When I first met Kat, she was the events coordinator for one of New Mexico’s most wonderful independent bookstores. Alas, Bound to be Read closed. After a few months at another indy, she make the jump onto the other side of the telephone and became the booking coordinator for the University of New Mexico Press.
I’ve decided to split her interview into two posts because she has so much good information.
Here’s Part 1.
What were some of the challenges working as an events coordinator at an indy? Did your experiences vary depending on the kinds of publishers or authors with whom you worked?
When I was at the bookstore, my major challenge was getting the big publishing houses to acknowledge Albuquerque as a potential stop for book tours. That was frustrating and a seemingly endless battle — despite the fact the we could point to many large events that had gone exceptionally well.
What was your "typical" day like at the bookstore?
I don’t think there ever was a "typical day" at the bookstore. We all wore many hats, so while a majority of my job was scheduling events and handling marketing and publicity, I also worked on the floor — in the coffee bar, at the cash register, reading books to kids at story time, shelving, and helping customers.
Describe your ideal event. What made it click?
I suppose people expect to hear, "The event that 200 people showed up for and we sold 400 books," or something like that. And, of course, those are always great for authors and venues. But honestly, I’ve seen authors really enjoy an evening with a handful of people. So, I guess my idea of an ideal event is one in which the author has a genuine opportunity to connect with readers. That doesn’t always translate into book sales, but you have to look at it from the point of view of the customer: If you’re an author, you my have created a lifetime fan who will recommend your books to others. If you’re a bookstore, you’ve made one of your customers happy and he or she will come back, hopefully to other events. I’ve seen events where an author stayed until well past midnight to ensure that everyone who attended had their books signed and I’ve seen authors sit with small book clubs and have in-depth conversations for several hours. If the author and the audience walk away happy. I’m happy.
What was the event from hell? Can you pinpoint what went wrong?
Without naming names, right?
Events from hell tend to stem from bad attitudes or poor communication or both. I have a really hard time with prima donna authors. At the bookstore, we had events almost every night of the month and inevitably there would be authors who did everything in their power to monopolize my time. So, before the event even happened, they’d succeeded in driving me, and a large portion of the bookstore staff, crazy.
How did you feel about authors approaching you directly?
I think it’s really important for authors to establish relationships with bookstores. So, to answer your question: It depended on the situation. I admired ambitious authors when they were cooperative because I knew I could count on working together to create successful events.
But there’s a big difference between a friendly face that shows up every once in awhile — and daily phone calls inquiring about that week’s book sales.
What did you wish authors knew — would know — from your experiences in a bookstore?
I’ve dealt with a lot of pushy authors. There’s a fine line between ambition and sheer annoyance. As I said above, I respect ambitious authors, those who you know, when you schedule an event for them, will work with a venue to ensure a success. Then there are those who won’t take "no" for an answer.
Authors need to acknowledge that a bookstore knows its clientele better than they do. If staff at a venue don’t think a book will fit in the store, authors need to respect that.
. . . and there’s more:
It’s really difficult to call authors and tell them a place they were hoping for has declined an event. Usually, bookstores feel just as awkward, so they’ll say something like, "It’s not a fit for our store," or, "We’re booked for the next six months." Calling them back and asking again is usually not a good idea. There’s something to be said for the squeaky wheel, but a lot of the time you’re pushing people towards an emphatic "no," and that can easily turn into a "NEVER."
I think I speak for booksellers universally when I say: DO NOT under any circumstances go to a bookstore and rearrange the books!
Do not put your book in the front window.
Do not face it out on the shelf, etc.
We know who you are.
After repeat offenses, your book will likely end up in the darkest corner of the store.
There are better ways to develop a relationship with a bookstore that will ensure staff recommendations, events, displays that feature your works and more.
(A special thank-you to B.G. Ritts for helping to get Kat’s photo in shape to post here.)