Diary of a Bookseller

The Joys of Virtual Events

As the world continues to adjust to the new normal, we as booksellers have had to adapt our old ways of doing things to new ways, and one of those ways is embracing virtual events!

Diary of a Bookseller #17

Shortly after lockdown started in Pennsylvania, I watch my first ever virtual event – my mom’s local indie bookstore, Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg PA, hosted a virtual event on Crowdcast with one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Erik Larson. They talked about his newest book, The Splendid and the Vile, which I’m still working on reading. Being married to a tech lover, my husband has our living room set up so we can stream such events onto our television, which we set up, and curled up with snacks and a beer to watch on the couch.

We were watching an author event, something I would spend HOURS preparing for in person at the bookstore, in the comfort of our own home. Why didn’t we do this more often as bookstores!? Granted the platform had some issues and as lockdown went on, I watched a few more virtual events to gauge how it was working for other stores, and I also started hosting my own book club virtually. When we reopened the store and brought the staff back in, we started to really consider, in earnest, how we could best do virtual events.

To us, the pros of virtual events out weighed the cons, or the things that we’d be missing from our old style of bringing authors in to the store for in person presentations. What we’d miss most, we realized, was authors being able to meet customers in person and sign their books. While this would certainly be a loss, we could ask the authors for signed book plates to give to our customers, which would at least be somewhat akin to having their books signed, and fans could send in questions via social media that we could ask on their behalf since they wouldn’t get to do so in person.

For only two cons, the pros are much greater:

  • Accessibility! Those who are fans of an author and cannot or could not travel on a specific date and time to see them, can now watch their favorite authors from the comfort of their own home
  • No more space restrictions! When events get very large, we have to start turning people away and nothing makes our hearts hurt more than telling someone they can’t see an author.
  • Countless streaming options! We opted for doing Google Meet calls with the authors and the interviewer (either myself or store owner Drew) and streaming them to YouTube live. We researched all the different streaming options, and as we find fault with Zoom and Crowdcast and Facebook, we decided YouTube was the most obvious choice as it’s the first one people think of when they think of online videos.
  • Re-watching! For anyone who can’t catch the event the night of, our videos are always up on YouTube the following morning as a regular video and can be viewed anytime, anywhere.
  • No physical set up! There is nothing harder at the store than figuring out multiple seating options and rearranging shelves to accommodate events without having a hard RSVP list and not knowing exactly how many people are going to show up.
  • No travel for the author! The author guest can participate from the comfort of their own home. As authors, too, the odds of them having the basic tech needed to participate (a laptop), is pretty high.
  • Remote is better! As we want to conduct the interviews without masks, we as booksellers can do our parts from home as well, from running the tech to conducting the interview, lots of us can be involved but all from different locations.
  • Panels are easier! Having multiple authors come together for a single event is a lot easier – they can all join the call and, as travel is not involved, we can bring authors together from all over the world! We’ve done joint events with authors on the east coast with us and authors in Ireland at the same time, we’re doing events with authors in Australia, Canada, all over!

Curious what I’ve been up to with virtual events? Other than fangirling over Natalie Jenner and her brilliant book The Jane Austen Society, you can see all the videos the bookstore has done on our YouTube channel!

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