Adult Authors?

Josie Leavitt - July 28, 2011

This is my little rant for the week. We are celebrating our 15th anniversary this fall. Like many bookstores we are known for our children’s section, but we also have a pretty great adult section. As we approach planning for our anniversary, we are seeking children’s authors/illustrators as well as adult authors. We have been fortunate to host some truly extraordinary children’s authors, ranging from Judy Schachner to Katherine Paterson. I am not complaining about the quality level of the children’s authors. I feel fortunate to have so many talented people coming to the store. My frustration comes from the challenge to get adult authors to come to the store.
This points up the classic problem that “children’s stores” have. Our clientele is made up of adults who buy books for children. These people come to events with adult authors. Stores like ours and like many across the country, have events that cater to the grown-ups, not just the kids. Yes, our bread and butter will be kids’ events, but our adult events often our best attended events, where we sell a ton of books. Local bookstores are doing more and more and that often means having events that cater to all the patrons of the bookstore. But I’m finding it increasingly difficult to book adult events.
Almost all the publishers have event grids that they ask bookstores to fill out well in advance of the tour dates. I have faithfully filled out event grids for adult events for 10 years, and I think I’ve gotten one author from the grid system. The dilemma I’m facing is how can a store known for its children’s section secure adult authors for events? It’s a situation that is not unique to my store, but affects all children’s stores with great adult sections. Ironically, our bestselling section is adult fiction, with middle grade right behind it. With this dynamic, you’d think I could get adult authors to come to the store. But, not so much.
It’s frustrating to plan an anniversary party as big as 15 years in business, and only have two adult authors (both of whom are local and fabulous) and not get the big names that I’m getting from the kids’ events. Is it crazy to want Christopher Moore, Dennis Lehane, Ann Patchett or Sapphire, to name a few. They sell amazingly well at my store and I know I could have a great event. My store is not is in a huge market, and sometimes that makes publicists shy away from the area. But what is sometimes missed is that a smaller market has less competition, so an event with a big-name author is often the only big event of the night in my town, thereby guaranteeing a full house of eager book buyers.
I sometimes feel like publishers are most comfortable slotting stores as either children’s or adult when they’re planning tours. I can see the reasoning behind this to some degree, but from my perspective, it’s so frustrating. Our event book sales for children’s or adult often wind up as the bestselling books of the year, so it’s a win-win for everyone.  So, as I strive to plan the best 15th anniversary I can, I am lacking the adult balance that reflects my store. I’m hoping that adult tours are being planned later in the season, so there’s some hope for getting bookings and I will keep my fingers crossed that some big-name adult authors will find their way to my store, and others, during the fall touring season.

17 thoughts on “Adult Authors?

  1. Gayle Carline

    Josie – I think the problem lies in your desire for the “big-name author”. There are tons of midlist authors out there, especially authors with small, boutique publishers, who would love to do your events. Their books are often very good, high-quality reads, but they just haven’t gotten the marketing push to get them out to the masses. You may just have to introduce them to the community.

    1. Donna Marie Merritt

      Gayle, yes! Because I’m not a big name, it’s been difficult to get indies to carry my books and invite me to read, even though I am the author of two poetry books (for adults) and a third under contract (and also the author of 15 children’s books with a 16th under contract). I offer my time for free at bookstores, but often they ask that I supply the books on consignment. I do not have the money for that, nor the energy to lug books around from store to store. I’d love the chance to be at any bookstore and only ask travel expenses if it’s beyond my home state of CT.
      Josie, I DO think big-name adult authors should come to your store, but don’t forget about us little guys. 🙂

  2. Heather Savage

    Best wishes in planning your event, I know travel budgets are tight right now. Small publishers with talented but unknown authors and the big ones with the better known authors are picking and choosing for maximum exposure. Now might be a time for small stores to take a chance on a little guy. There are so many right now, you could peruse Barnes and Noble’s PubIt site to see who is self-made and pick your fave. If they’re local or as willing to gamble as you and can swing a trip, maybe you could both benefit. Who knows, maybe a little bookstore could be where someone new and fantastic got their first break. –HK Savage/Editor, Staccato Publishing

  3. Barbara Alpert

    A couple of thoughts–try to get your request to the authors directly. Many publishers do not relay such requests to their authors, especially if they haven’t budgeted any funds for such promotion. But some big authors might be willing. Loyalty to booksellers is personal in many cases, not related to what a publisher may or may not have done to promote a book.
    You haven’t said where you are located, and although I read your posts often, I have no idea. Maybe one of the people you want might be in your part of the world and never know this opportunity existed.
    If the publisher can’t/won’t fund this, do you have any way to arrange at least some of it–local b&b, ground travel, etc? It could be worth it to pursue that.

