I have been asking myself this question a lot lately. Every event has its own questions that make me tense. Will enough people come to the event (and it turns out that my view of this and an author’s view can be vastly different)? Will I have enough books? Will I have the right mix of books? Will the author show up? Will people who came to the event have a good time and leave feeling enriched? Will my press release run in the paper without me needing to pay for an ad first?
The past year we’ve had a lot of different kinds of events, ranging from Fancy Nancy and other New York Times bestselling authors, to a local poet with small press release. Obviously, different events will draw different crowds. More than 200 people, most of them in tiaras, showed up for Fancy Nancy. The poet drew almost 30 and that was fabulous.
There is a deep, dark secret that most bookstores will not talk about: sometimes, medium to big name authors don’t draw the crowd they’re expecting. There is nothing more disheartening than having a bestselling author who doesn’t draw the hundred he or she is expecting. Yes, we’re in a small town, but we can pull over 200 for certain events, and others only get 50. To me, a 50-person event is still a good event. But for some authors this is not enough.
Generally, authors are seasoned enough to know that sometimes, even with the best media push, a large crowd just isn’t going to materialize. Of course everyone is unhappy, but most of us are professional enough to hide our disappointment until after the event. After 16 years of being in business, I still can’t figure out what events will spark a huge crowd and what events that should be huge are mid-sized or small instead.
We had an event for a paperback release with a very well known regional author that only had 40 people in attendance. The 40 people in attendance had a great time, which is a testament to the author’s skill and adeptness at hiding his disappointment at the size of the crowd. I thought the event was fabulous because all of those in attendance had really felt a real connection to the author. Books were bought and signed and I thought all was good.
The following morning we received a pointed email from the author (which was shared with the publicist) suggesting that unless we could guarantee at least 150 people at the next event, there would be no further visits from him. Once I calmed down, I realized the request was a tad unrealistic. I have no way of guaranteeing any size crowd. Even when people RSVP, they don’t always show up; there are snowstorms, lacrosse tournaments, etc. The list goes on as to why folks sometimes miss an event they were excited to attend until their life got in the way. Perhaps my town shows a laissez-faire attitude toward someone they think of as a local (even though he’s not, but it’s sweet how folks like to claim him as their own) and they don’t rush out for a paperback release event. It was a frustrating time for all involved. But to be told, essentially, I’m better than your store, is galling to say the least and shortsighted at worst.
What publicists and authors need to understand that not every event is going to a crush of hundreds of people. But having a good event means that the folks attending will remember you and your work. They will tell their friends about how wonderful it was to meet you and talk to you about your work. And most importantly, they will now become loyal fans who will not only buy your books, they’ll give them as gifts.
I explained this in an email to both the author and the publicist. I don’t think much will change, but I know from a bookseller’s perspective, we still had a great event, and folks from that event still come to thank me for having the author to the store.