Love Story – your upcoming bookstore event

February 7, 2012

Emma Straub wrote a very cool article about how authors can create a lasting love story with the bookstore who is hosting your upcoming event. To say that it’s a must-read is the same as admitting the beagle needs an intervention.

Her advice is sound – be nice to bookstore workers because they’re the ones who will either recommend your book or use it to squash bugs. Bringing food is also a great idea because, let’s face it, they’re doing you a favor by hosting your event and went to a lot of work, so bringing cookies is just good manners.

Signings are more work than most authors realize. They have to order your book in plenty of time, they set up your table and chairs for your audience, make posters advertising your event, and hand out fliers. Sometimes they take out space in the local papers. They put thought into hosting you, so there are some things you should do so they don’t regret their decision.

The key is PREPARATION.

Reading Selection

Emma makes a good point here with respect to time and choice of what you plan on reading. I’ve gone to a number of author events, and I’m a huge fan of a bite-sized bits of reading, then stopping to explain or clarify why you like that particular section. What this does is personalize the book to your audience.

I like knowing an author’s character was inspired by his best friend who died of cancer. I like knowing the setting is based on the author’s happy experiences of living there. It’s the inside info stuff that makes me squiggly. And I like feeling squiggly. I get that same feeling from Twinkies and the beagle’s margaritas.

I also like the idea of reading short snippets because you won’t put your audience to sleep. Nothing worse than sitting in an uncomfortable chair, wishing you’d brought your No-Doz.

Practice

Don’t go to your reading without having practiced your reading selections. I’ve thought I was going deaf because the author spoke so softly. I’ve listened to authors read their selections so fast that my brain simply gave up and went home…rendering me alarmingly vacuous. Take care that you maintain an even tempo, not too fast or slow, and enunciate in a solid, strong voice, so even the poor slob sitting in the back row can hear you.

Message

I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating. If you’re going to speak before an audience, have something to say. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and consider topics you think they may want to know or hear about.

  • Why did you write your book?
  • What is the basis behind your plot?
  • Why these particular characters?
  • Is there a socially relevant theme to your book that you can expand upon?
  • What is it about your setting that enhances your story?

As you can see, there are a million things you can discuss, but it takes planning and being considerate of your audience. Yes, you are like the stand-up comedian who’s on stage and needs to maintain audience interest because you want them to buy your book and profess their undying love for you.

Audience

You thought that all you had to do is arrive and your adoring fans would line around the corner, right? I wish. And I do hope it happens to you, but the chances are hit or miss. More realistically, you lack name recognition, so it can be a trying thing to gather up enough people to fill those chairs. I suggest going after ‘em.

When I was promoting Tackle Box, I contacted the surrounding writer’s groups in the general area of the venue to let them know where I was appearing, who I am, what my book is about, and what they can learn by attending. Instead of talking to two or three people who were looking for a place to sit down and munch on free cookies and bottled water, I had fifty or sixty people show up.

Bookstores love this. Not only do they sell my book, but those same shoppers buy other books. And this is why bookstores host events. It’s good publicity for them. If more authors worked like this, there would be more bookstores happy to host author appearances. Sadly that isn’t the case, and many stores no longer host author events, or will only host the big names. They have found it’s not time- or cost-effective.

Being prepared ingratiates you to the store, while benefiting from the added exposure for you and your book. A win-win proposition.

Attitude

Many authors go into trying to book an event as someone doing them a huge favor. This attitude always makes me wince because the attitude is all wrong. Think about how you feel when someone is asking you for a favor. You stop and consider the worthiness of their request.

On the other hand, if you propose all the reasons WHY a bookstore would love to host your event, now you make their mouth water. Look at what you have to offer to a store and an audience, and you’ll see that instead of them holding something over on you, they’ll be very excited about hosting your event.

It’s the idea of “what can I offer you,” over “can you, pretty please, with sugar and Twinkies on top?” Here’s the cover letter I used in one particular case:

Dear XXX,
XXX is a good friend of mine, and recommended this morning that I contact you about the possibility of my doing a writer’s seminar, “I’ve Written ‘The End’ – Now What?” at XXX Store. It’s a two hour seminar that shows writers what editors/agents are looking for in a query letter, the ingredients to an effective synopsis, questions every author should ask of a publisher before ever querying, and the dos and don’ts after one has submitted. I don’t normally charge, but some of the venues I’ve been to have insisted upon charging. I’m fine with this either way.

