Monday, February 11, 2008

Is a book-store reading worth the energy?

Laura had her second reading at the bookstore in Cloverdale; a lovely, small store across from the movie theatre called Cover to Cover books. The owner is very friendly and the space lovely. Big comfy chairs, lots of books, plenty of light. I dropped off a box of books for Laura to bring with her (I couldn't go. My family was throwing a birthday party for me that day) and explained that the owner would deal with the sales.

Afterwards, Laura returned the box with a note from the bookstore saying five were sold. I called Laura and asked how it went. She explained it was fun and six people came.

"Five books sold to six people is really good," I said.

"No. Two books sold. The bookstore bought three for the shop."

Laura and I chatted about how helpful the owner of the store was, and how appreciative the people who came to the event were. She had a wonderful time and we sold a few books. It sounded like a standard, normal, kind of book-store reading. And that's the thing... sometimes you start to wonder, is it worth it? Readings take a lot of energy to set up and prepare for, as well as the time it takes the author to come and read and meet people. The gigantic turnout we had for the book launch was a once in a book's life-time event. What normally happens at a store reading is a few people come to meet the author, listen to her read, eat a few cookies while waiting to chat with her, maybe buy a book, and then they leave. Total run time: one hour tops. Preparation time: 5-8. That doesn't take into account the amount of energy spent by the author figuring out what to read, what to wear, and what to eat to help her stomach stay down where it should while her heart starts pounding from nerves. Or how about the night before, when the author lies awake asking, "What if no one comes?"

That does happen sometimes. I have a friend with three succesfull books published by big houses and she had a reading at a store where only the staff attended. She waited around for a while, then signed some books for the store and thanked the staff for setting up the chairs and putting out cookies. This had been her biggest fear, and it came true one day. It will come true at least once for every author. And every author survives.

There is a lot of talk about cutting the traditional bookstore readings by authors all together. Economically, you sell more books on Amazon.com than at a live event, and you don't have to leave your house. Some bookstores have stopped hosting readings and some publishers don't bother setting them up. I think reading at a bookstore is a wonderful event that works in certain areas and at certain times, but shouldn't be the only thing the author does to promote her book. Do readings in your local area because your community will come out to see you and local stores usually like to support its local talent. But don't expect to get a big turnout in Cupertino if you are from Ukiah, not unless Oprah's just talked about your book. And think about other places you could do a reading. What is the topic of your book? Are there any conferences or festivals where your book would be a good fit? If you're book is about home improvment you might have better luck selling your book at a home improvement workshop than a bookstore. Don't forget libraries either. You may not be able to sell books, but you usually have a greatly appreciative audience.

Part of the dream about what being a published author is like includes standing in a beautiful bookstore, surrounded by adoring fans who rapturously devour every word we speak as we read to them from our lovely manuscript. There's nothing wrong with that dream. Even if only one person comes to hear you read, or if only the woman behind the cash register is listening, you are still bringing that dream to life. Whether 5 or 25 come to your book-signing, they are there to discover you and your book, so give them a great show, thank them warmly, and sign their books with a smile.

Later, you can go home and ponder whether bookstore readings are right for you.

1 comment:

J.L. Powers said...

I sometimes don't think they're worth the effort--but on the other hand, I know I connected with a lkot of readers I wouldn't have otherwise if I hadn't gone on booktour with my novel THE CONFESSIONAL. But it still begs the question...how much money do you spend to go on booktour vs. how much money comes in?