Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Readings, anyone?

The photo above is of brilliantly talented author Amy Koppelman. I raved about her book, I Smile Back, in this blog a few posts down, but so did Elle, PW (they called her prose "spare and crackling"), Library Journal and more. 

This picture is Amy at her reading, gamely sitting there with a fever, smiling at the empty chairs.  


I wanted to run this (and Amy graciously agreed to let me)  because, this is a problem that happens to every writer I know.

I know.  I've had it happen.  Twice. I read in a Princeton Barnes and Noble once and not only did no one show up, but the staff felt so sorry for me, they sat down in the front row, complete with name tags!  I read in Philadelphia and no one showed up, but at least we ended up going out for a nice dinner afterwards. 

Michael Dorris, husband of Louise Erdrich, who usually got 500 people at every reading, told me that he once walked into a room to find....four people.  Gamely, he read, and then the cops came in and arrested three of the people.  They were bank robbers on the lam, who figured a bookstore reading might be the last place anyone would expect to find them.

You need to do readings.  You get to sign books which gives them a more prominent place in the bookstore.  You get a bit of publicity when the store advertises you, and you get to meet the store people who might like you and your book enough to do some hand selling.

But, readings can be traumatic.  I've had a packed house in a blizzard, and yes, there were two times (Two!  How traumatic is that!) when no one was there but me, my husband, my son, and the staff.  I love reading with another writer because there is so much less stress, and I love reading when there actually is a crowd because then you get to meet and talk to your audience, who are usually wonderful. I get so jazzed!  I love doing panels at book fairs like Backspace or AWP because the audience is so interested and interesting. Most of all, I adore bookclubs.   But before every reading, I get so anxious I am ready to be scraped off the walls.  I can't help thinking and worrying: what if no one shows up?

So, anyone want to share their embarrassing reading stories? Come on, Amy and I just did!


Jacqueline Carney said...

Hi Caroline.

Can't post anything embarassing because I haven't had the privelege of being published yet. I know that is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow...but I look forward to just holding it in my hands!


Leora Skolkin-Smith said...

Though I wasn't at the reading, I really admire her book which I began today. Powerful work indeed.

Katharine Weber said...

For my second novel I was scheduled for a reading at a suburban B&N at which exactly ONE person showed up, a woman who seemed quite fascinated. One is worse than none. None means you sign some books and leave. Because she was there, I had to do something, but I wasn't going to read from behind a lectern to a sea of empty chairs plus this one smiling woman sitting in the middle of the front row, so I pulled up a chair and read to her knee to knee, for maybe ten minutes at most. Then I asked her if she had any questions about The Music Lesson, a novel about a plot to steal a Vermeer from the Queen by an IRA splinter group, which is written in the form of a journal kept by by the American art historian who has become involved in this dubious scheme because of her confused loyalties to Irish freedom and Dutch Seventeenth Century art which have been stirred about by a passionate affair with her alleged and much younger Irish cousin.

She nodded enthusiastically, and then asked, "Do you like horses?"

Clea Simon said...

Oooh - I'm with Katharine in that none is better than one (although I've never had that one particular horse fan). I have driven more than two hours along dark windy roads to no readers. Perhaps worse, I scheduled an event with a writer who had to drive at least that long to meet me -- and no one showed up! So on top of everything, I felt guilty. She was most gracious about it though.

Caroline said...

I love these stories, but wait, I have another mortifying one. This was a call in radio show. It is no longer in existence and this was about 8 years ago. I was so terrified no one would call in that I asked my friend Bonni in Wisconsin if she would call in. So I got there, and the guest before me had a million phone calls, and then I was on, and the moderator took my novel and turned it into a discussion about death. (Great, right?) NO ONE CALLED. Not a single call. She even had a psychiatrist on who was also going on and on a bout death while I felt sicker and sicker.

Then, Bonni called and it turned out she couldn't get this particular station so she had no idea they were talking about death, so she asked, "So, is there a movie planned for the book?" The moderator gave me a look filled with razor blades and said, "Bonnie, we are talking about death here. Do you have anything to say about death?"

Bonni said, ", I guess I don't," and hung up and no one called after that. NO ONE.

When the show was over, I went to shake the moderators hand and she refused. She said icily, "Bonni, from Wisconsin."

The show went off the air two weeks later, and I insist I was not the reason.

Caroline said...

I one read at the Miami Book Fair opposite Dave Barry. I saw lines around the block for him--just hundreds of people, and forty people came to see me. Okay, I lied, it was more like 30.

Katharine Weber said...

It's really Margot Livesey's story to tell, but on the subject of such contrasts...a few months ago I accompanied her to a reading in Connecticut at a certain renowned independent bookstore east of New Haven. As we turned the corner at the end of the street where the store is, we were astonished to see a line of people going into the bookstore and stretching down the block as fas as we could see. Like, 400 people or more. But they were there for Bobby Flay, who was in the store signing his latest cookbook. The Margot Livesey reading scheduled upstairs? Top secret. Not a sign in the window, not a sign at the cash register where each of these people was buying GRILL IT!, not one store staffer telling the crowd about the Margot Livesey reading beginning soon upstairs. The blackboard with store news heralded future readings, and the Flay event TODAY!

I asked a staffer guiding the Flay fans about the Margot Livesey reading. The what?

Margot and I went across the street for a fortifying, pre-reading drink. The restaurant was packed with people holding copies of GRILL IT!

There were 11 people at her reading, including me and some staff.

If you meet Margot, a lovely, even-tempered, charmoing person, a brilliant writer and one of my favorite people, I reccomend that you do not mention the words "Bobby" or "Flay."

Caroline said...

Oh my God, I know and love Margot and she is a brilliant writer, too. This is too horrifying and shame on the bookstore!

Virginia F said...

Hi-- I worked for many, many years arranging book signings for a once-famous independent bookstore. The events were publicized pretty much the same way, with the store paying for a small ad in the local arts newspaper, (a larger one if the publisher would pay for it), press releases to all the area newspapers, emails to our large list, and postcards to the author's list. Signage was top-notch. But the turnout was mysterious. We could never figure it out. We did learn that fiction writers don't draw as well as non-fiction writers (even Pulitzer Prize-winning authors sometimes failed to draw a crowd.)The best turnouts? A local author with a lot of friends was the most likely to draw a crowd and sell books! Beyond that, we could never predict.
What stung was when the author blamed us for the lack of turnout.

Caroline said...

Thanks for the response, Virginia. God, I would NEVEF blame a bookstore for a lack of response, and that is actually good to know the store didn't blame the author (I always worried about that.) Do you think readings sell books? (And can I read at your store?)