My purpose in doing these seminars comes from the fact that not only am I editorial director for Behler Publications, a commercial press, but I’m also a writer. Education in this business is key, and I’ve created this seminar out of that need. I see so many submissions crossing my desk that tell me the writer isn’t ready for prime time yet. As XXX has told you, there is a plethora of misinformation about the industry. I see this every day in the submissions I receive. Writers have asked me exactly what it is I’m looking for, why I rejected them, and what mistakes they made. This seminar was borne of the vast amount of writer feedback I’ve received.

The natural question is, what’s in it for me to do these seminars? I don’t charge, nor will I accept anyone’s manuscripts. In fact, most of the writers who attend my seminars aren’t ready for publication. As hokey and benevolent it may sound, my sole purpose is to plant seeds of education. As a writer, I enjoy being with other writers. It’s my hope that writers will take whatever knowledge I have to become better at their craft so that at some point they can submit to a publisher with confidence and pride. It’s two hours of my time to create some helpful ripples in the pond. Because I’m a writer as well, I can easily relate and empathize with every bit of angst and frustration they’re facing.

XXX asked me why I didn’t take my seminar over to Borders since I’ve been working closely with their CRM in other cities. I told him that I prefer working with the independent bookstores because they know literature. Chains know about shoving books out the door. Besides, you’re the best. Ask anyone who has been to XXX; they all know XXX.

Lastly, why XXX when I live in California? Over the past four months I’ve seen a dramatic rise in submissions from the XXX area, and each of them were rejected due to their simply not knowing the basics of how to query. I felt I had a ripe audience for hearing my seminar. I’ve attached my seminar outline to this email.

I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for your time.
Regards,
Lynn Price
Editorial Director

Obviously, your letter will be different, but you get the gist of what I’m saying. I’m trying to give all kinds of reasons why that bookstore should host me. In return, I made sure that I’d bring in a lot of people from the surrounding area. Yes, this takes time, but I care a great deal about my book and getting word out about its benefits to new writers who don’t know much about the industry.

And there is no reason why you can’t tailor this to make you equally loveable and in demand…regardless of whether you’re pitching to an indie bookstore or a chain.

Now go out and create your own Love Story!


A crash course in book events

September 21, 2011

I’m taking a quick break to share some important info about author events. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes when prepping for an author event, so I thought I’d lift the metaphorical skirts in order to allow you a peak to see what’s underneath.

Books, Books, Who’s Got Da Books?

If your publisher has scheduled signing events for you, it is their responsibility to ensure the bookstore has books ordered. If YOU, the author, are scheduling your own events, then it’s YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to make sure the venue has the books. We’ve all heard the horror stories about authors arriving to a signing only to discover the bookstore didn’t order the books.

Yes, colossal brainfart.

If you want to have a stress-free event, call the store two weeks before your event and make sure all is well. Call again a week before the event to confirm. I’ve known bookstores to actually forget about a signing and not be set up for the author.

Yes, colossal brainfart.

I will reiterate:  doing the follow up on your books is your responsibility – not your publisher’s. They will have no clue of your schedule. Even if you send them your updated schedule, they don’t have it taped to their monitors, waiting with baited breath for your every event. They are dealing with the national distribution, promotion, and marketing of your book. Your personal events are just that – personal. It’s the same as if you’d hired a caterer for your next party. You would confirm they’ve ordered the food and will show up the day of your party.

A Word Regarding Bookstores

Many times authors will do special events and have bookstores come in to host the sales. It’s an efficient way to ensure that you can sashay about being charming and brilliant while they handle the mundane process of handing sales. The upside to this is that it goes toward your royalties. Another upside is they can handle credit card sales, and I’ve noticed more people buy multiple copies of books when they can use their credit cards. Booya!

