Why we schedule bookstore events (and why we don’t)
There’s no doubt that bookstore events (talks / signings) are an important part of the book promotion process. At the same time, the goal of a book publicist isn’t simply to carpet bomb bookstores within a 50-mile radius of an author. Let me break it down.
Why We Do Schedule Events:
— Sales: Sending an author to a store to talk about / sign their book usually (hopefully) helps increase sales.
— Support: Thus, scheduling events is a way for authors and publishing houses to support bookstores.
— Audience: An author appearing at their local bookstore is as close to a sure fire hit as you can get since authors can, generally speaking, get their friends / neighbors / colleagues to show up a book signing and buy books.
Way back when, I thought the only reason for an author’s friend (or mother) to show up at a signing was to keep the seat warm — they probably already got a free book, right? Then my friends started writing books and I found myself buying books at their signings — even though I work in publishing and can often get them for free. Moral of the story is that bookstores know they can count on pretty robust crowds and sales when an author’s friends show up at an event. (Not to mention that as foot traffic in the store increases, so do spur-of-the-moment purchases.)
And Why We Don’t:
— Topic: Some topics work really well for certain stores — fiction, for example. Other stores find novelists simply don’t draw an audience. Some topics are great for certain types of venues, but not for general-interest bookstores. Some stores only sell mystery titles, or travel, or science fiction. Bookstores know what works best for them.
— Location: Typically, we’ll schedule no more than one signing in a given area. Realistically, there are a limited number of people in a designated location who will attend a talk / signing for an author. If they show up for the signing at the local independent bookstore on Tuesday evening, that doesn’t leave very many people attending the signing at the Barnes & Noble half a mile away that Saturday (or vice versa).
— Audience size: When was the last time you went to a book signing for a non-celebrity author? How many people were there? Bookstores do their best to promote events with in-store signage, information on their websites, newsletters and sometimes, advertising, and book publicists do likewise by trying to schedule interviews for the author with local media prior to the event, but sometimes even the best efforts don’t pan out.
Which is why if an author has no local connections and the book’s topic would not be of particular interest to a community, stores may be a little more reluctant to schedule events. Of course, we know that plenty of stores do welcome authors with no local connections, but they spend a fair amount of time and money promoting their talks and signings, so they do need to be selective about the authors they host.
— Time: Events take time. Book publicists take time to set up events. Stores take time to promote them. Authors take time to talk and sign at them. All that time is time not spent promoting books in other ways. So while scheduling some books events is a good thing, it is possible to go overboard and reach a point of diminishing returns.
I realize it looks like there are far more reasons to not schedule bookstore events than to schedule them, which isn’t necessarily the case — I think it’s more like the “Don’ts” just need more explanation than the “Dos.”
How do you feel about scheduling / hosting / speaking at bookstore events?