One of our local independents just announced that in the future, authors will be charged a $75 fee to hold an event at the bookstore.
Immediately, the local bookish listservs lit up. Words like “heinous” and “disgraceful” were thrown around. Boycotts were threatened; conversely, so were Occupy Wall Street-style sit-ins.
I understand that times are tough for booksellers, and that independent bookstores are vanishing faster than the proverbial snowball on a Texas summer day. I also appreciate the fact that by and large, most author events are a losing proposition. Frequently stores stay open late to host the event, which means paying overtime for staff to set up/clean up, ring in purchases, and MC. They also pay extra overhead during those hours (lights, heat, AC, etc), not to mention the costs of publicizing the reading via posters, newspaper listings, mailings, etc.
I get all that. But the thing is, times are tough for authors now, too. Advances have decreased dramatically. Print runs are smaller. Already negligible marketing budgets have now withered to the point of being virtually non-existent. There’s less co-op space available than ever before, and the battle for those critical high-visibility spots is intense.
A few years ago, I visited twenty-seven bookstores over the course of six weeks to promote my book. Had I been forced to pay seventy-five dollars to each vendor, it would have cost me nearly two grand. Mind you, that doesn’t include my own considerable expenses: gas and/or tolls if I drive to the event, flights and hotels if I fly. Most authors not only organize their own tours, they also pay all the associated costs out of pocket, chalking it up to necessary marketing fees. And sometimes, you drive an hour (or, heaven forbid, fly for a few), arrive at the store, and end up pitching your song and dance routine to three people, one of whom is the bookseller.
But we do it anyway. Because it isn’t just about selling books the night of the event (although that certainly never hurts). The main goal is to get to know the bookseller, and develop a relationship that will hopefully lead to them selling copies of your book long after you’ve exited the premises. At least, that’s always the hope.
Moreover, this does seem a bit unjust. There are authors who have the marketing machine squarely in their corner, whose tours are planned for them, who are met at the airport by media escorts who cart them from store to store. Authors who routinely attract between 50-100 people wherever they appear. Authors who, I’m willing to bet, will never have to dive into their own pockets to pay that $75 fee–in all likelihood, their publisher will pay it for them, and they’ll have no idea that the exchange even took place.
So here’s my proposition. Charge those authors more for their events: $125, say, or $150. For a top tier bestseller, the publishers will throw down that amount without blinking. Keep the events free for writers who aren’t regulars on the NY Times list. Give the midlisters a chance to get the word out about their books via your store, and who knows–maybe someday, they’ll be the ones attracting shoppers in droves.
That’s my two cents. But then, I can’t quite see myself camping out in the middle of a shopping mall with a placard.
It would be truly sad to see the grand tradition of book touring fall by the wayside, yet another casualty of the ebook onslaught.