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Come out and see me some time

It’s a dream come true. Not only are you a published author, but your publisher is actually setting up an event for you! A reading at a bookstore, perhaps, or possibly something at a library or community center. You get nervous: What will I wear? Which section of my book should I read? What questions will I be asked? And, finally, most importantly: will anyone show up?

The answer to that last question, as just about every author can attest, is no. Well, it’s not always no–sometimes people show up. Especially if you’ve been writing for a while and have a following, of if you’re doing an event for later books in a series, or if you’re doing an event with authors who have a following. But as a first-time author out in the world, getting people to turn up is hard. I had an author at an event this past weekend that went spectacularly badly. Not only was it sparsely attended, but the store wasn’t able to get the books in time! So the author traveled to an event only to have a handful of people show up, and then couldn’t even sell the book to them. I wish I could say this was a rare occurrence, but it happens all the time.

But I’m not really here to complain. What I want to know from you, dear readers, is what makes you turn out for a book event? Do you ever go to events for authors whose books you haven’t yet read? Is there some sort of enticement that might make you come out? Or is the bookstore event best reserved to those with large followings?  I’m curious to hear what you think.

17 Responses to Come out and see me some time

  1. This may be an unpopular answer.

    I don’t go to readings. I *might* drive in if someone I really, really, really liked — or had an established social media relationship with — was appearing, but otherwise, I’m just not going to make the effort.

    I’m not entirely sure why I would, to be honest. I’m not getting anything by attending except maybe a signed book, and that matters only if I’m already a fan. Even if I am a fan, I’m not likely to deal with traffic and crowds just to listed to someone read a segment from his book.

  2. Ty Shiver says:

    I mostly go to readings of friends of mine. I try to always support their big day, because I can imagine how scary it must be!

    Other than that, I go only if it is truly one of my favorite authors. :)

  3. Bethany Neal says:

    I go to pretty much all YA readings in my area simply because I believe strongly in Book Karma. However, I have a rule not to attend if I haven’t read at least one of his/her novels–seems kinda hypocritical to go otherwise. So frequently, I’m speed reading the week before, but I like to give everyone the chance I want to be given when the time comes–fingers crossed!–for my book signing.

    I do think multiple author events are helpful. I’ve been to several where I went to get one book signed and ended up buying another as well from an author I previously wasn’t aware of. Authors can kinda mooch off each other’s fan bases that way. 😉

    • Michael says:

      It’s interesting: I think the multi-author events are great, but I think they’re hurting the authors who are doing events on their own. Teens, especially, seem to like the value of getting more than one author in. I must say, especially for my first-time or newer authors, I prefer when the do group events. Turnout is almost always so much better.

      MB

  4. I don’t often go to readings for authors I’ve never heard of unless they are part of a bigger event (a convention or a festival), simply because I don’t usually hear about them and am quite busy. I love to attend events for authors I know about, though. When I do go to an unknown author’s event, it’s for the reason you’d expect–I’ve seen an advertisement and it sounded interesting. I have discovered a few authors that way, but a few of them already had a presence. I just didn’t know about them.

    I wonder if you think this will change (or is changing) with social media. Obviously a reader wouldn’t know about an event if it was posted only on some unfamiliar author’s Facebook, but do you think the ability of stores to post about these things online could or does increase attendance? Some authors could even do cross-promotion for each other, etc., and that would spread the word more than lips or fliers would.

    • Michael says:

      The good stores–and frankly, I’d say that’s most of them–do try to publicize, both through local advertisement and through social media. It doesn’t always seem to be effective, while other times it appears to work. Figuring out what that X factor is, what ACTUALLY makes people turn out, is tough. And why I posed this question to you all.

      MB

  5. CC says:

    Sorry, a question to your question. What do big box retailers like Target and Wal-Mart or grocery chains think of author signings? They sell books, albeit in a limited amount. I just don’t see it done, and that could be because I just missed the advertisements or announcements, or because the logistics of keying in a book they don’t normally carry are too problematic.

    Book store readings are a given, but if the purpose is to draw in new readers, it seems silly not go for the high-traffic big box and grocery chains that sell books as well. So sitting in a grocery store entrance may not be the most prestigious way to spend the day, but with some professional graphics and standing banners by your side (A $200 investment and reusable)? Not so bad. Tout your book and the fact that the shopper can pick up the groceries and a cabin-fever-cure/summer read at the same time.

    As the other comments clearly show, people are busy, hard to reach, or just don’t want to venture out. You have to catch them where they are.

    Is this done or am I crazy?

