December 10th, New York City, Upper East Side, Barnes & Noble
I was offered this date to do an event, and I didn’t want to disappoint this large venue, so I invited my friend the popular cartoonist/author Liana Finck to do a double event with me. I thought we would have a nice on stage conversation (we did) and afterwards I heard others say we complimented each other well. It was their last event of the year for the store, and when I showed up I was greeted by a beautiful video display of both of us and our books… and a very empty store.
It was a cold windy night, and the Upper East Side seemed very quiet. Those who told me they expected to be there weren’t, and the gathering of 20-plus people who did show were our immediate friends and family, all laughing heartily in support of our every word. I gave an abbreviated version of my usual show before Liana went and read from her book, and then together we asked each other questions before we took some from the audience. It wasn’t the most polished book event, but it was just as well since it was only family and close friends in attendance. On the other hand, we both signed about a dozen books, meaning it was certainly worth the trouble for the store.
Ideally, this could have been a big event, but I was unable to land any NPR interviews, nor have I done any TV in NYC. (I’ve done about seven TV spots outside the city.) All airtime that day was devoted mostly to stories about Trump and the latest news cycles. I know that the news of the day definitely can effect book sales.
December 15th, Newton, New Jersey, Black Dog Books
Without naming names, a bookstore was telling me a huge celebrity was to do an event at their shop, and I called them on their way there to ask how long the line was. The store conveyed that there were three people there. About five minutes later the celebrity called back to explain they had to cancel due to traffic. (If you find this mildly amusing, here’s a piece on disastrous events.)
I did one local radio show, and we put up posters in town, but as I pulled into the sleepy town of Newton, NJ, I promised myself I’d have a good time no matter what happened. Having low expectations, I think, is key to any successful book event! I wanted to do this last event as a thank you to this bookstore who handled my books at the Milford Readers & Writers Festival back in September, and were stuck with extra stock of mine. I felt an obligation to help them move it—plus, I didn’t want them returning it all. But I planned this toughest gig last. It’s in an area where I know no one, and one thing I am told over and over by bookstore owners: 90% of the attendance needs to be the writer’s family and friends. Okay, it’s know that’s not entirely true and a bit ridiculous, but as I attend many other book events I noted this is true more often than not.
This was also far for any city. And a very small shop. Nevertheless, it turned out to be the best event I had. We had over 20 people squeezed in despite those they were expecting (again) who didn’t show up, including a friend of the store who convinced me to do the event. Unexpectedly, two friends arrived from far away. I had two cousins come straight from visiting a neighbor in a hospital. A few people said they couldn’t stay but bought a book before they left. The small crowd was very generous and engaged. The owner made cookies and had refreshments. It was a great way to end my 2019 mini book tour.
My takeaway from all of this is that a book event will not make one rich, but it’s part of the job description as a writer to help along in a small way your book and communicate with those supporting it. And most importantly, you deserve to get some enjoyment from the hard work you put into to it.