Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Author Events: From the mouths of authors

Emily Giffin in Bethesda, MD, 2012
Introduction by Tracey Meyers

I attended my first book event in May, 2008.  Though enjoyable, I can't say it was the best book event experience I've ever had.  Most of the evening was great, however, when it was my turn to finally meet the author and get my book signed, I wasn't greeted with the same cheerfulness and openness others before me had been.  This behavior wasn't consistent, but I do know I wasn't the only one who got treated the same way.

Since that experience, I have had many more good experiences vs. bad ones.  Take the event I went to for Rachel Bertsche when her book, MWF Seeking BFF come out.  As you will see from this post, I had a great time!  Or, when I attended CLC's Go-To-Gay Wade Rouse's writing retreat last May.  Though not an "official" book event, I still view the experience of meeting Wade like I do a book event - there he was with a captive audience not only teaching us about staying true to our voice, but also giving us the opportunity to learn more about him and his books.

After a handful of wonderful author meetings, I got slammed in the face once again with a bad one.  It was my third bad experience with this author (what can I say, I'm an eternal optimist!), but a much needed wake-up call.  As I left the event, I got to thinking:  Am I expecting to much as an attendee?  I mean, I get that authors are meeting many, many, MANY fans, but is that a reason to nice to some and "blah" to others?  Why did one author have me smiling when I left and another made me wish I never attended the event in the first place?  That's when an idea was born!

With the help of Melissa A., I reached out to authors and readers to get their thoughts on book events - the good, the bad... and possibly the ugly.

Today, we give the authors a chance to speak about their experiences and thoughts on the topic:

"There are all kinds of author events, and some of them are wonderful, and some are not, but the one thing that helps them all be more wonderful for me personally, is turning a book signing into a reader event. How do I do this? I post on my event page, FB, or send out emails and invite my readers to join me at the event, and not just at the actual store signing, but for a coffee chat or cocktail either before or after. Why do this? I find that its really difficult to talk to readers in a store setting, so I'm hosting more and more pre or post event get-togethers where my readers and I can sit down, relax, and visit. It's my way of making every event feel like special, like a true event, and so even if the bookstore turn out is small, I always get a 'feel good' from my book signing. I always get to hang out with my readers and discover them as real people, and vice versa, because I don't like selling a book to women. I like building relationships with them. Creating a community. It connects me back to others, something that's important for me as a writer and a woman.
- Jane Porter

"I love doing events. Writing is such a solitary profession, getting out and meeting readers, discovering how my books have impacted them, makes me happier than anything else - it is truly the most validating part of the job."
- Jane Green

"Author events are a great but often humbling experience. It's so nice to connect with readers and potential readers. On the other hand, you're (at I) am always worried that no one is going to show up! Then I feel bad for me, but also for the bookseller who put effort into your appearance. Another challenge, particularly if you are doing a presentation rather than just a signing, is "performing". I'm not sure why, but I always feel like I need to be a stand-up comedian at these events. That simply reading from my work is not sufficient. And sometimes that works (people laugh!) and sometimes it doesn't (stoney silence). Every audience is different, but it's hard to tailor your material (not being a professional stand-up comedian). I talk for a living in my day job (I'm a lawyer), but it's always different when you're talking about yourself and your work."
- Catherine McKenzie

Jennifer Weiner in Washington, DC, 2012

"Events are some of the best times an author can have. They can also be the worst. Lucky for us, the ones that are the worst are almost never the fault of the attendees. Badly organized events can send us into a tailspin, but it is our readers that pull us back up.

A few things that attendees can do to make things easier on us...know that we want to meet everyone. That means that we really need you to be respectful of everyone's time. A book signing is not the place for telling us your life story, your idea for a book, or that hilarious thing that happened to you that one time. We want everyone to have their moment, so please be aware of the other people around you. We are usually happy to take pics. Please be prepared with whomever is snapping the shot, and please limit it to one...this is not a photo shoot, and while we want you to have your memories, ten takes to make sure your chin doesn't look funny or just handing your phone to the stranger in line behind you who has no idea how to work it is a little annoying.

It is so sweet of you to bring us gifts, but please be aware that it is very unlikely that we will actually eat anything home-cooked handed to us by a stranger. It is just the state of the world we live in, and between allergies and food restrictions etc. please know that we so appreciate the effort, but we just can't really take risks.

Most importantly, what you can do is come and bring friends. For every event we have that is standing room only, we have one that is just us, four family members, and one random person in the bookstore who just wanted to sit down. We all are nervous about attendance at every event, so please please come whenever you can, because you are the reason for our life's work and nothing makes us happier than an opportunity to tell you so in person.
- Stacey Ballis

"I went to a book signing recently where four authors read for 20-30 minutes each. Oh. My. God. I hope I didn't snore or drool.

