Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Event Wrap Ups--Louise Penny and Clark Howard.

We had our first ticketed event of the season and it wound up being a lot of fun. When I made our proposal for a Louise Penny event, I had no idea it would be the launch. You normally think of that being the hometown event, but in this case, a Canadian store won't add to the first-week sales totals so her bookstore of record gets a pre-launch.

Sarah gave us instructions that we had to make the event fun, so of course we went to our go-to "fun" food, the mini cupcakes from Milwaukee Cupcake Company, and did an assortment of Canadian flavors (maple, caramel apple, pear) plus the bloody red velvets. The maple was actually banana maple pancake, and it turns out bananas have a tiny bit of trouble with the Canadian climate, a minor error on my part..

As I may have written before, Nick and I were chatting about turning poutine (which I sometimes spell incorrectly) into a hand held snack. He came up with poutine cups, which were mini half potatoes, hollowed out and fried, with some warmed up gravy and a cheese curd. I think it's Top Chef worthy, don't you? Or at least Top Chef Canada.

As I mentioned to the crowd, I started proposing an event with Louise Penny back in 2006, after we hand-sold an unusually large number of copies at Schwartz. While I was the buyer at that time, our marketing guru Nancy would consult with me about the event grids, and I distinctly remember a request for book two, as well as all subsequent titles.

The response was enthusiastic. The crowd was in her hands. I think by the end of the evening, we could qualify as groupies. And everyone wanted to know whether we could sell Vive Gamache mugs, two of which Ms. Penny brought to the event as give-aways. We were going to give them out as door prizes to customers, but in this case, I convinced her that the right thing to do was offer it to our two biggest hand-sellers of her titles, Anne and Sharon.

Do we still have signed copies of How the Light Gets In? Yes, we do.

Speaking of groupies, the next night we went to the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove for an event with Clark Howard, who was close to the end of his book tour for Clark Howard's Living Large for the Long Haul: Consumer-Tested Ways to Overhaul Your Finances, Increase Your Savings, and Get Your Life Back on Track. I don't know if we had the biggest turnout of the tour, but we certainly had the most comfortable crowd, at the Sunset Playhouse, thanks to a partnership between The Sunset and the Elm Grove Library.

Before the event, 15 lucky winners from 620 WTMJ got to have an exclusive meet and greet. OK, it was a little confusing that the meet and greet was scheduled for the same time as the public event, but one of the things I've learned is to go with the flow, especially if there are a lot of partners. In the end, everyone was thrilled.

One of the things that is great about both Clark Howard and Louise Penny is they are both genuine folks, acting the same on camera as they do behind the scenes. Howard not only charmed his rather adoring crowd (I sometimes felt like I was working the line at MoneyCon) but also the librarians, the playhouse staff, and yes, us booksellers.

I know it's complicated when an indie bookseller (we were the only indie* on the tour, as Dayton's Books and Company is owned by Books a Million) who is always trying to convince people that there are circumstances where it's okay to pay more is hosting an author that might not see eye to eye on this. But life is complicated, right?

Our move west did net us a slightly bigger crowd than we got in store two years ago, but it wasn't quite the increase we expected. I think the moral is that a core of Clark Howard's fans will follow him anywhere. Offsites are always a tradeoff. You may maximize the attendance by hitting "hotter zip codes" (as Clark's folks noted), but the call to buy is less at an offsite,and your percentage of sales almost always goes down if the event is not ticketed with a book.

This offsite was particularly special for me as it was my last hurrah with Halley, who is off to Madison. Her last day is officially Thursday, but it's not the same as driving to Elm Grove and stocking up on close-out cookies. The good news is that we're not losing Halley after all; she just got a job as one of our sales reps!

*Under some criteria, Half Price Books also qualifies as an indie as it's privately owned, but multi-market stores are always a different animal. HPB would not be able to join a local first organization outside of its home market of Dallas, for example. And did they sell Clark Howard's book for half price? That is the burning question.

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