Saturday, June 29, 2019
Musings on Author Events and Why I am Stopping (at least for now)
I went to an author event today that was sponsored by a local author’s association. I took my almost 11 year old with me who was excited to sell books…though anxious about how. “How do I take a credit card? What do I do when they give me a check? What do I say to get them to buy your book?” As we drove over the two bridges that it took to get to the library where the event was taking place, I was peppered with all kinds of questions.
Like most kids who experience firsts, she was super excited. However, I, older and far more experienced with all kinds of firsts, knew that disappointment would be inevitable.
Fast forward three hours later and we are back in the car and she is slumped in her seat, “I can’t believe we didn’t sell one book, Mom.”
Well, I could.
I knew it the minute I walked into the event. The major tell was that we were all put into a room off the lobby entrance of the library. Not a spot where good foot traffic could occur. This means people would have to go out of their way to find us, and when you are a collection of unfamous local authors and it’s a nice summer day, no one is seeking you out in a room off to the side of the library. In my 15 years as an author, this consistently is a sign that no books will be sold.
By the end of the first half hour, I got another major tell when I observed that the youngest patron to stroll through the room was around 70. Not a population that was interested in a fun-loving and sweet YA novel that deals with mental health issues and features jelly doughnuts as its main symbol. In fact, each lovely older person who approached my table was far more interested in the Brach’s hard candy I had strewn around over the piles of books. “May I take one?” They all asked and I would, deadpan, “Only if you buy a book.” While this made them laugh, they all shook their heads and said no. My daughter would then interject in her sweet soft voice, “We’ll give you extra candy if you buy a copy.” They did smile and nod…and take more candy before moving on to another table.
Sadly, this is not the first time that this has happened to me as an author…where you come to the event with a certain amount of books and leave with the exact same amount. Over the last year that I have been marketing my new book that came on out on July 5, 2018, with Black Rose Writing, I attended 8 book signing events and two of those resulted in zero sales. I was supposed to attend far more than 8 events, but I know this road and I decided that unlike how I marketed my previous books, I was going to be selective with what events I chose to do. However, even in my careful screening, over 20 percent of the events I attended resulted in zero sales. (Incidentally, I’ve sold far more online through blog tours, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram).
The point of sharing this with you, dear blog reader is that after a while, after almost two decades of this life as a self-pubbed-indie-pubbie-traditional-pubbie unfamous author, I’m not doing this type of stuff anymore.
Here’s why: At the end of 2018, a school hosted an event in conjunction with a major bookstore chain where I was invited to be the featured author. Marketing was done as well as proper coordination with the bookstore chain event planner. Yet, when I arrived, the store manager (not the event planner who was mysteriously not there) stuck me in a corner near the self-help nonfiction section (I write YA) at a table the size of my laptop and ignored me for the two hours I was there. I didn’t sell one book and when I left, no one said goodbye.
After that event, I became very leery about doing author events, so as the winter turned to spring and I was invited to attend some more events as a guest author, I went on high alert for any possible signs of trouble. Sure enough, red flags began to wave frantically. No! Stop! This is going to go horribly wrong!
Here are some signs that an author event may not go well:
Red flag: A bookseller agrees to take on your book but doesn’t provide you with any consignment paperwork or indicate a date for a possible signing: Example: A bookseller at a local indie bookstore has held onto a copy of my book for 3 months and counting and has promised to give me a date for a signing…but it’s now just about July and despite my reaching out to her several times, no planning has happened. Maybe it's time to get my book back.
Red flag: You are invited to attend an event as a featured author but zero marketing is done and the event coordinator doesn’t provide you with any details about what the exact event and your role in it is: Example: A well-intentioned librarian several towns over invited me to be a featured author at an event. As the date of the event neared, I saw that no marketing was happening and no one had reached to me about the details of the event (Do I bring my own books? Who will the audience be? Am I hosting a talk? How long is it?). When I inquired about these things, no details were provided. I then did something I would have never considered doing years ago, I backed out. I know the signs of a gig turning out terrible. This is one of those where chances are I will show up to no one, no books will get sold, and no talks will be had.
So given all of this, why, you may ask, did I agree to go to today’s event? Because I didn’t see any glaringly red flags. In fact, based on past events that were hosted by similar folks, this should have gone relatively (as in selling 3-4 books) well.
I know the “Zen” and “enlightened” perspective on author events is: Go to these things for the experience of it, for the connecting with other writers, go because even if you sell one book that’s one more person who will read your work and that’s what really matters—that one reader. Believe it or not, especially as you read my words above, I do ascribe to this Zen perspective and feel that all authors should because it is true that you can go to these events and have one or two nice moments and those moments are important and wonderful.
In fact, today, at the event with my daughter, I sat next to an AWESOME fellow YA author who told me how much she enjoyed reading my book—she compared me to John Green! She was lovely and sweet and really made my day.
The thing about being Zen or enlightened and HUMAN— is that we can feel two seemingly opposing ways at the same time (it’s a concept in philosophy called a dialectic and it’s also something I use with my psychotherapy clients all the time). So, I do feel good about author events AND bad at the same time. It’s a good feeling to go and even just talk with other writers (like the lovely fellow YA author Angelina Singer) AND it’s a bad feeling to not sell books. Both are true and both can happen at the same time at author events.
And yet, despite the good that comes with the bad, and despite that I understand the “Zen” aspects of author events, I’m in at this point in my life as an author where I have probably attended over a hundred author event/signings and I’ve done everything from signings to talks to panels to expos. And this all doesn’t include the many years I spent teaching writing workshops. What I realize is that attending these things used to be fun, used to feed my creative self, no matter if I sold books or not. But, that is no longer the case. It hurts to go to an event and be ignored or to not sell one book. It hurts to waste an entire day inside and sad when you could be with your children or sitting on your porch.
Watching my daughter through the rearview mirror slumped over and defeated as we pulled out of the parking lot of the library, I asked her how she felt. “I feel bad, Mom. I feel bad I couldn’t sell your books.”
I bit my lip and held back my tears, wanting so badly to tell her that it’s all fine and who cares and it doesn’t matter.
But I couldn’t because it does.
After a few more minutes of silence, she said, “But it’s okay. It’s not liked we failed. Sometimes people just don’t want to buy books and sometimes they do. You’re still a writer. It doesn’t matter.”
I smiled at her through the mirror and brushed away my tears. “You’re right, sweetie,” I told her.
And she really is.
*Part 2 of this piece will be about what I AM going to do to market as I give up these events.