Authors are not necessarily social people (we sit in empty rooms in front of a computer in complete solitude for hours on end), so book signings can be excruciating for us. Many authors simply read because they don't know what else to do. But that's not a good idea - people don't like being read to. I know I don't. Read a little so your audience gets a feel for your style and your voice, but no more than five or six minutes or they will be yawning and eyeing the exit.

Instead, tell a personal story. Give them a glimpse as to who you are and what inspired you to write the story. People will buy your book if they like you. 

And unless you're J.K. Rowling, don't be disappointed if your audience is small. If you touch one person you've been successful"
- Samantha Hoffman

I find book signings to be one of the most rewarding parts about being an author. Most authors spend the majority of their time at their laptops - writing their manuscripts and partaking in social media. Online promotion is wonderful - you have the whole world at your fingertips - but author events allow you to meet your readers and just as importantly meet booksellers.

"I enjoyed my events for MONARCH BEACH and will be returning to the same bookstores for the release of MARKET STREET. I feel the booksellers are a little invested in my books and it will be great to see them. Doing author events is like growing the circle of people that care about your book and it is a privilege to be invited to do them.
 - Anita Hughes

Jodi Picoult in Washington, DC (same place as Jennifer Weiner), 2012

"I don't do a lot of author events any more since I'm publishing most of my work digitally. But one of the reasons I don't make a huge effort to do it regardless is because doing public appearances were expensive and didn't yield enough results in sales to make it worthwhile anyhow. It made far more sense to spend that time working on writing rather than on promoting. Which is a constant internal debate with which authors contend: time promoting versus time writing (or being with family even!). It's very hard to calibrate how well promotions affect sales, and when I was doing promo with books from New York houses, it really seemed so infinitesimally small that it just was hard to justify--i.e. you're spending more on travel expenses to do appearances than you are in actual number of books sold. Of course it's even harder to quantify how word of mouth can potentially spread by doing appearances, but honestly, I've been doing this long enough now that I truly believe much of the word of mouth that is generated by books is generated by buzz from within a publishing house when they decide to pull out all the stops to promote a book. In that case (and if they're paying, which is so rare), it can be worth it to take the time to promote like that.

But take for instance, my first novel, SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER, which came out in mass market paperback. Because it won the American Title contest, I was stuck with the lousy royalty rate that Dorchester was willing to offer, which I think ended up being about 25 cents/book. Now, imagine how much money you'll be earning when you go to a book signing at Barnes and Noble and sell 30 books (and that is a GOOD night). Not enough for a cup of coffee. And you won't see that from your publisher for a LONG time (in my case never! since they went bankrupt, owing many of us lots of money we'll never see). I say all this, but it's lovely to be at an author event and find readers who love your book and really enjoy reading what you write. Though truly, it's easier to find them online these days...
- Jenny Gardiner

 "The Bloggess" -  Jenny Lawson
(Chicago, IL, 2012)

When all said and done, I do enjoy book events.  Not only have I gotten a chance to meet a variety of interesting authors and hear them speak in-depth about their books, but also to chat with a variety of people while waiting for the events to begin.  (I truly love how they bring together people from all corners of a given area.)

Reading what the above authors had to say about book events truly sheds a new light on these events for me and gives me a new respect for what authors do.

Stay tuned next week for the second part of this look at author events.  We'll be getting feedback from fans who will be sharing their book event experiences -the good, bad ... and, of course, possibly ugly.


Unknown said...

Very informative! Love the different points of view.

Nova said...

Great post! Glad to read the author's point of view.

Jean Oram said...

This was awesome information. So many great ideas. Thanks!

Jody Spreng said...

Maybe not the same as an author event but I have attended three of Wade Rouse's writers workshops--all three were outstanding, encouraging and meaningful. Wade Rouse has stayed true to his personal promise that if he ever became a published author he would help others with dreams of writing a book. Four books later Wade does not look down on the beginner but offers a hand and a nudge and a friendship. Maybe Wade is unique in that fact that he is not only a brilliant writer but he is funny and snarky and obviously enjoys people.

Pauline Wiles said...

Fascinating. I can't imagine ever being in a position where I have to turn down homemade cakes, but it's encouraging that even these authors are concerned about attendance and question the time/money trade-off of doing events. Great insights, thank you.

Monica said...

I was at this same event in Bethesda and also blogged about it (! Emily Giffin wasn't bad, but I thought Jennifer Weiner was really good, plus she talks to you on Twitter (blogged about that too-- My biggest peeve is the lines, other than that it's just nice hearing what the author has to say.