Offsite Events: Full Service or A La Carte?

I’m having a flashback to when gas stations actually had full service. The cute guy with wavy blond hair would come running out. “What’ll it be?” After devouring his blue eyes, I’d gulp out, “Regular.” Then another beach-bronzed piece of filet mignon would race out to wash my windows and check the oil. Gotta love full service.

I miss full service because I’m a klutz. I’ve dumped gas on my shoes countless times and glorped my own eye with the window wash squeegee. Friends thought I’d been mugged. “Nah, just fillin’ up with gas.”

Publishing has gone the route of gas stations. Some are e-book only, while others do print and e-book. Some have excellent national distribution, others have authors serve as their unpaid sales force. Some have full-steam-ahead editing, and others run their manuscripts through the spin cycle of a quasi-working Spellcheck. Some publishers are only interested in selling to bookstores and others are only interested in selling to their authors.

It doesn’t take a Mensa member to realize that one size does not fit all. We have a la carte needs, so it’s important to have a grip on how and where you think your books will sell. Obviously, the hot button is bookstores and libraries, but that’s only scratching the surface. What kind of support will you get from your publisher if your author tour includes a ton of special events that aren’t in bookstores? Who will organize that? Them? You?

Is your publisher Full Service?

Book Events

In these hard times, many authors are getting very good at looking to special events to promote their books. One of our authors blasts the roof off by promoting at basketball arenas. Another does it with the Alzheimer groups, while others promote in all kinds of off-the-chart places. So the question is one of, “How to you get the books there?” Well, in nearly every case, a bookstore handles sales, which means they order, transport, set up, sell, take down, and transport back to the bookstore.

And who coordinates this?

Well, in our case, we do. I feel better about doing this because I’m fluent in BookSpeak. Authors aren’t, normally. They have enough headaches going on without having to handle the book end. Often they don’t realize the need to constantly follow through to make sure the books are actually ordered and have arrived. I do. Any publisher does.

Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Will 

A friend of mine who’s with a Big Six publisher told me that she’d rather eat a rusty razor blade than deal with offsite events because they’re such a pain. And they are because there are a lot of moving pieces. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be willing to do it. Facts are, the big guns don’t have that kind of manpower to expend on one author. They’re used to dealing in bulk. Small fries like us can easily handle individual requests, no matter how much offsite events make us want to mainline Drano, because we don’t have nearly as many authors.

Why Would We Do It?

Why would we go through the hassle of planning offsite events? $$, of course. Not all books will necessarily sell as well in bookstores as they might at specialty events. Books like ours tend to be specific to a particular audience, so it’s logical to consider where and how an author can find them all under one roof. You can sell bucketloads more books at those kinds of events than a half-year in a bookstore…depending on the book.

The second reason is $$. Oh, I already said that, didn’t I? Not only will offsite events yield better sales, but the bookstores have finite shelf space. Books that we (I’m speaking collectively here, not just us) think will sell like hotcakes in the stores may experience very tepid purchase orders. Recently, I saw a case where an author’s first book created a HUGE reaction, and sales were insane. The publisher couldn’t get them out fast enough. It hit the NY Times bestseller list, and the author was interviewed far and wide. Everyone thought his second book would sell just as well.

Crickets.

B&N didn’t want it, few of the indie stores wanted it. Canadian  purchase orders were their only saving grace – and everyone is holding their breath the books don’t come sailing back in returns. Yet, mommy smut is selling at untold numbers. Go figure.

With a marketplace as volatile as this, is it any wonder everyone is scared of their own shadow? There is absolutely no rhyme or reason as to what will sell, so it’s all the more reason to know how far your publisher will go to chase down sales.

Authors, Don’t Attempt This On Your Own

Offsite events can be a mess in terms of returns, invoicing, delivery, coordination between the bookstore and the venue hosting the event. It’s a headache that no author should have to shoulder. When you’re talking to an editor, let them know if you have a strong ability to sell at specialty venues and ask them if they can and will support that. It’s the difference between assuming a huge headache and showing up with a fresh smile while letting someone else do the grunt work.

4 Responses to Offsite Events: Full Service or A La Carte?

  1. Hi Lynn, Engaging article. Can you give some examples of what you mean by specialty venues & offsite events?

  2. Sure, Jane…anyplace that isn’t a bookstore. For example, one of our authors, Ann Meyers Drysdale (YOU LET SOME GIRL BEAT YOU?) is VP of the Phoenix Mercury women’s basketball team. She was touring with the team all over the country. Since we knew we’d have far more potential buyers at a basketball arena than a bookstore, we contacted bookstores in each city and asked them to handle the sales at the basketball arena. We sold MANY more books that way.

    Another author, Kim Kircher (THE NEXT 15 MINUTES) did book signings in ski shops. We handled the particulars with the store owner, and Kim could talk directly to her fan base.

  3. Thanks Lynn. Those are interesting examples of creative marketing. Gets me pondering. I trust Patricia and Brian O’Mara-Croft didn’t set up a table in ER? Although, come to think of it, there are awfully long waits there, books might sell…

  4. Heh, their fabulous book isn’t out quite yet, though I wouldn’t toss that idea out…

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