Where’s the Crowd?

Josie Leavitt - May 10, 2010

Last week I blogged about Cynthia Lord coming for a store visit on Friday for her new picture book Hot Rod Hamster. She was well prepared. We were well prepared. The event was advertised heavily via email (we have a 1,600-person email list), through the schools’ lists, on our website, on an event flyer posted all over the store and available for customers to take with them, listed in all the local paper’s calendar listings and parenting calendars, really — I could go on.
We were expecting between 30-45 people at this event, based on the excitement of our customers about the book — we sold half our stock before the event even happened! — and about having a NEWBERY HONOR AUTHOR in our town. Everyone meant to come. I do not normally like to talk about under-attended events, but it happens to all us. It seems three things were working against us: (1) Friday afternoon is not a great day for a younger child event, (2) Mighty Mites sports had tournaments, and (3) several birthday parties reared their cupcaked heads.
Authors, I know, must feel horrible when an event is underattended. I know I do, and I resist the urge to apologize every minute about where the kids are. But it’s a fact of life that sometimes even the best advertised events will have less than a stellar turnout.
The upside to smaller events is trifold. The audience has a very personal experience and the kids who were there were delighted — calling out sounds and choosing their vehicles and engine parts and flags. They clearly loved the book already.
Elizabeth and I got to really to talk to Cynthia Lord, who is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She even brought clothes for my cousin’s child who lost everything in the Nashville flooding last week. Her presentation was informative and fun. And her choice of projecting the book on a screen, rather than holding it, is genius and it worked beautifully.
We love having authors visit the store. One of the things that’s always fun is giving them a gift of thanks afterward. It’s a rare thing when we find a gift — okay, Elizabeth found this one — that’s so absolutely perfect for the author we make her open it in front of us.
It’s hard to see, but here she is holding her brand new Critter Cruiser, a car for hamster to roll around the house in.
And lastly, the signed copies of Hot Rod Hamster and Rules have already been selling quite well.  It’s easy to despair when a great,
fun event isn’t as well attended as you’d like it to be, but booksellers need to remember that events last far beyond the actual presentation. Signed books will sell until there aren’t any left. Right after events, we leave a big display on the front table of signed books from our recent events.
Every day I hear customers say, “Oh, that event was last week?”  They realize they missed the event, and they buy the book.
We had a first during the event, because Children’s Literature New England was up the road, Peter Sis came to the event. It’s not every day that I’ve had an event where Peter Sis was in the audience. For a brief moment I felt my store was in a far larger city where this wouldn’t be such a wonderful shock.
Cynthia has already blogged about the event and I’m including a link to it so   folks can see two sides of the the same event.
And the great thing about this event is,  Cynthia and I have already made plans for her to come do an event with us when her book, Touch Blue, comes out in the fall.

16 thoughts on “Where’s the Crowd?

  1. Cynthia Lord

    Oh, goodness! *I* don’t feel horrible at all! I thought it was a lovely event. Truly.
    As I’m sure you would agree, there is more than one definition of an event that goes “well.” Of course, filling chairs and selling books is one of the goals, but it’s also about creating an experience for the people who come. In our case, those little boys were so excited to be there, and the mom who asked me questions about RULES afterward. . .I don’t know if you listened to that conversation, but it was an important one.
    You and I are in the business of connecting readers and books. Sometimes that happens in big, splashy ways–and that’s great. But lots of times, it happens in smaller moments, a reader or a few readers at a time–and honesty, that’s great, too.
    As an author and a bookstore (or a public library), we do their best to bring people in, but then, it comes down to things out of our control–the weather, what kind of day a particular family has had, what else is going on in town, etc. I have done 100+ events and school visits at this point, and one thing I’ve discovered is that each event creates its own ripples. Sometimes the events where only a few people came, end up being the ones where I’ll get an email days or weeks or months later that shows how much it mattered that I came.
    It was a thrill to come to Flying Pig! I would come back in a heartbeat. I loved every second of being there (well, maybe not the second where Elizabeth told me Peter Sis was downstairs–that was a bit terrifying honestly!!!). I was delighted with every kid and adult who came. I saw a librarian I’d done an event with a few years ago. I was thrilled to look up and see a member of my year’s Newbery Committee who stopped by to say hi.
    And I got to see Peter Sis choose a hot rod!
    Really! What’s not to love about that?

