Last night I worked my first author event in eight years. It wasn’t a kidlit event, but it was public and there was a book for sale and I was suddenly reminded of something I have noticed in the past.
Less chatter = more sales.
This isn’t scientific, and my not ring true for name-brand authors, but I witnessed once again something I had seen many times over in the days before there were blogs and twitter and other social media, so I’m sharing.
I’ll make the numbers round so they’re easier to discuss. As the author began their talk and reading there were 50 people in the room. The author spoke for around 40 minutes and then took questions for over 50 minutes. As the Q&A wore on people slowly began to slip quietly out of the room. By the time the event was over there were 20 people left in the audience. Those who slipped out went to the nearest exit, as unobtrusive as possible, not wanting to create any noise or fuss… which included avoiding or barely glancing at the table with books for sale.
Bottom line: we sold 3 copies of the author’s book.
True, it may have been that everyone who wanted the book already bought it elsewhere, or that they decided the author’s presentation wasn’t all that great, but what is more commonly true is that you cannot sell books to an audience that isn’t there.
Here’s where I think many authors make a huge mistake: getting so caught up wanting to talk about their book or area of expertise that they do so at the expense of book sales.
Granted, it can be tough to set a limit of questions (or worse, open the floor to questions and not get any response) but time and again I’ve seen audiences leave the longer they were forced to sit and listen. It’s almost as if there is a point where the authorial magic is lost, where people feel like they’ve heard so much that they no longer need to purchase the book.
And so they don’t.
I have read (and seen) a similar principle with business meetings. Any meeting that is over 20 minutes long becomes a drag. People stop listening and cannot wait to leave. The experience is not positive, and honestly, the longer the meeting the more it taps into the those memories of boring school days. Conversely, regular meetings that are no longer than 15 to 20 minutes make people actually enjoy the meetings. They feel like their time is being respected and they’re more engaged in the process of give-and-take.
You wouldn’t waste a reader’s time on the page, so why do it in person?
Here’s what I think would make an ideal author event: After the introduction, five minutes of anecdote or something light-hearted, ten minutes TOPS of reading, and then ten minutes TOPS of public Q&A, with the promise of “I’d really rather talk one-to-one with you.” Then the author should plunk themselves down at a table and sign books for those buying and answer questions for those not buying. The author would still be devoting more time to talking to people but there’s a greater chance people will buy the book because it makes people feel more comfortable to make purchases when they see other people doing it. This is a proven fact of retail, that people will be more inclined to buy what everyone else is buying. Why do you think there’s such a thing as a bestseller’s list?
There will be times, of course, when sales aren’t the goal – a lecture at a symposium or a Skype visit to a school, for example, or giving a keynote address. But any author whose appearance provides the opportunity for sales would do well to take into consideration the simple fact that you cannot sell books to people who aren’t there, so you really need to think about doing everything you can to retain your audience.
So they’ll buy your book.