Monday, September 25, 2006

We've Got To Find Another Way To Bring Authors And Readers Together

I have been to plenty of booksignings at which no one bought a single book. Or at which one person bought one book. I've been the guest at teacher appreciation nights that were underattended. The organizer at one Barnes & Noble felt her store had been rejected by the schools in her community. The bookseller at the other store just didn't know what else she could do to get teachers to turn out. I met a writer last spring who did a signing at a store in his own town. Not a soul showed up, and he went home.

As a reader, I might know why those kinds of things happen.

Right now, as I'm writing these words, Stephenie Meyer is speaking at R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut. The family obligation I had this evening fell through so I could go. But then...

I was gone for 5 hours today accompanying an older relative for a medical test and running errands;

Tomorrow I'll be gone another 3 or 4 hours in the late afternoon and perhaps into the evening;

Another family member will be out both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings;

We're supposed to be leaving on Saturday for a vacation that hasn't been planned yet except for some motel reservations;

I would have had to drive an hour each way to get to the bookstore where Stephenie Meyer will be speaking.

So, I am home blogging instead.

When people have a lot of things to do, elective activities get cut. Movie attendance is down. Theaters and ballet companies are suffering. And authors sit by themselves in bookstores.

Authors only go to booksignings at stores in order to sell books. If readers don't have the time or the energy to get to the stores when the authors are there, then we just need to find some other way to get the books and the readers together.

I know. That's what everybody says.

By the way, I'm guessing Stephenie Meyer won't miss me. She ought to bring out a few people who didn't have to get up early to drive someone to a medical office.


Blogger dlz said...

having worked in both bookstores and movie theatres i know just how difficult it can be to capture an audience, especially given how many things there are in the world to divert people's time, attention and discretionary funds.

in the past five years the best attended events i've seen (or heard about, and this is important) came from authors who could make their signings newsworthy events. i have seen authors who brought bands with them, authors who presented slide shows. lemony snicket played an accordian and taught audiences full of kids demented songs. dave eggers has showcased the work of teen writers in warehouse events that were more like parties or gallery openings than readings.

i have mixed feelings about all this but i must confess that these events and entertainments make good press- and advance press for future readings. sad as it seems, and i hate to write this, authors can no longer simply be good storytellers and writers they now also need to be good showpeople when it comes to in-person events. movies have always been this way, but look at music; twenty years ago a musician or singer could make it on talent but MTV altered the course of the industry and now industry people make no bones about the fact that an act has to look good in addition to (or in spite of) talent.

the publishing industry shows signs -- to me -- that they are headed down that path, and if they do it will spell the end of authors who cannot get out there and put on a show.


readers and writers can work toward a middle ground that utilizes the internet. i've laready spotted a few authors who are doing blog tours instead of the traditional in-store visits and i think this is a very positive step in the right direction. podcasting can make readings available to a wide audience, live webcasts and interviews as well. i don't see an end to books as we know them -- radio didn't kill theatre, movies didn't eliminate radio, video didn't gut hollywood and the internet hasn't replaced any of them -- but with each technological development the previous media had to change, grow and bring an new audience along with it in order to survive.

the biggest mistake, i think, is for authors to assume the publishers are going to help them. authors need to work together to redefine and reshape their promotions, marketing and image or else risk having their world redefined for them. and probably not for the better.

sorry, seems i went on a bit there.

1:53 AM  
Blogger gail said...

The Internet seems like an obvious way to go right now simply because it means readers don't have to leave their homes. And the material is available at readers' leisure, not just at, say, 7 PM on a particular Monday night the way an author at a bookstore appearance is.

John Greene is doing a blog tour right now, by the way.

7:53 AM  

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