Have any other authors out there ever been invited to or heard about an author event somewhere within driving distance, which boasts there will be five, ten, maybe twenty authors at an indie bookstore or some such place, so you signed up. You watched as the event posted dozens of times on Facebook, you shared all the posts with your own followers (as if they didn’t have your books already) you loaded up your book stock, drove over, and then spent most of the day chatting with other authors while everyone collectively sold an average of half a book per person?
I’ve only published one book (although I have two new novelettes coming in May), and I still have lots to learn about book promoting, but I’ve tried a lot in the way of live appearances. I’ve self organized book signings at book stores and once in a coffee shop, I’ve participated in a small bookstore’s “author day” with several authors. I’ve been to a special author event featuring more than 50 authors in the fourth largest city in the country, and yet in my experience, as an essentially unknown author, results have been less-than-encouraging.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, I don’t have the personality to generate interest and sales, that I’m too introverted, not engaging people. However, I’ve also tried my hand at pop-culture events such as comic-cons, places most attendees aren’t coming to find authors and books, and at some of these events, I’ve sold boxes of my novel. I’d even go as far as to say that I can turn about one in five people who slow down long enough to be spoken to into a sale at such events - not a bad batting average in my opinion.
So I have to ask, why do I have such poor results with book events, and so much better results at events where books are at best one small part of a much bigger focus on pop-culture and entertainment? Is it simply a number’s game? Perhaps. The author event with 50 of us word crafters only drew in 300 people, even in a huge city, while a comic-con, in a city less than half the size can pull in 30,000. Is success dependent merely on the quantity of foot traffic?
My intuition leads me to think the attendees of a specific book event come ready to purchase several books, while most the comic-con-goers, as I mentioned before, weren’t even expecting to see authors peddling their works when they showed up in their costumes. I suppose you can’t account for the quality of the product, at least not until you go buy and read my novel (wink, wink) but I wonder if the issue is more one of how routine and avid readers behave in the first place?
Reading is more solitary and less flashing than the other kinds of entertainment out there. Is merely speaking to authors and seeing a bunch of them sitting around waiting to sign books not enough of an event to get readers out of the house? Do we need to start including live bands, acrobats, or celebrities in our author gatherings in order to elevate them to event status?
Another difference maker I’ve noticed is that at comic-con sort of events I’m usually able to sit in on or host some sort of short discussion or panel. I get to stand in front of a few people and talk, either about my material or about general genre topics. This activity has translated to a handful of readers heading over to find me and buy my book afterwards. However, I’ve also gone to a huge book festival which held a tight schedule of 15 minute talks by authors in blocks of four hours straight over the entire weekend, and then watched as one after the other authors stood and gave talks to a dozen empty chairs, or maybe to eleven empty chairs and the next author in line who was waiting their turn.
So I ask, what makes for a good live appearance? Is it a must that some other, crowd-drawing activity be included? Is it a must that we authors are given time to speak, at least in panels? Does every author event simply need big name author signings, so we lesser-known authors can hope to draw a few sales as the under-card? Or is it out of our hands, where how the event promotes itself is the real difference?