  2. Maggie

    Thank you for sharing. When this happens to me, I’m always second-guessing myself…What more could I have done? What did I do wrong? I tend to remember the low attendance programs rather than the crowds. Sometimes I feel like I am beating every bush in town to get 25 people when I really, really want 125.

  3. Peggy

    I was ready to fall through the floor when a signing with a scientist/science writer drew 3–count ’em, 3–people to the store. He signed 5 books for them, and he and the three customers talked shop for the duration of the signing. We shooed them out at closing. When we left about 30 minutes later, they were still talking earnestly out on the sidewalk. Later the author wrote to say that he had never had so much fun at a signing. Although we’d always like to have a huge crowd, sometimes it’s okay with us just to have a hoot with an author.

  4. Hester Bass

    Sigh. Small happens, to me and to almost every author I know at some point, and it’s not always a bad thing. Everyone networks like mad and everyone wants a crowd to enjoy such an entertaining event, but we are not wizards (darn!). The effort is not wasted; friends are made and books get shared later. I always try to remember Johnny and those apple seeds. Good job, everyone – thanks for sharing the journey. (P.S. I love your blog! Wish you were in my town 🙂

  5. Donna Marie Merritt

    THANK you for sharing this. I have gotten flustered when too few show to an event and end up doubting myself as a writer and a presenter. I need to follow Cynthia’s example and be more confident and gracious! (Of course, I’d lose my cool in front of Peter Sis anyway!)
    Again, it’s nice that you are sharing the struggles as well as the triumphs.

  6. LaShaunda Hoffman

    I think some of my best moments at book signings are when it is a small crowd. It becomes intimate instead of a stand in line moment. I’m actually able to talk with the author and discuss how the book moved me. I know it is about selling books, but it also about getting to know your readers.
    Take this time to get to know the readers who took time out to attend this event. It might be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

  7. Tami Lewis Brown

    Even though there weren’t swarms of kids in the audience there were quite a few children’s authors in attendance (Children’s Lit New England was meeting right down the road) How cool to have Peter Sis there! We were all impressed by Cynthia’s professionalism and her fun, well thought out presentation. Not to mention the Flying Pig folks saw to every detail, making sure it was a fun event for every one who braved unusually heavy afternoon traffic to be there.
    Sometimes smaller crowds make the most memorable author visits. I don’t think the little boys in the audience will forget this special author or her books. I know I won’t!

  8. Paul Acampora

    Last year, my daughter and I attended a store event featuring local picture book artist/writer Lee Harper (“Woolbur,” “Snow, Snow, Snow,” and “Turkey Trouble”) and local middle grade novelist Nancy Viau (“Samantha Hansen has Rocks in Her Head”). We were the ONLY ones who showed up. At first, it was awkward and uncomfortable. But then it turned into the best day ever. In the selfish category: my daughter received one-on-one art and writing lessons for nearly two hours. More importantly, I’m sure that I’ve been directly responsible for selling at least a dozen or more books from each of these authors’ lists. And I will continue to buy their work for my own kids and for others whenever their new titles appear. First of all, they’re really, really good. Second, I want them – along with my local store — to succeed because of their kindness, grace, talent and professionalism which, thanks to my local bookstore, I was able to experience first hand. Perhaps the measure of an event’s success is the ability to turn even one reader/customer into a fanatic.

