An author event without the warm white wine and crisps

Editor and Publicist

This is a Guest Post by Sam Eades. Sam spent eight years as a publicist working for Transworld, Headline and Pan Macmillan on authors including Neil Gaiman, Judy Blume, Jessie Burton and Hercule Poirot (David Suchet). She is now Senior Commissioning Editor & Associate Publicist at Orion Fiction. Here she discusses the current health of book tours and the new and exciting ideas being implemented to keep author events successful.

In an article for The Atlantic, author Noah Charney talks about the demise of the traditional book tour.  With shrinking budgets he argues that touring is now reserved for the likes of the rockstar authors such as James Patterson or those with a profile outside of books, such as celebs, sports stars, politicians, etc. Should we lament the demise of the book tour? And is it possible to host an event without a budget for travel and accommodation?

I like to think the UK book tour is alive and kicking. A quick glance at social media, and authors and publicists are touring across the land. And this makes me happy: as a publicist I’ve always loved setting up events. I’ve been to events in libraries, bookshops, theatres, festivals, prisons and even on board a moving train.  Seriously.  I’ve had more than enough warm white wine and crisps to last me a lifetime.  I’ve seen author events with audiences of three people, and audiences of two thousand people.

Events are useful in a number of ways, first and foremost readers are more likely to buy an author’s books after hearing them (eloquently!) speak, even if they haven’t heard of the author before.  But there is more. Events allow authors to meet booksellers face-to-face, yes those all-important handselling booksellers who will then go on to champion their novels for years to come. Authors will often sign stock for those who couldn’t make the event in person, and those are copies a bookshop might not order without an event in the diary.  Before and after an event you hope to generate some regional and national press coverage, which can lead to an increase in local and even national sales.

More tangentially, it is also useful for a publicist/publisher to find out more about an author’s audience, and what better way than to see who turns up to hear them speak.  When touring with Linwood Barclay this Autumn, I spotted lots of women in their twenties in the signing queue who first got hooked in their teens on his novel No Time for Goodbye. Afterwards I thought: should I be targeting a younger audience when putting my campaigns together in the future?

Writing is also a lonely business. For me, the biggest benefits of events is for authors to meet other authors, people from their publishers, people from other publishers, booksellers and, best of all, meet their readers face to face.  There is nothing more satisfying than watching a reader queue up to get a book signed with shaking hands, meet their idol and watch them walk away afterwards mouthing ‘that was amazing’.

Face-to-face contact with readers is important. But what happens when you can’t tour an author in person? Technology is helping to bridge the gap between authors and readers. Check out #GollanczFest and #BFILoveFest to see how two publishers are cleverly using social media to recreate the experience of the author event and connecting readers with books virtually.

And, on Thursday 22nd October, Orion and Waterstones are hosting an author event with Shindig.  Shindig is a website that (using their words) ‘offers the dynamics of an in-person event at internet scale’ and which we trialled earlier this year with author Laura Barnett. Readers RSVP to the event, and at 7pm BST Thursday will be able to watch online American superstar Michael Connelly in conversation with journalist Joe Haddow.  Readers will be able to raise their hand virtually to ask a question, purchase signed copies of Connelly’s new book The Crossing and do everything you can at an offline author event, but from the comfort of their own sofas.  If they want to hide at the back, they can.  If they want to stick their hand up straight away and keep waving it until their question is answered, they can.  Shindig provide a moderator to keep the event flowing, just like at a festival event and we even have a bricks and mortar bookseller, Waterstones, selling the books.

Join us. There is no chance we will run out of chairs. All you need is internet connection. Though, for the true author experience, you will need to provide your own warm white wine and crisps. RSVP here.

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