Publishers like writers to do the traditional bookstore tour. Friends have traveled as far as the Virgin Islands to do readings. With the right combination of store personnel and audience, a bookstore reading is a wonderful experience. In 2009, as a debut writer, I wandered around our metropolitan area visiting independent bookstores as well as the big chains. Then the new era began and in 2010 as we planned the launch of my second novel, over one third of the stores I visited one year earlier were gone. Twelve months turned small publishers’ traditional marketing plans upside down.
This week at the Minnesota Book Publishers Round Table representatives of two remaining independent bookstores said that in a crowded arts world the writer reading event has died. They accommodate fewer writers who request readings because the admiring family and friends who attend don’t truly add to sales of the book. More common, even with a bigger name writer and good local press in advance, there are virtually no audiences present for these events.
I’m partially relieved to hear these booksellers call the truth. Working my contact list to fill folding chairs at a bookstore is not a real natural activity. Facebook invitations, evites, emails, phone calls can generate a false tally of expected attendance and a disappointed bookseller. On the other hand, reading from your work is the ultimate experience. Words come alive, a character takes voice, what was all elusive is concrete in the stacks of a friendly environment. Years of solitary work are rewarded by a sparkle in the eyes of one listener, in the nodding of heads at a key turn of the plot, a chuckle at the right moment.
So what next? Blog tours are multiplying and provide possible readers with more insight about a new book. There’s no dressing up and driving three hours so blog tours are more efficient for writers. But you can’t get visual feedback when looking into a laptop camera for that Skype quality video. Booksellers suggest that they might consider opening their doors and devoting staff time if a writer can come with a significant event including promotional plans. Some books are naturals like cookbooks writers staging a tasting evening. I haven’t figured out the exact draw for speculative fiction. But stay tuned.