Now, that said, you need to be mindful about which store you ask to host your event. Is this going to be a huge event with 300 people, or a casual affair of 30-50?  It’s an important consideration because stores need to order the books, and depending on how many they need, Ingram or Baker & Taylor may not have sufficient quantities in their warehouse. The next logical step is to contact the publisher or their distributor. That information is listed in every single database, so there’s NO EXCUSE for any bookstore to say, “Sorry, but I couldn’t find your publisher’s information.” That’s goober-talk for “I’m too lazy to be concerned.”

Case in point:  We had an author whose event was at a library. I told the bookstore who was handling the event that the expected turnout was around 150 people and to order accordingly. I didn’t do my follow up and nearly stroked out when we had an audience of 200 and a total of 35 books. Thankfully, the location was near us, so I called hubby to bring down enough books to fulfill demand. Then I lit into the bookstore like a wet hen jinxed up on bad crack.

They shrugged their shoulders, apologized, and blamed it on a “clerical error,” which is goober talk for “We effed up and we really don’t care that we effed up. Bandini happens, deal with it.”

Yes, colossal brainfart…on both our parts because I didn’t follow up.

Then there are other kinds of stores like used bookstores, who rarely have credit accounts with established distributors like Consortium/Perseus, IPG, IPS. This means that if they are the ones who are the bookstore for your event, they have to pay for your books up front…something they’re highly unlikely to do. And what happens is they don’t normally communicate with the author about this problem. Instead, they’ll blame the publisher or their distributor, which then puts you unfairly at odds with your publisher.

Here Is Da Truth

If your book is just pubbed, chances are your title is in all the distribution warehouses in sufficient quantities, so anyone – including that used bookstore – can obtain your book without a problem.

HOWEVER…

If your book has been out, say for a year, then chances are that demand has dwindled and those distribution warehouses won’t have very large stock on their shelves because it’s all based on demand. Warehouses like to keep stock to a minimum because they know they can get books within a day if there’s a sudden huge demand.

Case in point:  A friend of mine was doing a special event and they wanted to showcase her book, which had been out for about a year. The bookstore handling the event was a small used bookstore, and they had no credit accounts with her publisher, which meant the store had to pay for her books up front – something they were unwilling to do.

So their Hail Mary decision was to try to buy books from Amazon…which is insane because you can only order 5 books at a time because Amazon doesn’t want to be used as a warehouse distributor. Then they tried Ingram and B&T, who didn’t have her book in stock in very large quantities because demand had dwindled. Their next move was to beg for some from B&N, who coughed up a few copies.

The end result:

  • They blamed the publisher.
  • They claimed Amazon had no copies of her book – which was patently false because I had just ordered it from them.
  • They claimed the publisher’s distributor was forcing them to pay a set-up fee in order to business with them. Again, this is false. What this store was really saying was that the distributor needed the store to pay for the stock up front since they didn’t have an account with them.
  • The store never relayed any of this information until two days before the event.
  • My friend had a scant 35 books for a crowd of 200.

Who’s fault is it? The author…my friend. She didn’t do any follow up on her book, and she suffered the consequences. If you care about your event, then you have to make sure you’re covered.

The very same thing happened to me, if you can believe it. I was speaking at a writers’ conference and wanted to make sure our Get It Write series were there. I gave the bookstore all the ISBNs and forgot about it. When I got to the con, I noticed that the other books were there, but Tackle Box was MIA. It boiled down to the fact that Ingram didn’t have sufficient quantities, and they didn’t take the next step to order from our distributor. I was not a happy camper. And they’ve never blown it since because I make sure to follow up.

Communication

I can’t say this enough. You need to keep the lines of communication open between those who are hosting your event and ordering your books. You should also communicate with your editor. Let her know that you have a special event coming up and want to find out what to tell the store who’s ordering your books. She should tell you something like, “The store can first check Ingram, etc., or they can call our distributor…” and include the contact info.

I will say that most times, none of this will ever be an issue. However, there are those times when things don’t go as planned. The more you are in contact with those who can make or break your event, the fewer surprises you’ll have when you arrive at your event.

So the long and short of this is:

  • Know whom you are dealing with. If it’s a small indie bookstore or a used bookstore, chances are they don’t have a credit relationship with any distributors other than Ingram and B&T.
  • Plan ahead
  • Realize that it’s your responsibility to ensure books arrive at your venue.
  • Communicate with your publisher if it’s for a special event and lots of books are needed.
  • Follow up
  • Follow up again

There is nothing more heartbreaking than an audience of 200 and a stock of 35 books. Avoid this!


