Friday, October 7, 2011

Stacy Schiff, Jon Katz, Working with Outside Venues,and the Regret that I didn't Get a Chance to Show the Author Boswell.

I'm sitting in a coffee shop waiting for the Boswell car to be serviced. Yes, it's been 5,000 miles, and we need the Auto-Bos to be in good shape when Jason and I head to the GLIBA (Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association) conference next weekend. We belong to both GLIBA and MIBA (formerly MBA, the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association) and it's been a tough decision figuring out which one to attend. As of next year, they are going to meet together in Minneapolis.

Just this week we've had events at Centennial Hall, the Shorewood Public Library, and the Wisconsin Humane Society.  Next week we're at North Shore Library and Cudahy Family Library. After that, Discovery World. It's not that I want to do all my events offsite--we can fit 300 people in the store, after all.  It's always a trade off.  Here's my mental checklist:
a. Can we outreach to a new community, some of whom might wind up becoming Boswell fans?
b. Can this outside partner get us a larger crowd than we would get on our own?
c. Will we get a little more media attention with the alternate venue?

All this is balanced against the extra work, and the likelihood that in many events, particularly non-ticketed ones, we will have a lower rate of conversion to sale of the book we're promoting.  Yes, cold hard commerce. We wouldn't get the events if we didn't have the book sales.  But note that this is only one variable in the equation.

And another thing we need to make sure of is that the author experience is excellent.  It's something we can control in the bookshop, but we have less control outside. Fortunately our partners are pretty much amazing, but I do sometimes notice that an offsite event becomes less festive and more formal. I hope I'm not talking out of school to mention that Ben, Sebastian Barry's publicist, send us this inspiring note afterwards mentioning how our esteemed author was so reinvigorated by his appearance at Boswell that he was almost (note: almost) regretful about the tour ending. OK, that got me a little weepy.

But really, it's been that sort of week.  Stacy Schiff was amazing, and it was so wonderful to have both Milwaukee Public Library and the Milwaukee Public Museum working together for everyone's benefit.  The Museum's Jay Williams introduced the author, and the Museum folks had a table offering special admission offers for the Cleopatra show.  Have I mentioned here a dozen times the exhibit opens October 14? My only regret about not having the event in the bookstore? Schiff turns out to be friends with our grand opening ribbon cutters (the triumvirate Lipman, Medved, and Shreve, in alphabethical order), and I did want her to report back and tell them that the store, while still spacious, does not feel quite as empty in the front.  We've really filled it in, with several display tables and a few new fixtures.

Regarding our event with Jon Katz yesterday, it was a success on all fronts.  We got folks who were not as familiar with Boswell and our events.  One nice woman said to her friend, "Hey, this is the bookstore I was telling you about that hosted Clark Howard!"  And Angela at the Humane Society told me they also got many new visitors, folks oohing and ahhing over the warm, inviting, and surprisingly large space. Anne Reed's* response? "If you're impressed by this, wait until you see Saukville."  That's paraphrased.

It was Jon Katz's much desired return to Milwaukee.  Another customer, Jenny, who I spoke to at Anne Lamott's event at Alverno last spring, reminded me that she asked me to get Jon Katz to come, and had this strange sense of power that we actually did what she asked.  (No luck for the guy who keeps asking me to get Salman Rushdie, however). We had a wonderful day with Katz and his only regret was (maybe it wasn't his only one, but he is an incredibly gracious soul) that he didn't get to see Boswell.  Yes, a recurring motif.  That's the other thing I always feel sad about.  It only took a few minutes of speaking with Patrick Carman at Greenfield Library that I thought, "Oh, he really would have liked visiting Boswell." There's always next time.

PS--I arrived at the store to watch the couch arrive.  The delivery folks had never been here before; they were taken by the zombie action figures. Pictured are autographed copies of Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side, Larry Watson's American Boy, Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra, and Jon Katz's Going Home hanging out on the new couch together.

*Oops, spelled her name wrong originally. I had books on the brain.

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