Bookstore panel: Audience outnumbers authors – by one!

Thursday night I participated in a panel discussion at a beautiful independent bookstore, along with three other members of the Sisters in Crime of Upstate New York. Four authors, five people in the audience – not counting two authors’ spouses and the owner of the bookstore.

Most of us drove a considerable distance to get there – an hour and a half each way for me, even more for others. One of us sold one book, with 40% going to the bookstore, so she made about $10.00. But I don’t consider the evening a total loss: I got to visit with some author friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, the store took four of my books on consignment, and my husband and I had a pleasant al fresco pub meal afterwards (which set us back $40).

The women in the audience (and yes, they were all women over 50 – a typical demographic for these events) appeared engaged and interested in what we had to say. One complimented us by saying we all had such great personalities, it must be easy for us to write sparkling dialogue. But the interest didn’t translate into sales. Unfortunately, this scenario is by no means an isolated incident – it’s happened at other bookstores, and at libraries too.

Why do we do it? The smiles and compliments don’t pay for our gas money and the wear and tear on our cars. We say we’re building our reputations, getting our names out there, and the bookstore owners usually say, “You just never know.” And yet we do it again and again, just as we keep turning out books – like rats in a maze, squirrels in a cage, or maybe lemmings.

Maybe our next event, at the East Greenbush Library on June 6th, will be different. Or maybe people will be in more of a book buying mood in the fall, if they’re less worried about the economy. On the other hand, maybe I’d rather just stay home and blog.


11 thoughts on “Bookstore panel: Audience outnumbers authors – by one!

  1. After doing book promo appearances from April through October in 2007 at lots of bookstores and libraries with a panel of Colorado authors, I have concluded that bopping around the state doing this stuff wastes time and gas and rarely sells many books…except when you do it in your own town or hometown. I’d rather spend my money sending chocolate to librarians.

    I still like conferences and conventions, however. Can’t wait for Bouchercon 2009 in Indianapolis.

    • Glad to learn of your experience – it validates my own. I prefer conferences and conventions too. I enjoyed last year’s Bouchercon in Baltimore, but I’m passing on Indianapolis. I believe 2010 is in San Francisco, though, so I’ll definitely squirrel away money for that.

  2. I read from lulu’s forum that most of the self-published authors who mananged to secure book promos at libraries and bookstores tended to sell around 15 to 20 books each time. I was surprised with Patricia and your experience. Hmm, definitely worth exploring the winning mix.

    In Quest of Theta Magic

    • Wow, I wonder who these authors are and where they live. Even Sue Grafton didn’t sell that many at the Mystery Writers of America symposium in NYC last month – I know, because I was watching and I was aghast.

      Did you self-publish on Lulu? I gather that’s the lulu you refer to.

  3. Glad to hear you got something out of it, even if it wasn’t sales. As I write the promotion plan for my book proposal, I’m learning that book signings sell very few books, too! Disappointing, but good to know.

  4. I agree — I think blog tours probably sell more. Somehow the ease of clicking a button is even more successful than putting the book into someone’s hands personally. But libraries — that reminds me to send PR sheets out to the local library system.

    Conferences are good for networking if not for selling. I usually only go to conferences these days where I know a lot of people so I have expectations of social time — selling is just a lucky bonus if it happens.

  5. Thanks to all of you for your comments – they tend to validate my own experience, and misery loves company.

    I’ll be trying a new tactic on June 6th – our Lake Association is sponsoring a neighborhood garage sale, and I’m going to sign up to be on the official map. I hope to divest myself of some of the hundreds of books that are taking up space in my home – and maybe sell some of my own as well. Then I’ll close up early and go over to the local library for yet one more panel. It’ll be interesting to see which is more successful.

  6. We knew this wasn’t supposed to be a non-profit venture, but the truth is that by the time you add in wear and tear on the car, gas, lodging, and meals, you’re not making very much money – if any. Of course, you can always write it off! Still, making friends with the Indies can’t hurt. See you at B’Con next year.

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