Today we are going to look into the deepest, darkest pit, writer friends. We are going to not only stare into the abyss, we are going to invite it for tea and tiny fear cookies. Because today we are going to talk about something that all authors dread:
They are going to happen. As an author, you will at some point throw a party and no one will show up.
It’s okay. I’m here for you. We’re in this together. (Plus fear cookies happen to be my favorite kind of cookie.)
Avoiding the No-Show
First, let’s talk about how to avoid this situation as best you can. Of course you should expect whoever is hosting your event to hold up their end. They should advertise online, in their newsletter or calendar, and in store. They should have your book. If at all possible, do what you can to make sure this is happening. If you have a publicist, check in with them. If you don’t, follow up with your contact for the event.
Things you can do on your end—post the event on your website, mention it in your newsletter if you have one, and hit social media sites. Send out evites and contact friends. Ask them to pass it on to anyone they know who might be interested. Reach out to local writer’s groups. Make sure that your contact person for the event also has solid info so that they know who to reach out to—they might know of a sci-fi book club or knitting group who will be super into your futuristic knitting-based thriller. Don’t assume they will have time to look deeply into your book. The event staff might be juggling several other authors and be short on time. It doesn’t mean they aren’t interested, it simply means they are busy.
Make it something worth seeing. I’m not saying you have to throw a huge party at every event, but do keep in mind that you are there to entertain. Are you going to talk about your cool research and bring in fossils? Are you bringing cupcakes? Do you plan on handing out bookmarks or giving away an advance copy of your next book? Let people know that.
Ask a local author to join you. (Make sure you clear this with your publicist and the store hosting you.) Readers might show up for them, but gain interest in your work after hearing you speak. If the local author can’t make it, ask them to share the event.
Remind everyone. People are busy, and even people who love you aren’t as focused on your event as you are. (I give a recommended schedule for such things here.)
This will happen. It’s okay! It is seriously not reflective of you or your work. Don’t set fire to your book in effigy or sob uncontrollably onto the shoulder of the few people who did show up. There is no crying baseball. There is, sadly, a lot of crying in writing, but try to hold it in until you get to your car.
Try to be a good sport. Think of this from the readers’ point of view—they have a chance to have an awesome personal experience with you. Treat it like a book club. Read what you planned on reading. Talk about your experiences as a writer. If they don’t have questions to ask you, that’s okay. Some people get really intimidated talking to authors. Chat with them about their favorite books or writers—I don’t know a single booklover who can’t wax poetic about that subject.
Offer to sign stock for the bookstore, leave bookmarks, leave treats if you brought any. Be gracious. Thank them for inviting you and supporting your book. Remember that you are starting a relationship with that bookstore. You’re calling attention to your book and forging a connection with the booksellers who will handsell your book after you’re gone. If you walk around complaining about the low turnout to all of the staff or pout and generally make a terrible impression, well, they may not be quite as likely to recommend your book to a customer, will they?
And small events can have powerful outcomes. Author Heidi Schulz once told me about the time she did a Family Book club event at a local indie bookstore where the only people who showed up were a mother and daughter. She chatted with them and the bookseller and had a great time. Before the book club, her book hadn’t even been on the bookseller’s radar (the publicist had set it up). After talking to Heidi, he read it. When a local teacher asked for a book that the entire fourth grade could read together, the bookseller handed it to him and said, “This one.”
Heidi got to go to the school and see her book in the hands of 100+ readers. That same bookseller was then instrumental in getting her book into Oregon’s Battle of the Books. One “failed” event led to hundreds of copies sold.
The Dreaded No-Show
Like I said, it’s going to happen. Forces will align against you, and despite the best efforts of yourself and the event staff, you will face a sea of empty chairs. It’s okay. We’ve all been there. My first no-show was an event with two other authors, one of which I know to be a big seller who has a lot of local support. The bookstore had been advertising it like crazy as part of their grand reopening of the children’s section. It also happened to be the first really sunny Saturday of summer break and in Seattle that’s practically a High Holy Holiday. It is almost mandatory that all citizens go outside and enjoy the sun before the rains come again and we all revert back to being indoor kids.
So we all signed stock. We told the apologetic bookseller that it was no big deal and we completely understood. Then we left bookmarks and cookies, and complimented their new children’s section. We shook the bookseller’s hand and thanked them for inviting us and said we’d all be happy to come back at any time. Afterward, I posted on social media about the event to let anyone know that there was signed stock at the bookstore for purchase.
The worst had happened. I threw a party, no one came, and it was totally okay.
It didn’t kill my book sales. I’ve had many healthy events since, and I have a positive relationship with that bookstore. I made new author friends and got to go to a local ice cream shop after. I still count that day as a win. So don’t fear the Event Abyss. Be gracious. Invite it in with welcome arms, and bring enough fear cookies to share. When you get past the darkness, you’ll see that the Abyss is really just a toothless old dragon and nothing to be afraid of. He just wants cookies. And maybe a chin scratch.
Lish McBride currently resides in Seattle, spending most of her time at her day job at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. The rest of her time is divided between writing, reading, and Twitter, where she either discusses her desire for a nap or her love for kittens. (Occasionally ponies.) Her debut novel, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and was a finalist for the YALSA William C. Morris Award. Her other works include Necromancing the Stone, Firebug, and Pyromantic.