Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Event Yo-yo--from 5 to 150 and In Between, All in One Week

What goes right and what goes wrong when we hold author events? That's what we're trying to figure out as we hold more of them.

Here is a rundown of three events with wildly divergent results, and what I've learned from them:

1) Milwaukee's Live Theater, with Jonathan West.
My smug little posting said I was not afraid to hold an event after another store. I know that West had done an event with Next Chapter, but I didn't know he'd also done an event with B&N, plus (and this is the most important), a major theater-oriented event at the Skylight. Had I known this, I wouldn't have taken for granted that there were a lot of folk written about in the book that would come out of the woodwork. Those people were all accounted for at another event. Total turnout--5, only two of the arrivees saw the small turnout and wound up not staying.

Here's what I learned:
a) Arcadia publicists book as many events as possible, just like they place their books at every possible venue, not just bookstores. I asked what other events were going on, but I was coy and didn't do a good job getting the answer. Unlike other book publicists, they also act more like contract publishers--they book, but they don't actually try to get publicity for the event. This is a far cry from events at large publishers, where real partnerships were hatched. You're on your own, baby!

b) Whenever possible, contact the author beforehand. Jonathan West is a savvy guy with a lot of ideas and actually doesn't even live that far from me in Bay View. Why didn't I try to meet up with him ahead of time and brainstorm? I consider this totally my error. Every time I talked to the author beforehand, we both got a better understanding of the event, and somehow, an extra publicity hit resulted. I think I could have turned this into a better event with some advance legwork.

2) Life List, by Olivia Gentile
Gentile was in town with her husband Andy Borowitz, who works with the storytelling troupe The Moth, in Milwaukee for a special show at the Turner Ballroom. Though the book is a couple of months old, Michelle at Bloomsbury was gracious enough to offiically help set up the event and help get some publicity. The book, as noted on other posts, is a biography of master birder Phoebe Snetsinger, a homemaker, whose life change with a bout of melanoma and a neighbor's offer of binoculars led to a single-minded purpose. She became the first person to spot 8000 species. Gentile's decision to talk, not read, and leave lots of time for questions, led to a real crowd-pleaser, peppered with birders, Moth-ers, and a pot-pourri of interested attendees. Total turnout-35.

Here's what I learned:
a. Find the niches. Either Gentile or Bloomsbury contacted some birders, and one of them did an email to a whole mess of Milwaukee birders. A good enough number came out to make the effort worthwhile. Having talked to several that day, they also enjoyed the event. And who knew that our good bookstore-champion Nancy O'. actually traveled with Phoebe while birding with her husband John. It was great to have them attend--they had some great stories. It's that kind of moment that really energizes the event for the other folk attending--see below for another example.

b. We are not a nonprofit, though we often act like one, and are definitely the recipients of trickle-down rewards from them. In some cases, we've come up with nice partnerships that help both parties. In this case, Gentile wouldn't have come if Borowitz didn't appear with the Moth, and that wouldn't have happened if they didn't have a grant from the Herzfeld Foundation, which gives grants to the arts. Irony moment--I never had interaction with them, but they are based in the building that was also the offices of Schwartz (and where I worked) for the last decade.

c. Another reason why getting the event with the friends pays off. They not only attend, they buy. Our event with Gentile included a lot of Moth-ers and they supported her with a book purchase. If this was a long tour, they might have gone to her event in Charlotte or Omaha and bought the book at that event, and spent their time in Milwaukee on the Miller Brewery tour.

3) Mary Nohl, by Barbara Manger and Janine Smith.
Manger and Smith gave a wonderful talk on the life of Mary Nohl, and their interesting journey to documenting her story. Milwaukeeans know Nohl as the owner of that house on Beach Road, now owned by the Kohler Foundation, but not open to the public, due to concerns from neighbors. The book is probably the only opportunity for most people to see the remarkable insides of the house, which is why bookstores around Milwaukee are selling it like crazy. Though Nohl had undergraduate and graduate degrees at Chicago's Art Institute, there are a lot of aspects to her story that label her Outsider Artist, though she did some exhibiting. But she also lengthened the life of her paint brushes by weaving her own hair into them.

Once again, our event was energized by two participants. One woman revealed she was Nohl's roommate on a tour of Ireland in her youth. Another, my friend and bookstore supporter Rose Ann, toured Nohl's house in her youth, along with some other neighborhood girls. She disputed that image of the artist sitting outside, guarding her fenced-in home with a gun, and said she was nothing but gracious...and only wished she had a camera at the time. Total turnout-150, substantially above projection, considering this followed another bookstore event, and wound up being triple their attendance.

Here's what I learned:
a. Watch sales, and reorder when necessary. Nancy, my coworker at Schwartz, was great at gauging interest and responding. While we would not have run out of copies (and because the authors are local, selling out would have been an easy problem to solve), it was nice that we were doing an offsite this coming week, and already had books for that event.

b. An outside publicist can do wonders. Thanks to Heidi Fendos who got such great coverage for the event. That's not, by the way, an open advertisement for every PR person to contact me in the next week (many of you already have, thanks for your business cards and emails). I don't have the budget, and have enough contacts in Milwaukee to do what we need in house, for now.

But...if you are a self-published or small press author, and have the budget, I highly recommend one. Especially if you have done contract publishing and have already put the money out, the money for a good PR person will be well spent. Here are three.

So tomorrow we're hosting Raphael Kadushin, well-regarded editor at the University of Wisconsin Press. He oversees their LGBT publishing program, among other things, and it's one of the strongest among the university presses, and certainly one of the few that publishes fiction. He's appearing for the travel anthology Big Trips (Kadushin is also a travel writer).

This violates my rule about anthologies--when possible, I want two people reading. Originally I had Brian Bouldrey from Chicago also scheduled, but he subsequently cancelled. (No explanation--I'm hoping all is okay with him.) The book isn't new, but it has some underwriting for publicity from some consumer product, I forget which. Oh, and the event is just days before Pride Fest, so perhaps that will give it a tiny bit of publicity. (Problem--most news items will release on Thursday and Friday, the day after our event).

I'm nervous, as always, but we're in this together. So count on me being at the store tomorrow, introducing Mr. Kadushin, whether we have 5, 50, or 150 people.

1 comment:

Aaron's Books said...

We had a horrible time with an Arcadia book and event as well, a salesman flat out lied to all the stores in town telling them that they plus us and 2 others would be the only ones carrying the books, turned out that 15 in a 5 block radius had signed contracts, all on the day of the authors hugely publicized event at our store.... then they have a 90 day return policy (must wait 90 days after invoice to do any returns)... NOT indie friendly at all! Sorry you had such a low turn out... but woohoo for the other event! :)