Friday, December 20, 2013

How not to handle a "local author" event (PS - Vromans, are you listening?)


 Shame on you, Vromans Bookstore!

I have attended many author events at Vromans over the years. Until a couple days ago, the authors whom I heard speak were well known. No matter how late they were, the Vromans emcee would always introduce them with almost bowing reverence. And their books would be prominently displayed downstairs in full view of potential buyers.

Full disclosure: Vromans charges big bucks for indie authors who would like an "event" that would give them some time to pitch their book as well as sell it. That kind of sounds all right, unless you understand that most other indie bookstores in the Los Angeles/Pasadena area do not charge authors when they invite them to talk/read/sign.

Of course Vromans has been around for a good long time, and everyone--including me--loves this store for its pleasant, welcoming ambience as much as for its book selection and helpful staff. There's only one problem--when it came to my former client who was slated to share the podium with another author for Vromans' recent "Local Author Day," the bookstore did next to nothing to promote this book before the event.

The blurb about my client's novel that was in Vromans' newsletter was less than the tip of the proverbial iceberg; although an attendee sitting next to me pointed out it was like "War and Peace" compared to the "short shrift summary" given to the book by the other author. 

Customers notice things like that.

I found out about the event a few weeks earlier while searching the Net to check on my press release distribution for that novel. Yes, I care that your book sells. Long after I am no longer paid to do so.

So I called the author to offer some free PR suggestions (e.g., make fliers with a couple strong reviews on them, and pass them out at the event so attendees could get a clearer idea of what was inside the book). 

As I am often in the area, I stopped by Vromans to check the "Local Author" shelves, and monitor how the book was being displayed. They are all grouped together, with some books getting better light and "center stage"--while others are "consigned" to the shadows or the bottom shelf which is the literary equivalent of Siberia.

Does the Vromans staff have certain reasons for not prominently displaying books by authors who will be featured in a "Local Authors Day" event in less than six days? In this case, my former client's book fell deeper into shadows and Siberia--no matter how many times I would place it myself in a more eye-catching position. 

By the next day, the book would have been put back in "Invisible Land."

What's the deal? Does Vromans not let staffers know when local authors will be needing the best spot in the store because they will be actually trying to attract readers in person? Three days before the event, I stormed up to the Information Counter and demanded satisfaction. "Oh I know," the guy behind the counter said. "That's not too good, is it? Well, I don't think there's anybody left here to help you with that. Try tomorrow."

I decided to just let the author know. And surrendered to fate.

This event is every now and then on a Sunday at 4pm. And this was a couple weeks before Christmas. Several feet away from the children's section, for crying out loud (literally).

So you've got busy shoppers, crying, laughing children, and Christmas music blaring over the loudspeakers. Add to this a microphone that isn't adjusted for each speaker so it might as well not even be there, and a bored-looking emcee who says in her introduction:

"The Local Authors Event helps self-published authors have an event for their friends and family..."

and you've got a very tough publicity row to hoe. Perhaps next time, this emcee should just say out loud, we don't think any of these books can be that good because they are not published by a known publisher--but we took their money anyway.

Ah if that were all. But there's more...

Pouring salt in the wound, the bored Vromans employee throws on a game smile, looks over at the author...and gets his name wrong as she tells him to "Go ahead..."

Honestly, is it too much to ask that the Vromans people who will have direct contact with these authors (who have paid good money to do this), just look at the featured book and read some online PR about it?

As for the fliers I'd suggested, the author had indeed made some. Just not given them out. 

Truthfully, as fed up as I am with the disgraceful way Vromans treats authors it never heard of, I honestly wish indie authors would recognize that they really need to hustle and get on the PR for their event, especially if there's no publicist to handle things.

Bookstores' bad behavior is not entirely to blame for low turnout at a book event. Like the tango, it takes two. Maybe that's not the way it was when Steinbeck, Henry Miller and Nin roamed the Earth. But it sure is how things are now.

Best case scenario is when a bookstore does what it can to promote an indie author it has agreed to host, and that author does what he/she can to promote the store's event and that book to as many people as possible.

That would be a win-win.