Author Elin Hilderbrand will be among the first authors to return to visiting bookstores for live, in-person signings when she appears at Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, Del., this Saturday, June 20. She will follow this with an appearance at Browse About Books in Rehoboth Beach, Del., the next day. The following week she will appear at Books & Greetings in Northvale, N.J., on Wednesday, June 24. She will then fly to San Diego for an appearance at Warwick's on Friday the 26th. She will be signing copies of her novel 28 Summers, which was published by Little, Brown and was published June 16.
"Prior to sheltering in place due to COVID-19 we had an in-person tour plan in place for Elin," explained Katharine Myers, publicity director for Little, Brown. "In mid-March we feared we'd have to cancel entirely when stores began to close to the public. Elin has never stopped wanting to visit stores in person if we could figure out a way to do it safely. She held out hope since March that it would be possible. Elin is devoted to seeing her fans during two tours each year and makes seeing them in independent stores a priority." Little, Brown's Myers said these first four events were a test case for more in the future.
The main question for many who might want to attend the event is what protocols will be implemented to ensure the health and safety of Hilderbrand, the bookstore staff, and customers. HBG has set up guidelines and PW spoke with several stores hosting the event, and while each will have a different set-up, numerous elements will be commonplace. First, all events are ticketed and readers will be given a specific time-slot when they can line up at the store to have their book signed; typically, these will be in 15 to 20 minute blocks with the number of customer limited to 15 to 20 per time slot. At least three staff members must be present to ensure proper social distancing. Hilderbrand will personalize books, but customers must maintain at least six-feet distance; photos of Hilderbrand will be allowed, but customers will not be allowed to pose with the author. Hilderbrand's partner, Tim Field, will assist her with handling the books. All of the events are taking place in the afternoon.
"Naturally, everyone will also have to wear a mask and if they don't bring one, we will give them one, and we are required to have hand sanitizer available, which is already all over the store" said Michelle Gersh, manager of Books & Greetings, a store in a strip mall which sits just over the border of New York and is close to the George Washington Bridge. Gersh noted that they have hosted Hilderbrand before, and would typically expect between 100 and 200 people for an event with her. "We just started promoting the event through email and social media and are getting some presales, so we know people are excited."
At Bethany Beach Books, events coordinator Zandria Senft, said they expect to sell 550 copies of the book. "We have been working really hard to put extra precautions in place for Elin and our readers to make this a safe, social distance signing, with markers on the floor six feet apart to show where readers should stand," said Senft, who added that customers will flow one direction, coming in the front door and leaving by the back. "We have decided to close the store to the public for the duration of the event, and only ticket holders will be allowed in." A staff member will hold up an index card for Hilderbrand to read that indicates to whom the book should be dedicated. Six staff members will be working the event.
Adrian Newell, head buyer for Warwick's, said their event will be held outdoors. "It is considered much safer that way," she said. Customers will be able to buy tickets on Eventbright and will be able to choose from among 15 minute time slots. "We ordered 100 copies of the book to start with," said Newell, who said that Hilderbrand's event was the first of two in-person events the store has planned. The second event will be with writers Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke who are local residents and have been hosting Warwick's virtual online events, which have been branded The Couch Surfing Book Tour.
Prior to the pandemic, Newell said Warwick's, which has been opened since 1896, would host as many as three or four events a week. "We really depend on events to drive sales. Virtual events, no matter how good, are hard to monetize — even when we make people buy a ticket to enter the event online, lots of people will just watch the archived event later. So, we're really hoping we can find a way to make live, in-person events work, provided we can ensure everyone's health and safety."
This article has been updated to correct inaccuracies.