Do Bookstore Events Even Matter? How To Benefit From In-Person Author Visits

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Every published author who has gone on tour will have horror stories from the road. Most of them will recall memories of arriving at a bookstore to see only two people sitting in the audience, one of those people being the bookstore employee. Standard bookstore and library signings can be brutal.

So why do we bother?

Most bookstore events fail because authors expect the bookstore to bring in the audience. While bookstores do everything they can to increase attendance – send out newsletters, promote on social, advertise in the local paper – ultimately, who shows up for the event depends entirely on the author. 99% of the people sitting in your audience will be friends, family, and other people already in your network. (That other 1% is either a bookstore employee or someone who stumbled in by accident.)

You may think those people will buy your book anyway, so you can just skip the event and send everyone an Amazon link, but you’re wrong. You’d be surprised how many people in your network will only buy the book if you see them doing it. I’m the first to admit; I know hundreds of authors and if I bought every one of their books on launch day, I’d be broke. But if I go to their launch event, I’m definitely buying a copy. The event itself will help ensure your network actually goes through with the purchase.

Most authors count their books at the end of the night, figure out what they made in sales, and determine whether or not it was worth it. That is the absolute wrong way to do it. It’s not about the books you sold during the event; it’s about the books you sold before and after. There may be dozens of people who saw your book on the front table or the poster of the upcoming event, and grabbed your book even though they couldn’t make it. They may have heard you on the radio or seen the advertisement in the paper, and although they couldn’t come to the event, they may still check out your book. And after the event, most bookstores will ask you to sign some of their stock, so they can continue to promote your book in the future.

Each bookstore event causes a ripple. Create enough ripples, you start to make ways.

Before scheduling yourself at every bookstore across the country, consider the following:

  1. How many people do you know in that area that would potentially come to the event? Create a list and assume 40% of them will actually come. If the end is number is more than 30, it’s worth a shot!
  2. Is there potential for getting local media coverage in conjunction with the event? If you live in New York or LA, count yourself out. But if the event is in Columbus, OH or Omaha, NE, you may have a shot)
  3. Does the bookstore have a large following of engaged customers? If not, then your appearance won’t have the ripple effect you need to make it worthwhile.

There are plenty of successful authors who don’t tour or focus all their energy online, and that’s great. But most of us are trying to reach more readers, sell more books, and create more waves. Indie bookstores may only account for a small portion of the books sold nationwide, but they play an integral role in introducing readers to new or lesser-known authors. And if you are selective in the events you choose to schedule and the stores you choose to work with, you’ll soon be creating waves.