BEA: Thursday, part III (creating killer events)

After lunch, it was off to: Creating Killer Events, with panelists Collette Morgan of Wild Rumpus, Margie Scott Tucker of Books Inc., and Dan Cullen of ABA.  Now, this is a hard one to blog.  I’m going to try to do what I did with the graphic novel one and move ideas around to group them together, because there was a lot of back-and-forth that won’t make sense if you weren’t there.

Dan started by re-iterating what a lot of us know: you need value-added experience to differentiate the store and events are a great way to do that.  They’re good marketing, good sales, good PR, good way to get customer info.  It is also probably interesting to know that Collette is from a smaller store (2000 sq ft) with one full-time events person, whereas Margie comes from a system of stores, each of which has a events person, in addition to events people who co-ordinate overall (I think I understood that correctly).

The first thing we talked about was the focus of many events: the author.  Margie said that her approach is: if you invite somebody to your house for dinner what do you do?  You clean the rug, you take the trash out, etc.  Somebody needs to be responsible for the author from the second they walk in until they leave.  Both agreed that it is best for one person to do most everything.  You want authors to ask to come to your store.  Margie shared the great compliment she’s heard from publicists: authors who say “I love going to Books, Inc. because they know how to treat an author.”  This includes a small author gift (although, let me put on my daughter-of-an-author hat here and say: unless it is the world’s coolest mug, tote bag, or T-shirt, do not give a poor beleaguered author any more mugs, tote bags, or T-shirts).

As for publicity, both agreed that it can be very hard to get media attention before an event, especially in a large media market.  But you do need a media list, because publicists will ask for it.  Collette suggested doing more online marketing to specific groups and lists, viral marketing, and using people who aren’t media but can get the word out (ie blogs, social networking, etc).  Margie: author’s blogs are a great tool.
Collette: always, always link to the author’s website, then ask author to link to your website.  Along with Jennifer of Books, Inc., all agreed that customers are more interesting and convincing than we ever can be when talking about our stores.  Neither do press kits, although Margie distributes a map of Bay Area booksellers that she has seen on walls in NYC.

Authorless events; as Dan put it, they’re a good way to get experience, especially if you have trouble getting authors out there (small or rural stores especially).  Collette, at the beginning of Wild Rumpus, made it clear that every Saturday at 1pm there would always, always be some sort of event, so now people are now conditioned to come then (anybody who knows about Collette knows that this list of examples doesn’t even scratch the surface of what she does: blowing stuff up, theatrical designer to do death masks for Day of the Dead, engineering students, build a robotic arm, teen bands, accordion slam, joke contest).  She is very big on bringing in people from the community, which allows you to focus on what you are an expert in (bookselling) and also gives your event credibility.  This, along with getting co-op (see next panel summary!) and approaching other organizations for support, is essential for authorless events.  Margie pointed out authorless events that almost everybody does: story hours and book clubs.  Dan: “Collette once told me ‘you can turn anything in your life into an authorless event.'”

Sales reps are your lifelines to events with authors, and as Collette said, even if they can’t get you an author, they can get you to the person who can.  Margie said that you can learn a lot from sales reps, and then once you have a relationship with a publicist from getting events, you can keep it, even if they move (which they often do).

Neither use that much paperwork, but definitely record sales and take pictures.  Margie has stores do event recaps the evening of the event so there is something to share with higher-ups as well as with the publisher.

Local author signings: Collette does not really seem to do them, calling them “non-events.”  But she makes a good point–even though you get a lot of people asking, you still want to treat people with respect, because they are part of your community.  She thinks of it as “what if the person who asked was my mom?”  Margie approaches it as hosting an event for a local author, where they have to send invites out to their mailing list, the books are sold on consignment–these events can be incredibly successful but the onus has to be on the author and they have to understand that.

Something I did not know: Shelfari links to Amazon.  Well, that’s almost good, because it’s one less thing on my to-do list.  However, a good reminder that thanks to ABA, LibraryThing now automatically grabs any events on your BookSense page and puts it on its events list.

How do you handle poorly attended events?  Margie talked about one from the other day, which she turned into a small book group, and which the author ended up loving (and other booksellers verified that authors do, indeed, like to have that break sometimes).  Collette: if it makes a difference to one person, that’s all that matters—it’s not about YOU all the time.

A great idea that Collette shared was that when she buys too many books, she does a great big elaborate window display, which sells a lot of the leftovers, you can probably get co-op (take pictures!), and you get the satisfaction of saying to people, “O, it’s a shame you missed it, it was SOOOOO much fun.”

My question was, how can one enliven authors (as we’ve had a number of shy/disengaged authors lately)?  An immediate response from an audience member was: scotch!  Which is a great idea, if a bit out of the budget.  Margie talked about mining the publicist for info so that you can be prepared for that shy author, and hiring other entertainers if necessary, which takes pressure off author.  Another genius idea was to put free samples of food (or fun-size candy) next to author so people will come over and at least talk to the author, which I think I will now do at every event from now until the end of time.

Some great ideas from this session, many thanks to Collette and Margie and Dan!  Be sure to check out bookweb‘s resources for events, including a great events checklist.

The last two pieces of the day, Intro to Co-op and the big ABA reveal, will have to wait until tomorrow because I need some sleep in the worst way.  Stay tuned!


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