Looking to address the major problem with promotional book events—the dreaded barely attended reading/signing—science author Andrew Kessler is launching a new online venture called Togather.com, a “fansourcing” platform that allows authors or their fans to propose an author event and get commitments from fans planning to attend well before the event is held. Much like a crowdfunding site like Kickstarter, Togather.com allows an author to know in advance whether there’s enough interest and support to hold an event at all.
Togather.com is free for authors and starts August 6 with an authors-only portal for writers to sign up and receive an account. The account will allow them to set up events on a custom author event page that can be circulated through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. “The event page allows authors to ‘fansource,’ ” Kessler said, “set up a tour, schedule events, tweak the details, and solicit support for the event before the author arrives.”
Kessler is the author of Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission (Pegasus, 2011), a smart-but-regular-guy’s account of spending three months camped out in mission control for NASA’s 2008 Phoenix Mars landing in order to write about the Mars expedition. Kessler said that far too often he arrived at his book readings to find “lots of empty chairs and three people. It can be a little depressing.”
“Well-organized book events work great, if they are promoted well,” he said, and book events create what he called “a halo effect” that generates word-of-mouth and “a networked effect” that can lead to a series of new book events and more book sales. To promote Martian Summer, Kessler was faced with the task of trying to connect with the more than 400 astronomy groups around the country, groups that would be his best audience.
“What if you promoted the event before you committed to do it?” he asked himself. In a phone interview with PW, Kessler outlined how Togather works. Using the Togather account, an author can decide what kind of support he or she will require to actually hold the event—sell, say, 20 books, or get RSVPs from 60 people if it’s a school or free event, or sell tickets. Since one of the criteria for an event can be book sales, Togather is also organized to sell books. Fans can go to the page and propose additional events, and the author can review the proposal, accept it or ask for changes, or tweak the level of commitments.
The site lets authors notify their fans how many people it will take to reach a certain level of book sales (Kessler consulted with booksellers on this). “People can promise to buy your book or Togather gives you the flexibility to hold free events,” he said. Togather can be used to set up events anywhere, from bookstores and auditoriums to private homes for, say, a book club that gets its members to buy a certain number of books.
Once decided, the offer to hold an event will show up as a box on the author’s page asking fans to commit by clicking through. For book buys or other financial transactions, the site will take credit card numbers but not process the sale until the desired commitment level is achieved—if there’s not enough interest, the event is canceled and no one is charged. Author pages also provide the usual comments field, a listing of the author’s schedule, and information about the book and author. Kessler said, “It turns fans into your publicists.” Kessler has been beta testing the site with his own book events (Togather.com/Kessler), scheduling a combination of real and mock events. While the site will be free to authors, Kessler said they plan to monetize Togather through book sales and later through possible fees for tour support; there is also a 5% processing fee for ticketed or honorarium events. The site also provides data on reader behavior tracked through the site.
Togather’s cofounder is another author, Aaron Shapiro (Users Not Customers: Who Really Determines the Success of Your Business), who is also the CEO of Huge, a creator of digital products. The venture began as an incubator project by Huge and has received venture capital funding from the Interpublic Group. It has a staff of about10 freelancers and full-timers and enough financing for a year. At launch the site will be for authors only, because “they have so few tools to help them with promotion.” But Kessler also said, “Once we scale up, people will be able to go to the site and search for authors and their events."