There is an urban author’s myth of a now famous author in her undiscovered days – was it Janet Evanovich? – who spoke at a bookstore in a mall with pouring rain outside. She knew the audience would be sparse as the mall was empty, and to cheer herself up, she bought a box of chocolates from the store next door.
Only four people turned up and she made them sit in a circle and gave them each a chocolate. They were silent as she spoke and read, and asked no questions. At the end three got up and left. The fourth thanked her and the author asked, rather desperately, if she wanted to buy a book. The woman laughed and said that all four were homeless, and just thirsted for a little culture so the bookstore allowed them to attend. The author felt compelled to give her a copy of her book and the rest of the chocolates.
I recently went to a book reading of an author who is struggling to break through, like me. We had met a few times and I have offered advice at various stages. I dutifully spread the word of his book launch to my social and e-circles, attended the reading, and bought a book.
Not many people turned up and even less felt inclined to buy the book. He was disappointed and the bookstore staff was not too excited either. When I asked him to sign my book, he mumbled a weak thank you and scribbled. I don’t think he ever made eye contact with me, and I felt a profound sense of resentment.
This is reality for all but the 200 or so A-listers. The rest of us may have 50 people in attendance or 5. It is hit-or-miss and this is probably a significant reason why adopting an online marketing strategy makes sense.
To celebrate the first Wycaan Master trilogy and the Eric Hoffer Book Award, I held a celebration in my hometown at the iconic Games of Berkeley at the end of last year. There was a strong attendance, but I put a lot of time into advertising and most of those attending had already bought the books. It was not a good return on investment if I look at it through economic eyes alone.
But I loved doing it. I loved my friends who came and read parts, I loved the Q&A, especially the questions from the younger members of the audience, and most of all, I loved the conversations and the excitement of my readers – yes, for one afternoon they were all mine!
I sincerely hope that those who attended left happy and committed to my series and me. I especially hope that the young people were inspired to continue reading and, who knows, maybe put millennial quill to parchment.
I have heard many times that my author-hero, Terry Brooks, is an inspiring author to meet. I hear he shares a conversation with everyone bearing books, and that he is a delight to be with. I can believe that after reading this passage in his book, Sometimes The Magic Works. He says that book signings are not about selling books or advancing your career. He say…oh why not just let him say it:
“It is not in fact about you at all.
Rather, it is about making a connection between readers and books. It is about making readers feel so enthusiastic about books that they cannot wait to come back and buy more – not just copies of your books, but of other authors’ books, as well. It is about generating a feeling of goodwill toward the bookstore and the staff. Mostly, it is about reassuring everyone that they did not waste their time on you.
How do you accomplish this? …
…Speak to everyone. Make them aware of the fact that you are grateful to be there, anxious to chat, and ready to answer questions if they have any. Never sign a book without looking at and speaking directly to the reader, and then thank them for choosing to take a chance on you.”
I think I have always thanked those who buy my books. To this day, when a stranger tweets me that they just bought one, I feel genuinely touched and honored that they spent their hard-earned money on my books.
Maybe one day, someone will develop an app wherein I can put my hand through the screen and shake theirs as I thank them. Perhaps the 2.0 version will allow us to reach through and hug someone.
The world would become a better place, for authors, readers and all humankind!
Have a great week,
Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+