  4. Erik Deckers

    As a new author (just published my second biz-tech book), I’m trying to drum up speaking opportunities, but without an initial purchase of books and travel expenses, I just don’t have the chance to come. Since I don’t make my living from writing — I own a social media agency — I can’t travel to places at my own expense.
    I imagine it’s the same for these “big name” writers. They may make their living from writing, but they don’t have the time and money to pay their own way to a bookstore, even if they do sell well.
    What I would propose is you negotiate a special event for one of those writers: a book reading, signing, and after-hours cocktail party for store VIPs and frequent buyer club members. See if an author would travel out to your place for the price of a business class plane ticket, hotel, and meals. Not first class treatment, but not a Greyhound bus ticket and $5 McDonald’s gift card either.
    I also think Gayle has a great suggestion. I am sure there are tons of small boutique authors who are within a 3 hour drive of your store, and would love to be at your event as a way to promote their book.

  5. Lynne Jonell

    Have you considered a Skype event with the bigger name adult authors? I have heard that Random House especially is interested in working with bookstores on these. The publisher first ships books to the author’s home. It’s interactive; after the author talk and Q & A, the author signs books on screen while speaking individually to the customer and getting the correct spelling, etc. Then the publisher schedules a pickup, books are shipped to the store, and you call the customer to come pick them up– resulting in two visits to the bookstore instead of one!

  6. Theresa M. Moore

    It is so true that many independent authors and small publishers never even get the chance to have their books featured in any small or large bookstores due to the difficulty of getting their notice in the first place. Also, advertising and promotional budgets are extremely small. If you really want some adult authors to do signings, you ought to feature more adult books in your store, or maybe stop promoting so many children’s books. I would try to do a book signing in my area but most of the bookstores have already closed. How do you compete with Amazon and Barnes & Noble and survive. You get a local author.

    1. Josie Leavitt

      Clearly, you’ve never been to my store.
      We started as a children’s only bookstore, fifteen years ago, and we shifted our stock since we moved five years ago. Currently, more than half our store is adult books. We feature them prominently throughout the store. And our best selling section, as I said in the post, is adult fiction, so clearly we’re selling adult books.

  7. Charles Colley

    I have had good success asking for time to sign books at the largest indy book store here in MD, and being asked to sign books there, for charity, as part of a large group of authors, filling the store beyond capacity. Ponder doing your own local search for authors who will bring their own books to the store to sell on splits with you. I’m self pub’d, paper and ebook; more of us out there than you may wish to realize, who still believe in bookstores, who still want face time with readers, who still want a slot on your shelf, even if only for the day of signing, better if we could leave some copies on consignment, even give them to you free, you keeping the full cover price. I am an old retailer of many stripes, think old school and it will be new.

  8. Terry Cordingley

    Josie, I am the associate director of marketing for a publishing company. Although I don’t represent the household name authors you mentioned, I do represent some great, hardworking authors from all over the country, and could help you schedule some local authors to appear in your store. I can be contacted through my web site if you are interested. Congratulations on 15 years in a highly competitive industry!

  9. Sylvia Bright-Green

    I was sorry to hear about your lack of adult authors sitaution. I would love to come to your store as soon as my books get published. I have been published in eleven anthologies but my books are awaiting publishing. I do not understand why writers are not doing this unless its the travel money and time. But even so, it’s publicity. Weird. I wish you all the best.

  10. Kim Vandervort

    I can see that it’s an interesting problem. From the other side of the issue, I’m a YA/ adult crossover novelist published by a small press, and I can’t even get the indie bookstores in the L.A. & Orange County area (except for one) to return my calls and/ or emails requesting appearances.
    I agree with those above who’ve pointed out that maybe getting the local authors in would be a win-win for you. And not all authors started out “big name.” I know that if I ever do hit it big, I’m going to remember all the stores who’ve been gracious enough to allow me to come in for appearances. 🙂

  11. Josie Leavitt

    I need to clarify something here. We have lots of events with local authors all the time. And I love these events. I work with local authors on events and it’s a real collaboration. Because someone might not have the “name” to draw a crowd we ask that they work their invite list and help get people to the event.
    But for our 15th anniversary, which seems like a real benchmark to me, I wanted to get one or two adult authors with the draw of the kids’ authors who are coming the store to help us celebrate.
    That was my only point in this blog.

  12. Karen Jones

    Hi Josie,
    Just an interesting observation…. Your “rant” was wonderful. Well-spoken, albeit written, with many valid points. Lots to think about for all. The missing detail is to tell us the name of your store and its location. Did I miss the obvious? It’s hard to help when you’re still a mystery.

  13. Susan n AZ

    Oh, pooh! You guys are thinking small.
    I have seen blogs for bestselling authors who go to small stores for some event, where they stay with a local friend of the bookstore owner sets them up as a houseguest somewhere in town with one of the booklovers, so the travel costs are minimized.
    Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America keep membership lists. You can contact them, state your problem, and they will contact some big names within one day driving distance of your store. Some of the big names will want to come.


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