  9. Judith Geary

    As an author, you remain open to the signing as an opportunity to connect with whoever comes. I was signing at an art gallery in the mountain resort of Boone, NC, and connected with one of the planners for American Assn. of School Librarians conference the next year. That led to a delightful experience at AASL in Charlotte, NC last November. I’m grateful my writers group arranges these events and independents in our area host them. Thank you.

  10. Pingback: Tweets that mention Where's the Crowd? -- Topsy.com

  11. Janet Lawler

    So – I confess to two events where NO ONE came. In between the two, I read somewhere that you should not feel bad about this, just browse the shelves and engage the bookstore owner, who is feeling at least as bad as you. The second time in happened, after chatting for a while, I took out paper and pen and began the draft of a new picture book I’d been thinking about for a long time. That manuscript came close to an offer recently and should someday find a home. So there is always a silver lining. And I would definitely go back to that bookstore, to hopefully share with a crowd that “this is where I started writing this story”, though I just might say, “in between autographs” instead of “in lieu of…”!

  12. Shelftalker Elizabeth

    Janet, don’t worry; most of us authors who aren’t, say, Jon Scieszka, have had those events. I had a no-turnout reading, and, like you, had a lovely time checking out the bookstore and chatting with the booksellers. I have a funny sort of schism in my feelings about low-turnout events. Speaking as an author, I think the only time an event is truly terrible is when no one expects you, including the staff. As a bookseller, of course, I want so much more for the authors who spend their precious time and gas money and creative energy traveling to stores and sharing their art with children.

  13. Kathy M. Miller

    Collaboration is key. Authors need to do their part to help bring
    people out. When working together on an event, I try to bring NEW people to the store. A new customer will have long lasting benefits to the store after your visit. An author can provide an educational program to a relevant group in the form of a ‘private event’ prior to the general public book signing. It ensures some attendance, makes people feel special, and the book store is seen as a valuable community resource.
    I’ve done some ‘by invitation only’ events for select customers. They
    really appreciate being made to feel special. For a recent store event
    (my book has a nature theme), I got in touch with the local girl scouts and created a private event that took place one hour prior to the general public book signing. They were interested in pursuing future events at the store. Authors can survey what local clubs or organizations exist that are relevant to their presentation.
    Authors can also supplement the store’s marketing with a focused effort. Josie outlined a ton of things the store did to promote the recent event (not to mention the expense of refreshments, flyers, ads and staff!) An author can help by marketing to their niche. For example, I arranged a radio interview on a nature show the morning of a book signing, and it brought people that had never been in the store before. In my community there are several groups like the ‘Red Hat Ladies’, book clubs, seniors groups, garden clubs, church groups, photography clubs, historical societies, nature clubs, Homeshool Assocations, etc that would welcome a special event created for them.
    On the topic of digital projectors, I recommend all authors with picture books invest in one. It keeps the attention of little ones, allows for presentations in venues like stores, retirement homes and preschools and serves as back-up to a school’s equipment.

  14. Leelee

    I planned author bookstore tours for years and sat through more than a few disasters–and authors’ reactions ranged from friendly equanimity to uncontrolled crying in the parking lot.
    Scheduling and popularity of the author has a lot to do with it, but in my experience, if a local paper (or even better, TWO local papers) did a piece on the author in the week leading up the event, and the author/book addressed *something* (ANYTHING!) of interest to the community, the turnout was healthy.

  15. Erica Perl

    I totally agree with everything that has been said here, especially Cynthia’s lovely and gracious note above. I just want to add something that the author in me sometimes reminds the mom in me: meeting authors can be worth missing a soccer game (don’t tell my daughter’s coach I said that, of course)!

  16. Sarah Collins Honenberger

    Bookstore folks and librarians are now some of my best friends because I had time to talk at a slower event. But radio and newspaper interviews in advance would really help. Look at the impact NPR has on book sales. Everyone loves knowing how a book came into being, and the life experiences of an interesting author, and it beats one more murder or celebrity divorce headline. Thank you, booksellers, for all you do to help authors and readers connect.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *