At the “Advanced Bookselling: Author Event Grids” session at the seventh annual Children’s Institute in Pittsburgh, attendees learned best practices for using publishers’ author event grids, which allow bookstores to request authors for in-store events and school engagements. Booksellers can watch a full video of the session on ABA’s Education Resources page (a BookWeb username and password are required; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for login credentials).
At the afternoon education session on Friday, June 28, publishers and bookseller panelists who have had success with author grids offered tips for the perfect pitch and discussed the power of sales reps, how to create a well-rounded general event profile, how to estimate projected attendance numbers, how to get access to the grids, and more.
ABA Senior Program Officer Joy Dallanegra-Sanger served as moderator for the conversation, which featured two booksellers — Samantha Hendricks, marketing event coordinator at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Emily Hall, owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Missouri — and two publishing professionals: Melissa Campion, director of author events and services at Macmillan, and Lara Phan, director of account marketing at Penguin Random House.
Campion works with Macmillan’s 75 publicists across all sales channels to help them execute author tours and events, and Phan works with PRH’s publicity and sales departments to oversee events for PRH’s 150 publicists.
As a bookseller, Hendricks coordinates events at all three of Schuler’s locations, and over the last four months has organized around 120 author and authorless events. Hall, who has owned Main Street Books for the past five years, wears all the hats at her store but loves coordinating author events and often partners with her local library.
To start, Phan and Campion explained that the criteria stores need to get access to author event grids will vary by publisher: Macmillan allows any store to access the event grids, said Campion, in part because it is a smaller company, so communication is easier. However, PRH does not send grids to every store right away because they want stores to experience hosting events successfully first and then to build on those successes, said Phan.
If a bookstore “doesn’t have any experience doing any events at all, even authorless events, or doing anything with a school or working with a festival or another organization, it can be really overwhelming and then the event doesn’t go as well as they’d like,” said Phan.
In those cases, sometimes the word spreads among the publicists, who then may be reluctant to book events with that store, even though this was just one event, because there is no history of successful events they can look to. Above all, Phan and Campion recommended that new stores focus first on having some successes with authorless events, which can even mean a story time, before inviting authors.
When it comes to must-haves for the grids, said Campion, publishers are looking for enthusiasm, how much stores love a particular author and book, and any recent comparable events or authors that stores have hosted, as well as what type of space the store offers, the estimated number of attendees and estimated book sales (unit sales) stores expect from the event, and any specific marketing efforts or store partnerships outside the usual channels.
Campion recalled Hall’s enthusiastic request ahead of Leigh Bardugo’s 2015 tour for Six of Crows (Henry Holt & Co. Books for Young Readers). In plugging her brand-new store, Hall wrote, “We’re going to have actual crows at this event.”
“We didn’t really know her,” said Campion, “but we were so overcome by her enthusiasm and her willingness to really think outside the box, she got the event. That’s the kind of enthusiasm we’re looking for.”
Hall told booksellers she tends to go through the grids almost the instant they go up and makes a giant list on paper “because it helps me keep it straight in my head to write it down in a notebook as to which authors I’m interested in.”
Her number of requests per season “can be anywhere from four or five to 11 or 12; it really just depends on what I think is going to be the best for my store, what I’m enthusiastic about, what I’m excited about reading. For me and my store, there is really no minimum and maximum number. I just know that I’m going to be the one doing them all, so I kind of have to rein in my expectations,” Hall said.
Hendricks told booksellers that she thinks ahead to how many of events she wants to do per season, how large they will be, and how much time they will take to plan and execute, whether these are author events, weekly story times, or an authorless event the store does, such as a teacher appreciation day.
“We have a calendar where we can look ahead in the year, and obviously we don’t know what’s coming up on the grids, but I at least know in my head how many large events I can handle, how many small events I can handle,” said Hendricks.
She also emphasized that booksellers should be honest with themselves and with publicists as to which events they actually have the ability to take on.
“It’s ok to say no but remember that you can also propose other options if they come to you with a date that doesn’t work for you,” said Hendricks. “Our store in the summer? Forget about it, I can’t pull in a big crowd for any type of author, but I know that so I’m going to be honest with them because I want this event to be successful for both of us. So I can propose other dates or ask if there will be other future tours, and a lot of times the publicist will come back with another date for us.”
When constructing their requests on the grids, Phan and Campion advised booksellers to keep it brief, which may mean using bullet points, and to try to tailor their narratives to the author they are requesting. There is also no need to include your store description and history in the grids; these should go in your store’s general event profile, said Phan.
In some seasons, Phan added, PRH can get anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 requests total, so it can be hard to respond to all of them: “I know it’s frustrating on the store level when you’re like, I really did put my heart, my soul, and everything into this one proposal and then I heard nothing about it. Both of my and Mellissa’s teams are three or four people maximum, so we don’t always have the bandwidth to get back to every store about every author,” she said.
When filling out the grids, Hall suggested that booksellers create a customized template to make the process more streamlined. Hers includes a personal anecdote in four to five sentences; her relevant projected sales and attendance numbers; and any special marketing her store can offer. She always ends her requests with the phrase, “We would love to have [author] in St. Charles!”
As a rule, Hall also makes sure to include her most recent social media numbers in the store’s event profile to show they have a large platform for promotion. To help publicists plan, booksellers’ event profiles can also feature local transportation information, hotels, libraries, and schools, and any other tidbits about the town that might be helpful, she said.
It is also important to note on the grids any major cities near your store, especially those with direct flights to and from major tour destinations such as New York, Chicago, L.A., or Seattle. Hendricks said she fills in the grids for Chicago because it is close enough to Michigan that an author may be able to stop by her store if they have events there.
“If they are going anywhere remotely close to me, if there is an author who I’m excited about, that our team is excited about, I’m going to do it,” said Hendricks. “We’ve seen success from that because we are a three-hour drive from Chicago, an hour flight, and I mention that in the request.”
Panelists also noted that it is a good idea to mention other indie bookstores in the area, and nearby schools, if you may want to partner with them on an event. Phan and Campion emphasized that booksellers should not be afraid to push outside the boundaries of the tour since you won’t know if you’ll get an author if you never submit for them. If there are one or two authors in a particular season that are must-haves, booksellers should let their rep or someone at the publisher know so they can make sure to try to respond, even if the answer is no.
Hall also encouraged booksellers to try not to take it personally if they do not get an event. Lots of stores send out amazing proposals, but authors have limited bandwidth, too, she said.
“Sometimes it’s because a) I’ve hosted the author before, b) the publisher didn’t have St. Louis in mind for that author’s tour, or c) maybe we just didn’t have what the publicist was looking for,” Hall said. “So the thing I am working on getting better about is not taking it personally. It can be really, really hard if you take it personally.”
Finally, publishers reminded booksellers to always ask their sales reps if they have questions regarding the grids process, including suggestions for authors who would be a good match.
Booksellers who are looking for more information on author event grids can check out the PowerPoint presentation panelists used in the session, now available on BookWeb.org.