Two Twin Cities–area indie bookstores—Excelsior Bay Books, located in a suburb south of Minneapolis, and Valley Bookseller, on the opposite side of the metro area, east of St. Paul—are partnering in a unique collaboration that is bringing A-list authors to their premises on a regular basis and bumping up sales.
In 2015, Excelsior Bay launched Literature Lovers’ Night Out (LLNO), a ticketed event that features four authors (a mix of new and seasoned—some national names, others regional favorites) speaking about their books before an audience well-fortified with cake, chocolates, adult beverages, and bottled water. From the beginning, Excelsior Bay’s program, which takes place eight times a year, has been held off-site, usually at a local church.
The program debuted with Nicole Helget, Lorna Landvik, Mary McNear, and Jonathan Odell, who each made a 15-minute presentation. Authors are forbidden from reading from their work as they speak about it, and the audience is not allowed to ask questions. Drawings for books and swag take place at intervals throughout the program, and the evening concludes with book signings. Authors’ backlists are made available to customers along with their frontlists.
Pamela Klinger-Horn, events coordinator at Excelsior Bay, who conceived of and runs LLNO, explains that it is modeled upon the Heartland Fall Forum. “I’d go to Heartland and hear these authors speak about their books,” she said. “Then I’d talk to my friends, and they’d say, ‘Why can’t I go to something like that?’ So I tried to create something where regular readers can go and meet their favorite authors as well as new authors. No readings, no questions—there’s plenty of time for questions during the signings.”
Explaining the rationale behind charging for admission, Klinger-Horn said that Excelsior Bay used to hold free events featuring solo authors, but those signings did not always draw in enough people to make it worth the expense. “With a ticketed event, we know people will show up, the authors know people will show up, and the publishers know people will show up,” she said. Audiences typically range from 100 to 120 attendees, though more than 300 people attended events featuring Kristin Hannah and Elin Hilderbrand.
Tickets for the events cost $20 each and include a $10 coupon that has to be redeemed for books by the authors appearing that night. The final event of the fall at Excelsior Bay is a three-hour luncheon held at a posh country club in mid-November. The $40 price tag includes a $5 coupon that must be redeemed that day. Sales have jumped since Excelsior Bay began including coupons with ticket purchases. “If anyone leaves a coupon unused after the authors talk, I have not heard from them,” Klinger-Horn said. “The coupon really made a difference.”
Two years ago, Valley Bookseller asked Excelsior about collaborating on LLNO. Excelsior Bay agreed, and now Valley holds its LLNO event at a local community center the night before or after the Excelsior Bay event. Klinger-Horn organizes that gathering as well, though Valley booksellers supply and sell the books. Tickets for Valley’s program cost $15 each, and, like those for the Excelsior events, include a $5 coupon that must be redeemed that evening.
The partnership, Klinger-Horn said, has made both stores stronger and more attractive to publishers. “They can send an author to Minnesota and guarantee them two large audiences with one flight,” she said. The two stores are building upon their partnership: in September, Klinger-Horn coordinated J. Ryan Stradal’s book launch for Lager Queen of Minnesota at Lake Monster Brewing in St. Paul—but Valley Bookseller supplied and sold the books. The program drew more than 250 people.
“LLNO has opened a lot of doors for us as an indie that didn’t get a lot of attention previously,” noted Gretchen West, Valley Bookseller’s manager. “We’re pulling in a lot of authors we wouldn’t have gotten on our own. We have separate audiences, but at the same time, we’re both part of the same literature-embracing community.”