At one of my first book events, I entered to find a grand total of three people waiting to hear me read. A few seconds into my remarks, a woman and her son stood, and the mother asked, in broken English, “No Thomas Train?” I wanted to scream, “Choo-choo!” to keep them there, but I shook my head and off they went leaving me with one rather bewildered woman who asked if I’d still be reading. I walked away from the podium, turned a chair to face her and said, “Of course.”
I learned from my late mother—a lifelong nurse—that even with an audience of one, you can change someone’s life. Two years later I was back, but entered to find nearly 50 people, a quarter of whom were brought by that one woman.
A June New York Times article focused on author events and how some independent booksellers are beginning to charge small attendance fees or hold ticketed events. I empathize with the dilemmas facing indie bookstores in regards to events, but think one element in this discussion is being overlooked: an obligation on the author to help make every event memorable and profitable. Many of the booksellers (and libraries) I recently visited on tour said that my events/books have shown a marked increase in attendance/sales. Why?
Authors earn their fans, of course, through great writing, but we keep our peeps, and earn new ones, by being unique, in word and deed. Publishing is in the midst of a sea change; everyone must work harder and smarter in a saturated marketplace. So, when Rouse is in the House, here’s my M.O.
Not Simpson, but “Publishing = Business + Art.” And it is. Which is why I never rest on my laurels, no matter how much critical success a book earns. I Facebook and Twitter events, post them on my Web site and fan pages, reach out to local media and bloggers. Moreover, I begin doing such outreach months before a book launches. I do a personal media plan and spend hours contacting national/local media and fans. I work my creative and business tail off. And it works.
I’m a Hook-er
I create “themes”—based on my books—for author events. For instance, with my current memoir, It’s All Relative: 2 Families, 3 Dogs, 34 Holidays and 50 Boxes of Wine, my partner, Gary, and I held holiday-themed giveaways at events, using our own money to buy holiday gifts (Valentine’s Day “Sweethearts,” chocolate Easter bunnies, Halloween Pez dispensers, even boxes of wine) as giveaways. Gary and I created, printed, and handed out forms to attendees for the giveaways, and then gathered their names, put them in a bowl, and after my reading “selected” winners using the glam gams of a Barbie doll (who features prominently in one of the memoir’s essays). Not only did attendees love the gifts and extra entertainment, we were able to collect e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter addresses to add to our (and bookstores’) databases. This angle helped stores secure media, which, in return, secured attendees.
For my current dog anthology, I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship (NAL Trade), Gary dressed in a rented dog costume, gave away dog ears and squeaky toys, and raised funds at each bookstore for a local dog rescue. Gary was “kenneled” and donations freed him, with the high bidder “naming their doggy.” This not only generated wonderful awareness and much needed funds for these shelters (50% of the book’s net royalties go to the Humane Society of the United States) but also made for great goodwill, strong media angles, and memorable photo ops, while underlining the book’s message.
No Stock Answers
As a humorist, my readings are often akin to standup. But my q&as are extensive, personal, and heartfelt. My two-hour events encompass a world of literature, intimacy, and fun. I’ve gone to events where authors have scrawled a signature without ever really looking up. I listen to fans. I talk to them. And then I try to inscribe—no matter how long the fan line—something personal, meaningful, or humorous to each person. And I do the same with store stock. I personalize messages to the store and city, knowing that will help sell stock more quickly.
Like my mom, I am blessed to enjoy a career that’s my calling, that fills my soul and, I hope, that of others. That is why I work so hard to create memorable, meaningful books and events. It’s not only savvy business but also my thank you to my mom, my readers, and the booksellers who are putting their valuable time and resources on the line to host me.
The writings of memoirist and humorist Wade Rouse have been featured on NBC’s Today Show, Chelsea Lately on E!, People.com, and Michigan Radio, where Wade is a regular contributor. For more, visit www.WadeRouse.com.