March Event Notes: Booking Inspirational and Cultural Events

Many thanks to our board member Karma Bennett (of Future is Fiction Communications) for taking notes!

Left Margie Scott Tucker, co-owner of Books Inc. They have 9 stores and two more at SFO. She does all the marketing. She oversees all the adult events. They have over 1400 events a year, including book clubs and story times.

Middle: Sue East West Books Event Planner. They have a magazine.

Right: Maggie Omen Shannon. Runs First Sunday Forum, where she “gets to play Oprah and interview the author,” followed by a book signing. She’s an author of six books on
prayer and spiritual healing. She’s the spiritual director of a church.

How do you find potential presenters? What do you look for?

Maggie: Her focus is slightly more niche, being a church/spiritual center, they want someone with a spiritual message of some sort. Non-fiction only, that speaks in some way to leading a spiritual life. They’re church is progressive and open (UNITY church). Best way is old-fashioned way: mailing a book or emailing a PDF. Phone calls are less helpful, she wants to see the book.

Sue: We have a full application form on our website, eastwest.com. Like Maggie, “I don’t want phone calls” she can’t talk to 300 publicists. Much easier for them to download the PDF, read through and fill it out. It’s comprehensive and tells her what she needs to know. They prefer non-fiction, though they’ve taken two fiction novels in the past five years. (But one of the ones they took was self-published!). Meditation books don’t fly that well, they have to really be able to promote themselves. Channeled works “we take, but I want to see something really unique and different. Yes, we know: peace, love harmony, we get it,” better to have a unique pitch. Crafting Calm was a good example of a unique meditation book. They also like when an author gets the promotion process. “Authors sell their books, we help.” Yes, some clients will buy based on her recommendations but truly it’s the authors who sell.

Margie: They don’t do inspirational events because “these guys have it covered.” Depending on the location, they do a lot of fiction. They work with libraries, especially for debut authors. She handles a lot of popular non-fiction, business, memoirs. They also do a lot of children’s events: over 20% of their business comes from childrens’ events. They type of book varies store-to-store so it’s difficult to say: the stores are different sizes, different inventories, different buyers. Looking for something that’s “relevant to the neighborhood and the community.” The event clientele isn’t always what sells in the store. Sometimes what sells they can’t do events for.

“The next thing we look at is how serious is the author/publisher about promoting the event.” All of that is evolving, whether it’s blogging or social media, they have to be committed to promoting their books. Small press/self-published has been some of their best events but that has  a lot to do with how the author promotes herself.

Sue: we don’t do parenting or children’s books. They get contacted about Indigo children often, she loves the subject, but no one shows up for those events. They had an event several years ago where not even the author showed up!

Kat: What made you decide to consider the fiction books you worked with?

Sue: It depends on the commitment of the author to promote the book. Most of our clientele are looking to improve their lives. If it’s a novelization of very specific events. The Magician’s Way worked well because it was a fictionalized how-to book.

Kat: Please talk about the author’s credentials. How do you feel about first-time authors?

Maggie: Too academic can be a turn-off because sometimes that gets in the way of being an effective presenter. More important that they’re engaging and professional. Her only concern with first time authors is that she’s creating a  sacred or spiritual experience on a Sunday morning so it’s important that they are professional and know how to speak. Not someone who is “constantly hawking their book from the microphone.” It’s important to keep it focused on helpful takeaways and uplifting messages, whether they’ve been doing it 40 years or first time. (Sue was nodding her head along with this).

Sue: “we don’t care that it’s their first time, we care that they know how to promote it. We care that they can get up and present clearly to the audience.” Credentials: if they’re teaching meditation, it would be nice if they’ve been teaching for a few years. They don’t have to have a degree in it. She doesn’t care if they’re a “reiki master,” or certified in yadda yadda. Actual life experience counts most.

Margie: In all the other categories, a debut author is a very different thing. If they’re traveling/on tour, she might approach the library. “Belmont library has a very good track record for debut authors.” There have been times that I asked the question, ‘what qualifies this author to write the book.’ but overall—obviously with fiction or memoir—they don’t look at credentials beyond they are who they say they are.” If it’s a very controversial subject they may explore credentials more.

Kat: Let’s talk about a bad pitch (Sue is covering her face)

Margie: “Sending me an Amazon link!” She gets this all the time.

Sue: Here’s the pitch: “I’ve been talking to ‘them’ for thirty years. ‘They have been talking to me. Now they’re telling me that I can get the word out..I can’t tell you the name of the book. But it’s Unicorns are ____and_____”

A single line in the events summary that said “I’ve been enlightened and I need to talk about it.”

