For some reason behind the book table is always my preferred spot at Greenlight readings.

Wayne Gladstone reads at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about author events, having been to four very different ones in the last several weeks: first Wayne Gladstone’s two readings for his hilarious and heartfelt debut novel Notes from the Internet Apocalypse at Corner Bookstore and Greenlight Books, then two book launch parties, one for Aaron Starmer’s new middle grade series The Riverman, which took place on a river cruise around Manhattan; the other for Christopher J. Yates’s debut, a psychological thriller called Black Chalk, at University Settlement not far from where the book is partially set.  Each event had a different spirit and in some ways different purposes, and in each case the setting of the event and the personality of the author really contributed to making it feel like it perfectly suited the book being celebrated and enjoyed.

I must admit, I don’t go to many author events purely as a spectator (all of the above are DGLM clients), but it’s nice to have a moment to sit back and celebrate the results of all the hard work that goes into bringing a book to fruition.  Even handier when the author, his/her agent, and his/her editor are all in the same vicinity and can do so together.

I should know which skyline that is (NJ? BK? Manhattan?), but I don't.

Aaron Starmer (in red near the right of the photo) reading from The Riverman

I think the logistics of book events are challenging: beyond the well-attended reading series (of which there are a number in NYC), the ones at industry conventions, and the signings for major bestsellers, they’re not terribly likely to sell many books to people who weren’t going to buy them anyway and often are populated by people close enough to the author to already have a copy.  And an event that’s more of a party than a sales opportunity is likely to get pretty costly for the author, without much (or any) chance of return on that. The conventional wisdom is that book events don’t sell books and tours aren’t worth it, and as a former bookstore cashier I know firsthand how few copies of books are sold at most signings. 

That cover photo projection is a very nice touch.

Christopher J. Yates reading from Black Chalk

But I do wonder if there are things more authors can and should do that would make book events more beneficial to them and to readers.  Certainly stores that have multi-writer reading series (like the one Wayne participated in at Greenlight) are helping to introduce people to the fans of others, and this is something the self-published author community has strongly embraced as well with very large multi-author signings.  And I’ve personally found that an author event that happens well after publication—though this is logistically tougher to justify or achieve—is likely to be more appealing to me, because I have little interest in attending author events for books I haven’t read by authors I don’t have a professional relationship with.  For example, I’ve seen Colum McCann twice, once for Let the Great World Spin well after publication, which was magical, and once for Transatlantic right when the book came out that really didn’t do anything for me.

Do you ever go to author events? If so, what draws you in?  If not, what’s keeping you away?  What would you like to see more of?  Have you ever been to one that really blew you away?  Have you seen any creative strategies that you’ve taken note of for yourself?


8 Responses to Eventful

  1. Joelle says:

    I live in the middle of nowhere and we have a surprising number of author events here…one or two every month (it’s an island full of writers). I tend not to go, though. Part of me knows I should (mostly because I know a lot of these writers), but most of the time the book’s not in my budget or of interest to me, or both and I feel obligated to buy it if I go. I went to one last week though and slid out the back before the signing part because while I want to read it, I’ll have to get it from the library.

    When I had my last book launch at Powell’s, Holly Cupala joined me with her new book and so it was a double YA event and it was a lot of fun. We’d both written books about homeless teens (very different flavours) too, which was just a coincidence, but it tied our event together quite well. And it helped attendance, too, to have two authors.

    • Lauren says:

      Impressive that there are that many events. I guess you might not know since you rarely go, but are they well attended? I wonder if catering to such a specific literary-minded audience sells more books than the average event.

      • Joelle says:

        The events are very well attended (I hear things and see photos in the local paper…and one or two I have been to I couldn’t actually get into the room!). By well attended, I mean anywhere from 20-50 people. We are a reading community. And we buy books as well as use the library (we have 4500 people here and over 100k library checkouts per year!). Our library book sales are AMAZING.

        We have a very tiny island bookstore that only carries local authors and the owner often does book sales at the events and does very well. I think this little store has sold a hundred copies of my first YA novel over the last four years. A pretty impressive feat considering the average age here is 55 and we only have about twenty or thirty high school students!

  2. Lynn says:

    There are two things I find very interesting in your post. The first, an author will more than likely spend more for a book event than he will make. The second. “…book events don’t sell books and tours aren’t worth it….” There was a discussion about this very topic on another blog. It use to be that the publisher would spend money in promoting an author’s book, whereas now the author is required to promote him/herself.

    For many authors, it brings into question whether they should self-publish because in essence they’re doing all the work, anyway. I can see their point of view, but I can also see the benefits of going the traditional route. When my WIP if finished, I will opt for finding an agent and a publisher. The contacts and knowledge an agent has is priceless and the distribution by a publisher is invaluable. Only if I fail at finding an agent and a publisher will I consider self-publishing, but first I would have to take a hard look at my manuscript and reevaluate it. The last thing a self- published author wants is a stack of unsold books in their garage or basement.

    That said, I have attended events for various reasons: the author was a friend of mine, I happened to be in the bookstore during a signing, I wanted an autographed copy to give as a gift, etc., but in general I don’t go to many book events. I think self-published authors have the right idea about doing a multi-author signing. The money spent is less for each individual author, the atmosphere is livelier, and the possibility of gaining new fans goes without saying. It’s a win-win situation.

    • Lynn says:

      * “…are priceless….” (I wish you had a delete and redo!)

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Definitely agreed re: the multi-author events. I think it might be hard to measure direct impact, but in the long term, exposure to new readers (and committed enough readers that they show up to author events) is hopefully expanding their audience. I’ve seen publishers doing this to good effect as well, especially YA publishers. I’d guess adult publishers do it, too, and it’s just escaped my notice.

      To be honest, I think publishers get an unfair rap for how publicity is now. When people say that publishers aren’t spending money on it and expect authors to do everything, I think they’re often implying that the publishers aren’t doing what’s best for the book and/or that they’re being cheap. The truth, though, is more complicated than that. There are substantially more opportunities for promotion now then there used to be and many of them are a) accessible to the author directly, and b) more effective when the author engages directly. Combine that with the fact that potential readers have their attention divided over a very large number of platforms so everything is more splintered than it used to be and no one platform is as effective as certain platforms were in the pre-internet age, plus the loss of substantial book coverage in the traditional media and the Oprah effect, and it’s possible to look at this shift as publishers adapting to the times and doing the best job they can for the books they work on. If getting people to read books were as easy as spending money on advertising or tours, I think we’d see a whole lot more money spent on advertising and tours.

  3. Lynn says:

    Lauren, I agree, in this computer age world, there are so many things vying for people’s attention, the publishing industry has to work harder to get books into the hands of consumers. That said, the internet is also a great tool for reaching readers from around the world. This is where having exposure through a website, blog, FB page, etc., is important. In my opinion, it makes a bigger difference in selling books than a tour or an event.

    (Btw, I meant when my WIP is finished, not if. It’s crazy how we can read over something we’ve written several times and not catch the errors until after it’s been posted. *sigh*)

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