My store life grows increasingly busy these days, as we’re in the throes of author event season and I’m scrambling to keep up with my usual buying, returning, shelving, displaying, recommending, reporting, reviewing while also trying to accommodate the needs of authors and publicists; arrange a place to host each event; make sure we’ve got the publicity tools we need for each event; work with our wonderful Assistant Manager (Kym Havens) to post the event information on our website, on flyers in our store, and in our store’s e-newsletter; order each author’s books; find a place to store those mountains of boxes; thank our wonderful receiver (Pete Sampson) for not losing his mind; find a place to prominently display each event’s books in the store despite the lack of space caused by all the incoming fall titles and the need to display books for such sales-heavy occasions as Halloween; follow up with authors, publicists, and drivers to confirm where and when each of our special guests will be arriving; pray pray pray that people will actually attend each event; hope hope hope that each of these authors or illustrators are nice, friendly people and dynamic speakers; and then (in most cases) attend and run the actual events.
Doing this a few times a season would be fine, but this year I’ve already put almost 15 names on our calendar and have promised to fit in a couple more, provided I don’t lose my mind before that happens. Many of these folks are "big names" any booklover would be hard-pressed to turn away, but a lot of them are also local authors or illustrators who aren’t especially well-known. While you might think it would be reasonable to schedule only events with the former, the latter can be just as successful (if not more so) at drawing big crowds, IF (that is) they’ve got their own mailing lists comprised of supportive, local friends and relatives. In either case, though, each reading or signing event is a crap shoot. You can do all the publicity and planning in the world and still have anywhere from 5 to 500 people in attendance, with no concrete explanation for why you got those numbers.
Lest any of you think I’m over-exaggerating the work and teeth-gnashing involved in planning and executing author events, let me assure you that I’m not. Many bookstores do very few, if any, author events precisely because they are often a ton of work. It is true, yes, that doing events keeps your name in the public spotlight, makes you look like a "destination," gives you credo with your customers and goodwill in the community. But many stores find that the added publicity and goodwill just aren’t enough to cover expenditures of money, time and energy. Once you appreciate all the work that goes into them, it’s pretty easy to see why.
Basic signings involve relatively little planning and require little space, so they’re pretty easy to run, but they don’t often draw large crowds of people unless the person signing books is a local celebrity, a big-name author, or say, Julie Andrews Edwards. Most authors prefer to do signings in conjunction with readings, and that’s what most bookstore customers seem to want too.
For a long time our store had very little space in which to host readings. We could clear away a section in front of the picture books, but it didn’t hold many chairs, it blocked off a very popular browsing space, and the picture book section didn’t seem like the best "fit" for most authors of adult books. Now that a section of our basement has been finished to create our Used Book Cellar, we’ve got substantially more room to play with, allowing us to accommodate readings for crowds of up to 60 or (with less breathing space) 75. But if a visiting author looks to draw more folks than that, or if we think we need to reach a wider audience than our own mailing list, we’ll often choose to host events at a larger local venue, usually the nearby Wellesley Free Library. We love the freedom and opportunities provided for us by event partnerships like this one. What we don’t love, though, is that compared to in-store events, off-site events require more staff, involve a lot more work, and don’t bring event attendees into our actual bookstore, which means we miss out on additional sales and sometimes even the goodwill/prestige boost, as visitors aren’t always aware that the event is "our doing" and not a matter of library expenditure.
What has to happen at an in-store or off-site event? I’m going to have to put that explanation in another post, in order to satisfy the needs of this blog tool. See "Fall Events Frenzy (Part II)."