Please welcome today's honored guest blogger, author Lisa Brackmann. Lisa has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and was the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. She still takes pride in her karaoke-ready repertoire of bad pop hits and an embarrassing number of show tunes. Her debut novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010″ lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel. A San Diego native, she lives in Venice, California.
So, I just published my second book. It came out May 1. I spent a solid week doing book events for it, and a bunch in the month and a half leading up to the release as well. I flew to Washington D.C., drove to a book printer/bindery and signed special collector’s edition hard-covers. Traveled from there up to New York City for a lunch launch event hosted by my publisher, featuring tacos and margaritas (it was well-attended. Apparently the key to getting book people to an event is free margaritas). From there, I flew to Left Coast Crime in Sacramento, where I did two panels and a lot of socializing.
After that, I had a book fair in Orange County. The following week, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, for which I hosted Vroman’s Bookstore “Book Bus” and sat at several different booths to sign books if anyone wanted them.
Less than a week and a half later was the official release day for my book, meaning a launch party at a local bookstore, then, a few days later, a signing/event at a bookstore in San Diego, and finally, another bookstore event back in Los Angeles the next day.
Oh, and I turned in the draft of my next novel to my publisher the day before my second book’s release.
Two days after the second Los Angeles bookstore event, I came down with the first cold/flu thing I’ve had in three years, and I’m still getting over it as I type this.
Book launches, yeah, kind of stressful.
A lot of things have changed in the publishing industry the last few years, which is an insight on par with observing that the economy is pretty screwed up, and water is wet. One of those changes has been for publishers to downgrade the importance of live in-person author events for most titles and authors, leaving the decision of how much touring to do largely up to the author. My publisher, Soho, is a little unusual in the amount of touring support it gives its authors, but I still had to make a number of decisions this year about how many events I wanted to do and which ones were priorities to me. It’s a very tough call in that no one really knows for sure how much these appearances help book sales and build your audience.
I decided to focus on events that were close to me for the most part, though I made a few exceptions – I’m going to Murder by the Book in Houston, for example, and I’ll be attending Bouchercon in the fall. I picked Murder by the Book because it’s one of the leading independent bookstores focusing on crime fiction, and well, maybe more because it was one of the first book events I ever did, and I had such a good time there.
I’m going to Bouchercon because it’s a huge party. Start with “a bunch of crime fiction writers walk into a bar,” and take it from there.
What these kinds of events offer, aside from a chance to get away from my computer screen, out of my house and socialize with actual living people, is the opportunity to interact with readers and booksellers.
Like most authors, I am a bit of an introvert. I really do like people just fine; I enjoy meeting them, and some of the events I’ve done have been incredibly rewarding reminders of why I write: to connect with others. But I won’t lie. Too much socializing is stressful for me. And some book events are more stressful than others.
Submitted for your consideration: one recent event. I had teamed up with author Dana Fredsti for a series of book events. Our joint launch, at Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach, was a resounding success. The store went all out, buying tres leches cake, guacamole, chips and beer (I brought tequila, and Dana brought a “Day of the Dead” themed wine). Lots of people showed up. They even had to set up extra chairs.
The event that didn’t go so well was the last one we were doing together for a while. It was at a bookstore that I absolutely adore, a beloved independent that has done so much for the community and offers an amazing selection of books. But, I’d done an event there for my first book release, and it hadn’t gone so well. Not the bookstore’s fault, just a bizarre confluence of events involving street construction, a basketball playoff game, and a parade. So I was nervous about this one.
We got to the store early, because I like to be early for these things. My book was displayed all over the place, which felt really good.
But the event coordinator thought that the event was an hour earlier than we did. He wasn’t wrong and neither were we. It was just one of those things.
Not surprisingly, hardly anyone showed up.
This combination is the kind of situation that triggers my not so latent social anxiety, big-time. I felt terrible. Not so much for the time confusion; that wasn’t my fault. But that I couldn’t get many people out to this event.
We soldiered on.
I read a short selection from my latest novel, Getaway. Then it was Dana’s turn. Her novel, Plague Town, has been described as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Meets Walking Dead.” It’s a lot of fun, and the section she read has some great humor in it.
Just as she opened her book to read, a man wandered in off the street and sat down in the back. He wore tattered, rainbow-colored clothes, a towel for a cape, and a turban with various Tarot cards stuck in it. And he thought that everything Dana said was hilarious.
Every. Single. Line.
Also, that everything she said was utterly perfect, and that she deserved a diamond-studded genie bottle, which he would be happy to provide, because his mother was Barbara Eden.
I lost it. I dissolved into helpless giggles, covered my eyes with my hand and did my best not to peak at Barbara Eden’s turban-clad son.
You ask yourself, after an event like this, was it worth it? What do live events like this do for you as an author, aside from a bellyful of stress and an amusing anecdote about a crazy guy in a turban?
I’m really not sure, but I will say that my sales have been by far the strongest in the area where I’ve done the most events – greater Los Angeles. And that in spite of the small turnout, my book was one of this store’s top 10 bestsellers for the week.
For most of us, for most books, publishing is a business that depends on word of mouth and hand-selling. You may not see a direct correlation between any given event and sales, but my feeling is, doing events can’t hurt and probably helps. Studies of book buying behavior show that customers generally have a repeated exposure to a particular book before they decide to buy it, for one. For another, word of mouth is a strange, difficult to quantify phenomena. I think it’s a lot like chaos theory – from small causes can come great effects.
Besides, in spite of the stress, in spite of the strange guys in turbans, overall, I enjoy doing events. Getting a chance to meet readers and booksellers is a privilege and a pleasure. I just hope to avoid having an event like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYCV6Te3BIY