    • Michael says:

      Costo does events, I know, for local authors. Like any other, it’s hit-or-miss. The problem is: why would these stores want people signing books taking up precious retail space, unless the author is going to guarantee a turnout? Having an author blocking part of an aisle or access to a product isn’t good for the store unless the author can sell a healthy number of books or turn out a good number of people. It isn’t clear that either happen at such events.

      MB

  6. I love going to author events! But usually only for authors whose book(s) I’ve already read and loved. I also go more as a writer than as a reader. It’s more about trying to soak up everything I can from that author world and day dreaming about being on the other side of the signing table.

    I’m super awkward when the author is signing my copy. I want so much to talk to her, but what do I say? “I love your book”? Well duh, why else would I be at the signing?

  7. Bridget says:

    I love author events, but usually only go when it’s an author I’m familiar with and a fan of. One exception I can recall was for a non-fiction book on a topic I was curious about. I ended up emailing the author after reading the book to discuss the topic further – which he was happy to do (and he remembered me from the reading).

  8. Laline says:

    I’m trying to think of the last author reading I went to… and I’m an avid reader and book buyer. But I can’t do it – unless it was one of Geoff Dyer’s readings, back before he was famous, and we still hung out. I think that was it. I want to make up at least three more, but I don’t think there were. I look online though. More writers reading excerpts of their work online would be great.

    So next weekend, I’ll be hoist on my own non-reading-attending petard, because my virgin (4th draft and a polish) novel’s getting an extracted reading at a tiny literary festival in the west of England (Bridport). And the only people who’ll be there will be my all-girl retro singing group, as we’re performing at the festival the next day. But more likely they’ll be off scouring the charity shops for brilliant things to wear, while I’ll be sitting alone, all sphincters clenched in anxiety, listening to a stranger read aloud to an empty room. I’m going to hear Henry Volan from Faber Digital speaking later that afternoon, and I’m going to email him and let him know, just so he can not come as well. At least they said they’ll give me a cup of tea…

  9. Stephanie P. says:

    Reasons that bring me to a reading: the book sounds really interesting; it’s an author I really like who is just as entertaining in person (ex: Junot Diaz); I’m supporting the author because I know them or want to support their genre/topic; it’s an added incentive to browse through the bookstore and make my evening/day fun.

  10. Michael,

    Great question. As an author, I get out to as many signings as I can, especially when I know the author. But many times, I don’t even have a clue the author is doing a signing despite the fact that I follow them on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

    Like everything else in the publishing world, the author has to hope the bookstore is doing something, but act as if they aren’t. A few things I do to help out are:

    1) Use every means at my disposal to let people know where I will be. Lots of times I’ve been really surprised to have people show up that I didn’t expect, only to learn they heard about the event on my blog, or other posting. You MUST get the word out yourself.

    2) Always contact the store a week in advance to make sure they are expecting you and have ordered books. A week still gives them time if they forgot. The day or two before, if they haven’t already ordered, you are out of luck unless they can do a store-to-store shipment from nearby.

    3) If you can, bring some books of your own. This not only helps when a store didn’t order, but also when they didn’t order enough books. I’ve had several times when I sold more books than the store expected and was able to give them my books to sell. They then order more books and send copies back to me to cover what I gave them.

    4) Try to have some kind of handout, bookmarks, posters, flyers. Even candy helps draw people to your table. The problem is people don’t like pressure which is exactly what they view an unknown author as, unfortunately. But if you can give them a flyer or bookmark, it gives them time to read about your book and come back over to chat. Also, nothing draws attention like a crowd. So if you can get a few people around you talking, others show up. That means when the crowd is small take your time with every person who comes by so you look like you are busy.

    5) I almost hesitate to mention this, because it can be so misused. But if your book is MG or younger and you can put together a really dynamite school assembly, you can draw a big crowd to your signing. After several days of school visits, I had such an amazing signing in Roseville, CA that they said the only bigger turnout they’d had were Janet Evanovich and Stephenie Meyer. Not bad for a newbie MG author. Some of my signings have been for two-three hours straight. But the assembly has to be great. Don’t waste the time of hundred of kids and teachers with a simple pitch for your book or a boring reading.

    6) Finally, no matter what you do, you can still have lonely signings. If you do, the best thing to do is to get up from behind your table and talk to people. If the employees like you, they will talk you up and push your book. So tell them all about your book, your writing. many of them would love to publish a book and will appreciate any advice you can give them. A lonely author sitting behind a table looks like a loser. But a dynamic upbeat author making friends is something they will remember. And bring “autographed copy” stickers so you can sign remaining stock (if they’ll let you) before you leave to increase sales down the road.

    Hope that helps.

  11. Joelle says:

    I hate to admit this, but I don’t generally go to author readings. Why? Because when I lived in the city, I really couldn’t afford to buy books. I had to rely on the library. And it seemed weird to go and not buy a book. Especially if I turned out to be one of the only people there.

