Few things put a strain on the twin mandates of a bookstore, to provide a happy and engaging experience for our customers, and to sell books, as do events. Book sales are the canary in the coal mine here. Sometimes the reason is rather obvious: poor attendance. A well-attended event with poor sales brings us back to the first prime mandate. Customers were suffering in some way. I’m against that.
We recently had a two-author joint book launch for two volumes of poetry — good poets, good presenters, and well liked in the community. As the event loomed I reflected on a trend I had noticed in recent years, well-attended events with poor sales, both at the store, and at the local university’s visiting writer’s program. And I had a bit of an epiphany that I wanted to put out for discussion here. The problem had a name. The culprit was the Q&A.
The Q&A dragged the event out far too long. It tended to be of uncertain duration. The questions ranged from being on point, to personal rambling, to the dreaded process questions. The comfort of metal chairs did not improve over time. At some point from its beginning to its end the customer’s mindset was undergoing a startling transformation. This sequence below reflects the primary thought process of the customer during successive questions at a Q&A.
Free!!!!!!!! (runs for the door)
And therein lies the problem. The customers’ energy and goodwill evaporates during the Q&A so that at its end, instead of staying to wait in line, chat, and buy a book, they run for it. My theory was that if I announced at the beginning of the reading that we would be having an informal Q&A after the reading and book signing elements of the program had taken place, that customers would have more energy and good will to stay and hang out. I ran this by the two authors and we all agreed to give it a try.
The results were a big success. Everyone enjoyed the reading and we had a big group who stayed afterwards, chatted, and waited patiently to have books signed. The twin mandates of the bookstore had been achieved. Now I’m not really suggesting going Robespierre on the Q&A at every event — we all want to hear children ask questions — but I do think the guillotine has a role to play here. I’d love to hear other perspectives!