Charging to attend a book event

April 26, 2011

I get Publishers Lunch every morning – and so should every person who’s involved in this crazy thing we call publishing. In my morning meal, I saw that a Denver indie bookstore is going to start charging people to attend a book event – anywhere between $5-$10. That money will be used as coupon toward buying the author’s book. I found the article on GalleyCat, so you can read the article for yourself.

Store owner, David Bolduc, explains:

“Publishers place certain expectations on us when we host events, and so in order to continually attract authors, we must fulfill these expectations. Oftentimes, in return for sending an author to a bookstore, publishers expect us to attract a certain number of people and sell a certain number of books.”

How do you feel about this? I have to admit that I was shocked at this decision. From a purely publisher mindset, I am concerned this will chase event goers away. For one thing, I don’t agree with this logic. Maybe some publishers have those expectations, but I always have the attitude that the author needs to have enough of a platform, or an enticing book, to pull in event goers.

I know that when I was doing the big promo push for Tackle Box, I told the bookstores of all the writer’s groups I’d contacted and my belief that the event would be well attended. And they always were. But I did my homework because I didn’t want to sit on my arse with my finger up my nose. In other words, those stores had a compelling reason to host my book event, and that was to bring in shoppers who will buy my book and maybe a few more as well. I became a revenue stream for them.

And that’s the idea behind hosting book events. It’s give and take, and there has to be something in it for the one hosting the event. Otherwise, what’s the point? But then came along the vanity and POD authors, and bookstores saw a huge downturn in the quality of books that waltzed into those book events. The authors had zero experience, and their “publishers” were deliciously AWOL in terms of publicizing the event. The results were that few attend the events, and the store lost money. Or didn’t gain a thing.

So booksellers have become careful about whom they agree to host. Few will host vanity or POD books. Others demand a list of people who agree to attend. Others still, charge the author – or the publisher – to host the event. But to date, no one has ever charged the attendees.

Do you see this as an effective way to attract customers to come into your store? If anything, I see this as bug repellant. I have attended a number of my friends’ book events, and if I knew I was going to be charged $5 or $10 just to sit my rusty dusty in one of their chairs, I might think twice about it. True, I basically get paid back when I buy the author’s book, but what if I already bought the book? Or I bought the e-book?

I understand the owner’s plight – to get people to shop locally and support local bookstores – but I wonder if he’s shooting himself in the foot. You can’t mandate where people shop – especially in this economy. If a bookstore is going to accept the burden of hosting an event, then they do the natural things that will attract attention. They print up posters and hang them around the store. Some take out small ads in their local newspaper. They do it to create excitement and gain customers.

But how many customers are you going to attract if they know they’re going to be dinged just for attending an event?

I realize there are no easy answers. Stores are closing right and left – which makes me infinitely sad. Many stores have stopped hosting author events altogether – another sad plight. But what I don’t think is right is fleecing the golden goose to simply attend a book event.

I don’t know…am I wrong? Would you pay to attend a book event for an unknown author? Do you see this as a profit center for the bookstore and not much upside for the customer?


Timing, baby…

September 17, 2010

Book review maven Lauren Roberts from the fabulous review site BiblioBuffet sent me a link to an article that has interviews from book event organizers who discuss the length of time an author talk should go on, suggesting it might be of interest to those who bump up against our blog. Bless Lauren’s golden heart. She’s always looking out for me. Go read her site because you’ll see that she’s looking out for you, too.

Lauren’s email made me laugh because I just experienced this a few weeks ago at an author event. The author went on and on and on.

And on.

As I sat there hoping she’d run out of gas, thoughts of slitting my wrists came to mind with alarming frequency. I bargained with the Cosmic Muffin. Please…for the love of verbs and nouns, make this author STFU.

I scanned the crowd and noticed they were fighting to keep their eyes open. The event organizer stood off to the side – eyes glazed and sheet-white. I felt for her because I knew she’d been put in the horrible position of having to hook this mindless trap yapper. I’m sure if she’d taken a vote, we’d have all been willing to offer our services. I mean, doesn’t everyone carry a muzzle in their purse with the idea that someday we’d be called upon to rush the stage and tackle a speaker?

