publicist’s fault when an author cancels! In this case he had to be out of the country at the last minute on a writing assignment.

    Comment by Suzanne | March 12, 2009 | Reply

  3. As one who has been on both the publicist side and the bookstore side of cancellations, its never easy to deal with. Had a blizzard once strand the author and I 1400 miles from the evening’s signing; the hotel we were at set us up in a room, and the bookstore ran a speakerphone to the event area, and the event went on. When it was complete, the store manager stayed on the line, and supplied us with a list of names for those who bought the book. The author sat and personalized book plates – complete with wee notes on each! – and we mailed them to the store. Good Rule of Thumb: NEVER start a book tour without suppling the author and publicists with a big stack of bookplates!

    And on the bookstore side of things, a separate blizzard stranded an author at an airport (pre-cell phones!) so while we had posted the cancellation, and asked the local radio station to announce it on-air (which they did!), we supplied all those that came for the event with free Hot Chocolate, and hosted a book discussion about the novel. Sold out of the book, and the author later mailed us generic autographed book plates, which we told people were available in the store newsletter. (Pre-email then too!)

    Comment by Jane | March 12, 2009 | Reply

  4. Yep. It’s easy to say and H A R D to do. I’m not nutarally good at it, but have got better with practice. Even being aware of the need for it helps.

    Comment by Abuyousef | February 10, 2012 | Reply


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