Readings, interviews, signing appearances are complex and widely varying things for an author – and for those hosting. They are also receding from the book landscape to a degree, as marketing moves online and brick and mortar stores decline. The cost/return ratio for a publisher to fly an author around gets iffy. Many times now, a signing tour is paid for by the author, as he or she flies/drives hither and yon and may even be doing the bookstore liaisons him or herself. A reality of the bookworld today. These author-funded tours are common in genre fiction, especially, because there are still good specialty bookstores around (crossing fingers for all these indies) and there are also conventions to give something of a springboard, with an area tour launched around one.
Signings can also be hugely stressful for author and bookstore. Ego and anxiety kick in hard sometimes. Stars can get prickly if they feel under-appreciated or under-promoted. The store doesn’t want it to be a failure, and the author, obviously, does want people to be there. Also books – books in the store are good. Many of the great horror stories of Old Time Tours involve stock not being there when the author was.
When we launched Under Heaven in Canada, the attendance at the Toronto Reference Library for the reading and onstage interview blew past what both publisher and library had expected. It was wonderful, and a bit crazy. The library started hustling more chairs down the service elevator from wherever they lock up their folding chairs, and Penguin … well, they did truly yeoman service, but with some good luck, too.
Purely by coincidence, the launch coincided with the national sales rep meeting in Toronto and all the reps attended that evening, with a reception at a nearby bar beforehand. (I stayed sober and judicious, they didn’t have to.) When we all got to the actual event and they saw what was happening, the Toronto-area reps scattered to their cars where they all had some stock, others zipped up to the office where there were other books (the warehouse was too far) and the bookstore on duty was furnished with just enough copies to avoid a real awkwardness. It was actually a pretty impressive exercise of publisher adroitness.
By now, as a craggy (too craggy) veteran of the game, I am pretty relaxed about events. I have read in recent years for 15 people and for many hundreds in another city two days later, and have been surprised both ways, though not rattled. So many variables can come into it, not just how well the event is publicized. I have been known to thank the NHL in my opening remarks for not scheduling a playoff game during a reading.
There are variables, too, in how the actual event unfolds. Some venues are very dear to me. I used to love launching books in University of Toronto’s Hart House Library and Reading Room. It was a wonderful room with deep dimpled leather couches, and I had personal memories of cutting law school classes to read The New Yorker or Harpers there. There was a warmth, a feeling in that room as it grew crowded; we all felt connected to each other. Actors will know how much the space matters. When the Canadian launches outgrew that space (fire marshall rules, believe it or not) and we reluctantly moved over for a couple of years to the nearby theatre, it suddenly felt so formal, so distant, by comparison.
I still like doing smaller, more intimate events. Some years ago I was invited out to the Carmel/Monterey area by some readers who arranged a dinner gathering of 12-15 people at a restaurant, then a larger (but not too large) invitation-based reading and signing at an indie bookstore that stayed open after-hours. It was wonderful, classy, memorable. I have some terrific readers.
This Saturday I am doing something similar, also in California as it happens (the database is too small to draw firm conclusions, though!). There is a group of Canadians in the techworld there, in Silicon Valley, they have annual picnics on Canada Day and various events through the year, and I am one such event this week, though they have opened it to all readers.
The information link is here, by way of Kepler’s Books, a wonderful bookstore in Menlo Park (it really is terrific) which will be selling books that night:
You click through to the registration from there. This is an evening event with wine and food and chat, with a short reading and interview tucked in. It is in a private home, and there is even valet parking. I joked on Twitter (what, joke on Twitter?) that I could not vouch for the valets handling quadrigas.
I am genuinely looking forward to this. The chance to mingle this way, have some time to actually talk, as opposed to a signing lineup where I feel guilty chatting with people too long if others are waiting patiently behind them, is so nice. I expect there will be some football talk, as Sunday is San Francisco vs Seattle, along with ManningBrady Redux.
If anyone brings a quadriga, I expect a ride.