Yes, here was the worst one: we had an event called “So You wanna Write A Book”. We did this as a series. An author we have in our self-published program (we have a section right next to the register for self-published) put an ad in the newspaper that said ‘Local authors to appear at East West Bookstore’ because he was planning on attending the event.” They told them the ad was inappropriate, so the publicist got angry and the author/publicist yanked their book from the section.

Maggie: “Know your audience. When I get something that shows the person clearly doesn’t know our theology, that’s a turn off.” She got an envelope in the mail that said something like “such an incredible book that is changing lives” and she thought it was fan-mail regarding her own book. But the hyperbole inside was ridiculous, then “people will immediately have their RADAR go off.” “There’s a way to do it with skill, but be wary of too many overt, heavy-handed comparisons with famous authors.”

Sue: Or let someone else say it for you. Rather than the publicist or the author. Then it comes off as more authentic.

Kat: We in publishing know that some people always give endorsements, do you start to question the sources, or is it always impressive?

Maggie: for me it would be important to see that other unity ministers have endorsed it. A whole page full of endorsements doesn’t tell me something unless the audience is the same as hers, like with ministers.

Sue: “I almost disagree. If there are a page full of endorsements, that’s better for me to decide if they’re a credible author.” Just one endorsement isn’t enough. She’d like to see a good mix of people endorsing it. She wants to see it appealing to a lot of different audiences.

Margie: “To a certain extent, some of it is noise.” It’s nice to see endorsements/quotes, but after 2-3 they lose her a little bit.

Open Q&A:

What do you consider to be a successful event? What do you do with unsold books after the event?

Margie: If she can’t return a book she’s not going to do the event. The very first thing she looks at is how easily she can get the books in the store and how easily she can get the books that don’t sell out of the store. She looks at iPage to see if it is standard trade discount, if it’s returnable. They can’t afford to have books that don’t sell.

She’s had events with 25 people and sold 25 books and that’s awesome. But she’s also had events where 100 people came and they sold ten books. That makes the author happy, but it’s not so great for the book store. At average event, the ratio is about 3:1 (three attendees for every sale). Ideally she’d like to sell 50 books at an event, but they get as many thank you notes from books with ten people as with those that get 100.

Sue: About 10% book sales at their events. Sometimes they do well and sell a lot more. A really successful event: a Chinese medicine practitioner, “we’re lucky we’ve known his people a long time.” They did an event on September eleventh where they did $54,000 book sales, and got $100,000 sales on the book after the event. She had an author recently who basically told the audience “don’t buy my book.” (those darn Buddhists!)

Maggie: “I’ve gotten around the whole book-sales thing by asking my author/guest to bring their own books. It eliminates the inventory problem for me….We’re hoping by booking an author that they’re going to be bringing some of their own folks in.” so a successful event is one that the author has taken some responsibility for promoting themselves and bringing fresh faces to the space.

Before one event, she liked that the publicist made a flyer for her, a PDF ready to go. When thinking of how to approach someone, think of how to make their job easier. E.g. if you know someone is doing an interview, send over interview questions.

Beverly’s Q: How do you get people to the event?

Sue: They have a print magazine that comes out four times a year that has all of their events. It includes photos, bios, etc. They put all the events on the website, which gets ~50k hits a week. They got feedback from one of their recent authors that they got a lot more traffic on their site (from a few thousand to 10,000 hits) when they promoted their event. They send a weekly email to 5,000 households, mostly around Mountainview. They have in-store signage with the highlights from the magazine. They promote events on the inside door of the bathroom. They have a monitor in their window that shows a slideshow of coming events. They put the magazines out on the street for foot traffic. If they’re having an event, they handsell events to customers making related purchases.

Margie: They have a newsletter that comes out at the end of every month. They distribute their own newsletter in every store, often stuffed into sold books. They have an eblast that goes to a list of ~12,000. They have targeted mailing lists for kids events, their YA series, “Not Your Mothers Book Club,” travel, cooking. They post it on about 20 community/print calendars. Each store has a Facebook page. They’re now on Tumblr and Pinterest. There are displays in every store.

Maggie: They have a print and electronic newsletter goes to several hundred people. They have fliers. It’s in the Sunday Bulletin. She’s thinking about using Meetup.com. They’ve advertised on Craigslist and SFGate. Uses Constant Contact. She has 2,200 followers on Pinterest. She uses Twitter: @reverendMaggie.

Do you look at overall book sales?

Margie: Yes, sometimes the author gives away too much of the content, so their book doesn’t sell well but we see a big increase in overall sales.

Sue: They used to charge 8$ for events, now that most of their events are free they see more sales. Sometimes the paid workshops sell books better. They’ll work it into the workshop that you need to buy the book. “In general, we do track sales before, during, and a little bit after.”

Maggie: doesn’t have metrics because generally authors bring their own books.