Or is that just me?

After some serious throat-clearing and making a big deal of looking at her watch, the event organizer got bold. When the author stopped to take her first breath of the evening, she rushed in. “And that concludes our discussion for tonight.”

The applause was ear-splitting. The author beamed, convinced she’d really wowed the crowd. People bolted out of the bookstore like the place had been firebombed. And guess what? They didn’t buy books. Why? Because they were ticked at the author.

This,
Is.
A.
Misfire.

Bookstores growing more mindful about author events because they take time with the set-up, ordering the books, making posters, etc. They want to be sure they’ll be rewarded with a crowd who will buy books and make everyone happy. This author managed to draw a very respectable crowd – I’m guessing around 45 folks. After everything was said and done, I chatted up the manager, who was steaming.

“How many books did you end up selling?” I asked after introducing myself.

Bullets of fire shot out of her eyes. “Five. Five effing books.”

I thought she was going to stroke out. And I can’t blame her. The book was very worthy of reading, but the author talked her audience into a coma, so by the time they woke up all they could think about was escape. And mainlining coffee. All thoughts about her book had gone the way of velociraptors.

I’ve learned the hard way that 45 minutes is the max you can ask of a book event audience. And that includes questions. If you don’t have audience participation, then wrap it up at 30 minutes. Better to leave them wanting rather than wishing to slit their own throats. Or yours.

As I’ve said in other posts - have something to say. This poor author droned on and on about the writing process, and no one cared. They weren’t writers – they were READERS…y’know, those lovely folks who whup out dollars for our books. She went from telling us about her writer’s angst to reading passages from her book.

Urp.

Read from your book, but KEEP IT BRIEF. Think about it; your head is down because you’re reading. If your head is down, you’re not engaging your audience. Their minds can wander a bit. Keep in mind that many people aren’t auditory and need to read the pages in order to be engaged. For the visually inclined – such as myself – this sort of thing is sheer agony. To keep everyone happy, keep it brief and keep your eyes on your audience.

So. When planning your book events, keep it short and sweet. You’ll not only make everyone happy, but you’ll sell books.


Of book parties and author behavior

June 1, 2010

Editorial Ass has two brilliant posts on planning your book launch party and author behavior during a party or reading. For once, I have nothing to add, since Assie sez it all. Go. Read. Learn.


Book signing season…

May 30, 2010

…can be great or well…take a look.

*happily stolen from Janet Reid

LA Times Festival of Books

April 24, 2010

Stan doing what he does best…touching lives.

So it’s that time of year again where we head up the Stan Chambers Delivery Unit, whereby we leave our batcave [braving sunshine and fresh air] to drive to Los Angeles – aka God’s Left Armpit – so we could pick up Stan and get him over to the LA Times Festival of Books to sign books and make nice with the crowds who never fail to materialize whenever he shows up. While he patiently wrote his John Handcock and posed with the throngs who wanted their picture taken with him, Mr. Moneypants and I cruised the festival.

Well, ok, that’s not exactly true. We ate lunch and met up with the ever-talented, effervescent Lauren Roberts, the queen and brains behind BiblioBuffet. But afterward, we fought our way through crowds all focused on one thing – BOOKS. Every year we go, I always have the same thought – for those who think the written word is gasping on its last legs is smoking some tabaccy laced with crack.

The place was packed. Jammed. Booths were five people deep, waiting in line just to enter some booths so they could see the latest and greatest. I saw so many people holding books to their chests as if they were precious cargo that it made this cranky editor’s evil lip quiver mightily.

And the kids! Oh how bloody marvelous to see the love of books being passed on to the wee bairns, as they jumped up and down screaming, “Can I have them both, Mommy?” Oh, happy sigh.

We’re off to do the same thing tomorrow as well since we’re still the Stan Chambers Delivery Unit. Good thing Mr. Moneypants doesn’t mind driving all the way from S. Orange County up to God’s Left Armpit. If the driving duties were left to me, I’d be in Kentucky, swearing up a blue streak.

The beagle was rather put out we didn’t take her, but I told her she was still on time out for shredding new author Chris Baughman’s manuscript.

*hah, JK, Chris.


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