Thursday, February 25, 2010

When Book Events Go Bust

Last Thursday, I drove up to Denver for a group book signing with two other Colorado mystery authors, Mike Befeler and Linda Berry. We were scheduled to be at the Mont Blanc boutique in the Cherry Creek Mall, an upscale shopping mall, from 5:30 - 7:30 pm, and the event was well publicized by the store, us authors, and the organizer of the event, Anne Randolph, who sent out notices to fans and students of her Soup Kitchen Writing courses.

Due to a perfect storm of unforseen circumstances, though, we had a poor turnout and only one book was sold. What were the circumstances? First was a real storm, a snowstorm that dumped a couple of inches of slush on Denver's streets late in the afternoon, making driving treacherous and being outdoors cold, wet, and miserable. Second was President Obama's visit to Denver that afternoon and evening to campaign for Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. Local police and security personnel closed random streets and portions of the I-25 highway running through the middle of the city at random times to mask the actual route that was taken by Obama's motorcade.

These two factors slowed traffic to a crawl on the highway and snarled the surface streets. Even though I gave myself an extra half hour to get there, I arrived late at the signing. And, anyone else who might have planned to come probably gave up in teeth-grinding frustration. I would have if I wasn't one of the authors! The normally bustling mall was deserted, with solitary footsteps echoing in empty hallways. The Mont Blanc boutique had a grand total of one customer who did not come in for the signing, and after looking at some wallets, he didn't buy anything.

Could we have predicted that these circumstances would occur and that this event would go sour when we made the arrangements months ago? Of course not. Could we have done anything differently to make it more successful? No. Every author has tales to tell about book events gone bust, for a variety of unforseen reasons. We three authors now have another "try to top this" story to add to our repertoire of disaster stories.

However, I wouldn't call this event a failure. Why? Because of all the publicity for the event, our names were trotted out in public. People who may not have heard of us now have. Others who had heard of us and thought about coming to the event but didn't or couldn't, may buy one of our books somewhere else. Other offers to sign may come to us from other businesses. One positive that I do know about is that Anne Randolph will share her table at the upcoming Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA) College with me, so I can sell my books there. We're both presenters at the college. I'm sure more positives will come out of this event down the road, and I'm sure I won't even know what they all are.

What are your tales of book events gone bust? I'd love to hear from readers, location hosts, and authors!


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Beth, I love your positive attitude about this event. And you're right, although it was a bust on the face of it, the publicity it brought was not. I've had a couple of "no sale" events. No matter how much effort we put into an event, we can't control the buying public ... or the weather or the President.

G.M. Malliet said...

This type of event is the despair of bookstore managers. You never know what you're going to get. And it's getting worse because there are fewer newspapers in which to publicize an event.

I am describing a problem and not offering a solution, I know. But the one thing I have noticed (more wringing of hands here by bookstore owners/managers)--my online sales go up because of these in-person events...I am certain it's a direct correlation because I've generally done nothing else promotion-wise in the same time period.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Now *that's* a good excuse for a poor showing!

You're so right...every time we get our name "out there," we're scoring one for overall publicity and name recognition.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Gin, I've noticed the same. In fact, I've had people say to me at events as they pick up a bookmark: "I'll buy it online."

I know Amazon and such offer great prices. And as an author I'm VERY greatful to them. I even buy books from them when I can't find them elsewhere. But folks, independent bookstores can't exist without your support. Once in awhile, pay a few dollars more and buy it from an indie.

Michael Allan Mallory said...

Ah, the glamorous life of an author. I feel your pain, Beth.

One of the strangest incidents I had was at a library. Three other authors and I had arranged to appear at this venue months in advance. I'd spoken to the coordinator myself. She had our names, our flyer. Several weeks before our appearance I noticed all advertising for the event was for ANOTHER group of authors. The librarian had confused us with the Minnesota Crime Wave: William Kent Krueger, Ellen Hart, Carl Brookins. She'd sent the contract to them. When I called her about my confusion there there was a lengthy silence followed by a profuse apology. Needless to say, the Crime Wave was puzzled why they'd gotten this contract out of the blue.

Imagine our embarrassment if we'd shown up at the event ignorant of the mix up!

Beth Groundwater said...

Wow, Michael, that's some story! And it points out the importance of follow-up. I've had bookstore CRM's leave the store after scheduling an event with me, and the new person knew nothing about the event. I always call three weeks or so before the event to talk to the PoC in-person and confirm that we're on track and books have been ordered.

Maryannwrites said...

Wow, the event karma was definitely not with you that day, but it is good you could maintain a positive response to it. It is much better for our creativity to find the positive spin because negativity seriously impairs the writing. At least it can for me, so I work hard at not letting the disappointment of a not-so-stellar event put me in a funk.

Keith Raffel said...

The lesson I take from this? Don't spend the winter where it snows.

Alan Orloff said...

Way to look at the half-full glass, Beth! You never know what will come out of an appearance.

BTW, I was thinking of inviting President Obama to one of my book signings (he's local), but if he's going to screw up traffic, forget it!

Sandra Parshall said...

It was downright inconsiderate of the president to screw up your signing. Where are the man's priorities? :-) Mother Nature, of course, has rained and snowed on all of us at one time or another. This is an awful time of the year to be out promoting a book.

I've had signings where I sold 25-30 books, one signing where I sold only one book (and it was during a book festival!), and many where I averaged 8 to 12. I'm still surprised and grateful when stores let me come, because I'm not exactly a household name.

Michael, mixups happen to everybody. Donna Andrews once showed up for a signing to discover the store thought Donna ANDERS, the thriller writer, was coming. Oops. Donna the cozy writer took it with her usual good humor, and I'm sure the bookstore manager loved her for not having a hissy fit.

Darrell James said...

Beth- I feel for you!!! I did a panel with Tekla Dennison Miller at the Valencia Libray a year or so ago. The only person who showed, despite significant promotion, was a cleanong lady heading home from a job with her three kids. She came in to get out of a monstous downpour. The only good news was that her 12 year old son was exceptionally curious about writing and ask some really mature questions. Just stay as plucky as you are. It all counts in the end.

Joanne Kennedy said...

Working for bookstores, I see a lot of signings go bust because of various factors beyond the author's control. But there's always one group that does show up: the booksellers who are working that day -- and having them on your side is a huge advantage. So it's never a total loss if you handle it with grace -- which I'm sure you did!

Beth Groundwater said...

Well, Darrell, you've got a great line to use with other authors at the bar, "I had a signing once where the only person who showed was a cleaning lady coming in out of the rain." Might even get you a sympathy drink or two! ;-) Thanks, everyone, for your comments!