Meet Katherine MacGilvary Pt. 1

by Pari Noskin Taichert

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.

P1010025_rev 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."

Also,
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.)

14 thoughts on “Meet Katherine MacGilvary Pt. 1

  1. Naomi

    RE: rearranging books

    But I thought that this was required behavior for all us authors!

    Actually I stopped doing the rearranging a couple of years ago. I still refile friends’ books which happen to be out of alphabetical order. I guess that this is one plus for doing drive-by signings–you can actually ASK the bookseller to move a few books on tables, etc. for better placement.

    Reply
  2. billie

    Great interview!

    I have heard so many authors in so many contexts encourage one another (and make pacts with one another!) to do the book moving thing!

    I have only done it a couple of times for friends’ books – but I did work in an indie bookstore for several years part-time and that experience has given me insight into the bookseller’s pov.

    I do still “fix” books that are mis-shelved or upside down, etc. πŸ™‚

    Reply
  3. pari

    Hi all,I’m baaaaaaaack!

    I’ll be commenting throughout the day, but wanted to bring your attention to a new blog with a great slant:

    http://www.criminalbrief.com/

    This celebrates the short story and is brought to you — in large part — by James Lincoln Warren. He’s a friend of Murderati and I think he’s got a winner with this new endeavor.

    Reply
  4. JT Ellison

    Yeah, like Billie, said, I’m a fixer. But I wouldn’t presume to move a book unless I had permission, which I have done.

    Great info, Katherine and Pari. Thank you!! Looking forward to next week’s installment.

    Reply
  5. Fran

    Oh, good interview, good points! From an indy bookseller point of view, thank you! I can’t tell you how many folks have been “helpful” in reshelving our books, not realizing that we keep our books in series order, not alphabetical, size or color order, which some folks seem to fancy.

    Again, thanks for the great interview!

    Reply
  6. pari

    Hey,I don’t think Kat would object to fixing at all; it’d probably be a help. It’s the crude forms of marketing — and pressuring book store folks — that are particularly repugnant.

    I’ll try to write something about Malice for next week. Right now, I’m just working on synthesizing everything that happened.

    I will say that I met several new writers who were really marketing their wares very hard and while I cut them a lot of slack, I also found myself hoping that I hadn’t come on as strong three years ago.

    Also, something happened at one of the publisher’s dinners that I still can’t get accurate info on. I heard that Avon has discontinued their PBO mystery line. I’m not sure if this is true, but would love to know. There are several wonderful writers, friends, in that line and they’d be orphaned.

    Reply
  7. pari

    Fran’s comment came in after I’d already posted mine . . .

    So, I think what she’s saying is: maybe it’s not so great to be “helpful” period.

    Ahem. Thank you very much.

    Reply
  8. Robert Weibezahl

    Thanks for running the interview with Katherine, Pari. I almost didn’t read it, assuming that as someone who worked as a book publicist for 25 years, as well as an erstwhile author escort, I wouldn’t learn anything. Well, you know what they say about ass-u-me! I think the most important idea that Kat conveys is that we all need to look at every situation — whether with a bookstore or our publisher or whomever — from both sides, recognizing that they, too, have a stake. And, yes, they know what they are doing, even if we don’t always thinks so! Looking forward to part 2.

    Reply
  9. pari

    Robert,Thank you. I was pleased with Kat’s willingness to be forthright.

    The second part of the interview will be in a few weeks. Next Monday, I’m going to post a ton of Malice pix (if they’ve turned out) and do a recap. That future installment is from her POV at a publisher — also very instructive. She’s a great resource.

    Reply
  10. Katherine MacGilvray

    Hi, all,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your comments and I look forward to continuing the conversation!

    Naomi–I wonder if you’ve also had people suggest that the ENTIRE store be arranged by “Arthur?”

    Reply

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