    We actually have quite a few launches here on the island because there are a bunch of us writers, and honestly…I’m sort of in the same boat here. I really don’t have disposable income for new books so I feel weird going. I have gone to one and bought a book as a gift for someone else, which was okay.

    I guess I should go anyway. When I had my release here, about sixty-five people showed up (I know!!!), and I think the bookstore probably sold thirty books, so that means not everyone bought one, but I still feel odd attending and not buying a book.

    • Michael says:

      I say turn out even if you can’t afford or don’t intend to buy the book. Warm bodies attract more warm bodies! I sometimes see people in bookstores eyeing the events but seemingly afraid to actually go over and sit down, in part because there aren’t many others doing it. Support isn’t just buying a book!

      MB

  12. Anne Rockwell says:

    As a published author of picture books for children, I say “no” to bookstore signings. Since there’s so much hand wringing these days of the death knoll being tolled for a great many “indie” bookstores, I’ll add my words to the obituary.

    A while back I was invited to do a signing at a local indie store. Because I’m a local author, one who wants any bookstore to succeed, I agreed. This store had good parking (which many don’t), was in an affluent community with many preschool and early elementary grade children, who are the main audience for my books. Besides that, one of my publishers had suggested the signing, and the store was asking for two hours of my Saturday morning. All good signs.

    I arrived about fifteen minutes before the announced time, but didn’t see copies of my books in the store window. The only person working there was busy shelving books, and the table and chair by the window, which had been set aside for author signings, was covered with cartons from publishers, leftover coffee and danish and a worn PEOPLE magazine. Not good. I checked my watch, thinking that perhaps I was too early, and found it was only five minutes, not fifteen, before the scheduled event. I announced myself to the salesperson as the author of that days signing. She didn’t look up as she asked, “What did you say your name was?” I repeated myself and added that I didn’t see any of my books on the table. “Well, I don’t know,” she said. “Don’t you that I’m busy with something? I’m part time. I don’t know everything about this place.” Since there were no customers in the store I told her I’d be in the coffee shop next door if anyone wanted to buy a book.

    About a half hour passed before a couple–friends of mine–came into the coffee shop carrying a selection of my books. They wanted me to sign them for new grandchildren, so I did. An hour of the two I was scheduled for passed but no more customers came. I went back to the bookstore. The pile of cartons had shrunk by one and the salesperson was in another part of the store, shelving books. I noticed for the first time that all the books that had been bought were single copies of various adult titles. Not good! I asked her to please apologize to the owner for me for leaving early, and she mumbled, “Okay.” On my way out, I saw a local newspaper article with a large picture of me that had been blocked by all the book cartons. A couple of days later I was in line at the supermarket. A friend saw me and said, “I saw a great picture of you in the paper!”

    That’s the end of my indie story. This store has since gone out of business so I’ll tell a Borders story.
    My daughter, Lizzy Rockwell, has illustrated a number of books I’ve written and does school appearances. She met a teacher, on one of these occasions, who asked if the two of us would come to a signing at the local branch of Borders. I agreed, and Lizzy drove us there. She made good time and got us there in about an hour and a half.

    WE sat at a table with about six authors whose names I didn’t recognize, probably because the books stacked in front of each seemed from their jackets to be YA novels, a genre I don’t know much about. There was also a good selection of books Lizzy and I had done. We were seated next to the only other picture book author, who had towering stacks of his one title on the table. I didn’t recognize him or his work, but there was a large poster announcing his book. I didn’t recognize the name of his publisher, and suspected the book was self-published. A long line of children and parents waited for the store manager to announce and introduce the local authors. It seemed the other picture book author would be giving away signed copies of his book. Not selling, but giving! That was a first for me!

    No one sold a single book, although Lizzy and I signed a worn and ratty copy of one a mother told us she’d picked up at a tag sale.

    These happenings are in huge contrast to the number of books people buy when Lizzy or I sell at school or library book fairs. Recently both of us spoke together at the local branch of our library. Neither of us would have refused since this is where her two sons, my oldest grandsons, discovered the joy of having many books to choose from. The librarian had arranged all their copies of our titles on a table beside us. Some had been published a long, long time ago, but were still new to their readers. Another table had fresh , brand new copies of our 2011 title, THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, which was too recently published to be in the library. But a super, local indie store, DIANE’S BOOKS of Greenwich had brought copies, most of which were signed and sold. (Not to mention the super agent who posted the question online.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say, in a story too long for a picture book, but which might be helpful to fellow authors, is that store signings, whether arranged by the publisher, or the author, are mighty iffy.

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