A crash course in book events

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!

4 Responses to A crash course in book events

  1. Kim Kircher says:

    I’m taking notes here Lynn.

  2. I SO don’t worry about you because you are so communicative and are always asking questions. What’s not to love about that?

  3. Lev Raphael says:

    I am married to a double-checked, no a triple-checker and have learned the hard way that everything Lynn says is 100% true and that ultimately it comes down to the author. No matter how busy you are on tour it is your responsibility to make sure books are available.

    But you must remember to be gracious if there’s a screw-up no matter what you’ve done to avoid it, remind people they can order on-line, and keep smiling! I have done literally hundreds of events on three continents now and have seen books not get to where they were supposed to go. At first it was heartbreaking, but I learned to check and double-check and triple-check.

    No matter what, it is incumbent on you as the author not to be visibly frustrated when something gets screwed up. What you do have control over is your attitude and how much energy and preparation goes into your part of the event: the talk and/or reading.

    Here’s my Huffington Post blog about how to be a better author on the road: http://tinyurl.com/3gf4apz

  4. Louise Curtis says:

    I just gave you a versatile blogger award (and I think this time I didn’t make any major errors, for a change). http://twittertales.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/versatile-blogger-award/

    Louise Curtis

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