Monday, May 23, 2011

The Tables Stacked With Books

I cringe at tables stacked with books - mine or anyone elses. I didn't realize that until I started reading about Diane Wolfe's thoughts on the SC Book Festival that took place in Columbia, SC, about 35 miles from my home.

I didn't go to the festival since I had prior plans to see my son graduate from Coast Guard boot camp. However, I would not have participated as a writer since I have nothing immediately available. I might have attended to hear or see CJ Box or Kathryn Wall, both mystery authors I read. But book festivals are not a huge draw for me, and Diane's post made me visit the reasons why.

1. The dare to pick up a book and not buy it.
When you attend festivals or conferences and make the rounds where authors avail themselves with stacks of their books, you have to be a bold soul to waltz up, flip through the book, and put it down unbought. It's rejection. As a writer, you understand, so you don't "visit" the table without intention in mind. So if you don't know the author, or the title, you walk by.

2. The dare to visit the table and not speak to the author.
Okay, there are different classes of visitors here. Some, like me, aren't as likely to approach a stranger author and strike up conversation. I know the author is there to sell. If I don't have intent to buy, I don't visit, because I'm tentative at ice-breaking. Then there are others who approach only to pick the author's brain on how they can publish their books. And what about the authors behind the tables who are afraid to speak to total strangers? You can sense their vibes. In essence, the table is the hub for a tangled web of feelings, and no two people handle it the same. That situation sucks the energy out of many people and impedes sales.

3. The upfront cost.
Gas, motel, meals, booth rental, and pure expenditure of time make these events expensive. Compare that to sitting home and writing two weeks' worth of blog posts, prepping newsletters, subbing three query letters and two guest blog posts, or drafting two chapters. I love visiting folks at conferences, but I find that when I return, since the bulk of my business is online work, I'm way behind. It takes me a week to prepare to leave and a week to recuperate, and that doesn't count any novel writing needed in between. So adding all that additional expense on top of it makes me think twice about which conferences I can afford to attend. They have to be worthwhile and enticing.

The best option to me?

Don't get me wrong. I adore conferences, and I attend as many as I can deem feasible. They are goldmines in terms of networking on all sorts of levels. I come home so rich in information and friends. But given a choice, I prefer to visit an event, roam the place, sign books for those who ask, chat the business of writing both formally and informally, dine with new and old acquaintances, and exchange ideas, business cards and websites.

I prefer the bookstore rep sit behind the skirted tables with the piles of books and sell the wares. I prefer the authors as comrades in the throng. I could sit in a circle of chairs all day long (as was done in April at the St Louis conference in somethingn called fire-side chats one evening after the presentations) and enjoy discussing successes, failures, interpretations and rants about the love-hate business of writing.

Granted, some events are too big for this. Some authors are too famous. But for most events and most authors, being less formal and more in touch, less structured and more kicked-back, less behind the table and more on the floor might make all characters involved feel more at home . . . and less on display.


Sioux Roslawski said...

I have heard that if you do a book signing and can manage to get a book into a person's hands, they are likely to buy it. I am sure that is because they are reluctant to "reject" the author by putting it down, unbought...Just as some are reluctant to reject auhtors if they come to the table and speak to the writer, so they just avoid the table.

The fireside chats sound like they were wonderful. However, I'm sorry to say: when I manage to get my book published, I will be one of those writers...sitting at a table, trying to sell it.

Mary Aalgaard said...

I agree. It is so awkward. I went to a festival and wanted to look at the books. I wanted to talk to the authors, but I couldn't buy EVERY BOOK that was offered. Your idea is much better.