Diary of a Bookseller, Day 2
One of my favorite parts of my job at a local independent bookstore is hosting author events. Sometimes, this is also the most stressful part of my job. We’ve hosted events for everyone from our local self-published picture book authors to national, and international, bestsellers. And each and every event is different, based on the author, audience, and publisher. Sometimes things go incredibly well, and sometimes we weather complete catastrophes.
The Debut or Little Known Author
On Tuesday we hosted debut novelist Mathangi Subramanian to discuss her book, A People’s History of Heaven. I was super excited to have her come to the store, as the bookstore is one of very few independent bookstores owned by an immigrant, my boss, the owner, is from India. As Mathangi’s book is set in India and the area around the bookstore has a sizable Indian population, it seemed like the perfect fit. But no one RSVPed to attend our event. We’d had a few people buy the book, but we were nervous we’d be asking her to speak to an empty space. It’s a fine line to walk with events – do you cancel? Do cross your fingers and hope for the best? Rarely do we cancel, though we have had to do so before, especially if the author was traveling a great distance, we don’t want to waste their time.
Thankfully, a debut or little known author is usually grateful for any and all exposure we can offer them and no one has ever gotten upset with me for no one showing up. These events can either be boring, or exciting. If we don’t have other projects to work on at the store, we can spend the allotted time chatting with the author, their family, and learn more about them and the book and we can help spread the word about it. Often, if the turnout is disappointing, we’ll revisit having an event later, if possible, once we’ve had a chance to spread the word.
The Local (Celebrity) Author
These events make up the bread and butter of our in store events. Being in the Philadelphia area, when Ray Didinger released the updated edition of the Eagles Encyclopedia, we hosted his book launch. This was an exciting event, a, because I’m an Eagles fan, and b, it was sure to be a popular event. With a popular event, but a small publisher, there’s a greater chance of something going wrong. In this instance, we discovered about a quarter of the books had a printing error, and had to scramble to get the books in stock, given how many we had pre-sold for the event. Thankfully, Ray was delightful and the event went smoothly.
Often with a local (celebrity) author, they think they’re hot sh*t and that they’re doing us a favor by gracing us with their presence at the store. Oftentimes these are authors who do not have agents, publicists, or event editors and have self-published their own books. We had one man hound us repeatedly to put his book on the counter, would re-arrange all of our displays, drive away our customers by standing at the door and shoving his book in their face and follow them around the store, and then called us incompetent for not bringing in hundreds of people to his signing after he changed the date three times.
The local author is the most difficult event to predict how it’s going to go – it can be lovely and delightful, or it can be a nightmare, along with anything in between.
The Bestselling Author
I think it’s almost like celebrities, some are wonderful, some are ones you don’t want to meet because you’ve heard stories about them ahead of time. We’re lucky to have two wonderful bestselling authors who call us their home bookstore, Lisa Scottoline & Elin Hilderbrand. They are both absolutely wonderful human beings and delightful to work with (they’re books are pretty good too!), they bring in hundreds of people to the store which is always a logistical challenge. This summer will be my 4th event with each of these two ladies (they both come by the store every summer), and I’m just starting to find that I’m finally getting the hang of it. For those who love attending events, here are some frequently asked questions I get in the lead up to a big event and immediately after, and the answers I normally provide:
Question 1: Do I have to buy the book from your store?
Answer 1: Yep! The publishers send their authors on tour and pick our store as a stop because we promise them a certain number of sales. If the event is at a local independent bookstore, you should buy your book from them anyway to support your local economy. Often other markets will charge more for the book to be signed. At an indie, you’re getting a book and the opportunity to interact with someone you admire, for the sticker price of the new book.
Question 2: Can I bring my mom/dad/sister/best friend/co-worker with me?
Answer 2: Of course! The more the merrier! However, if they don’t share your enthusiasm for the author, please consider the other fans when saving seats, standing in line for the signing, etc.
Question 3: Will the author personalize my book/take a picture with me/have a 20 minute conversation with me?
Answer 3: Authors are generally incredibly kind and gracious people – they know that they wouldn’t be in the position they are if not for their loyal readers like you! However, each sets their own rules on pictures and personalization, and when you want to have a lengthy conversation, please be considerate of the people waiting in line behind you, and the staff who have to stay longer than the last person in line who have usually already been working for 8 hours by the time it’s your turn in line.
Question 3: Why did you do this particular thing this particular way?
Answer 3: Because the author/their publicist/publisher/etc. wants it that way. We are often asked why we don’t move our two biggest events out of the store and to a bigger venue – we get complaints that the store is overcrowded, we should just close for the event, we ran out of seating, etc. It’s hard to explain to people that we know our limitations and we do our best to accommodate everyone, but that if we more the event outside the store, we can’t utilize our new wine bar. Trust me, the staff want you to have an enjoyable time.