Gather round, friends, because I have something I'd like to share with you. A behind-the-scenes perspective, if you will, and it's gonna be a long damn thread, so buckle up.
Here’s the thing: Attending an author event or book signing by your favorite author is a great opportunity to meet them, tell them how much their work has meant to you, and walk away with really great mementos of the experience: signed books!
I recently came across this NYT article from back in 2011 about a dilemma bookstores were facing: whether to charge for book signings and author events. As someone who entered bookland in late 2013, it’s amazing to think about what has changed since then. nytimes.com/2011/06/22/bus…
Borders is gone. Amazon has opened brick and mortar bookstores. Kindle sales flatlined because it turns out most people prefer physical books. And the number of indie bookstores in the US increased 40%.
But one thing has stayed the same: It’s still more than just bad manners to attend a book signing and to NOT purchase the featured book if you want to go through the signing line and meet the author afterwards. Why? A couple of reasons.
First, because if you don’t, you decrease the likelihood that the author’s publisher will send another one of your favorite authors to that bookstore. Don’t believe me? Here’s an email I get every morning after an author event I’ve arranged:
They don’t care that you drove five hours. They don’t care that you came in costume. They don’t care that you cried. They just want to know: How many people came, and how many books did we sell — and they only care about the new, featured book.
If they receive a response that says 100 people came, but only 60 books were sold, the event goes in their records as not successful, and they don’t send my store the next author I pitch them for.
Here’s another reason: The author receives a greater benefit when you buy the book from an indie bookstore.
Why? Publisher contracts typically pay out in varying amounts for different “sales channels." Since indies pay more for our books from publishers than chains, online channels, big box stores, and book boxes, publishers are often able to pass on a little bit more to the author.
(It’s worth noting here that the author makes nothing if you buy an ARC, and trading finished copies for ARCs is just as bad, because you’re trading something of retail value for something with no retail value.)
Another reason why you should buy the featured book from the bookstore hosting your favorite author if you want to go through the signing line, meet them, and get your books signed?
Because not doing so is like bringing your own groceries to a five-star restaurant, demanding the chef make you a meal with them, and then not tipping your server.
Indie bookstores operate on razor-thin margins, and out of the 40 or so cents of every dollar they make by selling you books, they have to pay for staff, rent, utilities, office supplies, marketing expenses, the chairs you’re sitting on, the Sharpies the author is using ...
You might have noticed that many authors do events at a small subset of indie bookstores. That’s because those bookstores employ people, like me, whose job it is to arrange and promote those events.
For stores that host lots of events, that’s a full-time job, the existence of which is justified by — you guessed it — the business it brings in. In book sales. By you. At the events they arrange.
If event sales decline, maybe the bookstore can't justify the cost of that person's salary anymore. They go away, and your favorite authors go to other bookstores.
“But Steph!” you say. “I can’t afford to buy books at full price at a bookstore when Amazon is selling them for 40% off. Isn’t a sale a sale? There are so many authors I want to meet, why do I have to spend money to do it?"
"Isn’t literary culture part of the public interest? Shouldn’t it be free, like a library?”
Okay. Let’s break that down. When’s the last time Amazon or Target or a book subscription box arranged for you to personally meet your favorite author? Oh, they never did that? Hmmm, interesting!
And I’ve already explained why a sale from the bookstore at the event (or preordered from the store for the event) matters more to you, the author, and the store than a sale from anywhere else.
Many libraries DO partner with bookstores to bring authors to speak, but here are the two relevant differences between a library and bookstore: If you live in the US, your tax dollars fund the library. Guess what funds a bookstore? Book sales.
Here’s the other difference: Public libraries exist to serve the public good. Really. The public library movement emerged because as a society, we decided that an educated and informed electorate made for a stronger democracy. #librariesareawesome
Guess why bookstores exist? To sell books. Yes, bookstores contribute to their local economies, often find themselves at the center of conversations about free speech, support emerging authors, advocate and promote diverse books, and do a lot of things that libraries do.
But bookstores are businesses, not non-profits (most of the time), not government entities. They exist to sell you things. #capitalism
Bookstores DO try very hard to keep as many author events free/affordable to attend. When there’s a ticket you have to buy, it’s often the price of the book and includes the book — a stipulation that typically comes from the publisher, not the bookstore (it's called “bundling”).
Stores that charge admission often do so in the form of a coupon (i.e. pay $5 to attend, but get $5 off any book). Mostly, stores just want to cover their costs and ensure that every person who meets the author has bought a book.
Most book events are still totally free to attend. Totally free to come in, have a seat, and listen to your favorite author speak or read. But afterward, if you want to actually MEET the author and get your books signed? You should buy the author’s new book from the bookstore.
There’s one more reason why you should buy the featured book at a book signing if you want to meet the author, and especially if you want the author to sign books you already own: Because you doing that is the reason the author is there.
When you come to a book signing, you’re entering the ecosystem of bookland. It’s a fragile ecosystem, made up of publishers, authors, bookstores, and readers. When you think about it, book tours cost a LOT of money:
The author spends years writing the book. The publisher has to edit, market, and physically produce the book. Then the author has to travel to the bookstore. The bookstore has to order books, pay staff, promote the event, and keep the lights on. All of that costs money.
All of that pays off if you do one thing: Buy a book. In the pyramid of bookland, you might feel like you’re at the point of the pyramid, the last step in the climb. But as a reader, you’re not the tip of the pyramid: You’re the foundation. Without you, the whole thing collapses.
Just like there will always be people who think it’s okay to leave no tip at a restaurant, there will always be people who come to author events at bookstores, get all their books signed, and leave without buying a book and supporting the store.
But if you are a person who loves books, who wants to be part of the ecosystem of bookland, who’s a reader now but wants one day to write or work for a publisher or a bookstore, then I’m on my knees to you now to beg you: Buy the featured book from the bookstore at book signings.
Here endeth the thread.

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