BS Chick: Lisa Hunter is the author of the upcoming book, The Intrepid Art Collector: The Beginner’s Guide to Finding, Buying, and Appreciating Art on a Budget, and runs a blog by the same name. She has long been in a contributor to the comments on this site, and as with Jean, I'm glad she can bring another look at the nonfiction side of the book market to us.
A Non-Fiction Author’s View of Bookstore Events
by Lisa Hunter
I always considered myself a writer -- until I became an author.
We non-fiction authors (even those of us who actually write our own books) don’t fit neatly into the bookselling world. We often have to promote our books in non-book venues instead. This was a big surprise to me.
When I was outlining my proposal for The Intrepid Art Collector: The Beginner’s Guide to Finding, Buying, and Appreciating Art on a Budget, I envisioned readings at the type of indie bookstores I spend so much time (and money) in myself. It seemed like a natural match: people who like books usually like art too, but might not have a lot of money or experience in the art market. That’s exactly who my book is for.
Apparently, I was naïve. A friend with publishing experience warned me not to expect any bookstore events at all for The Intrepid Art Collector. “Bookstores are only interested in fiction authors,” she told me dismissively. “You should look for other venues.”
Chastened, I reworked my marketing plan to emphasize events at galleries, museums, and art fairs. Those were relatively easy to arrange. I simply emailed the organizers and said basically: “Gee, you have all these people who are interested in buying art, and I have this book that tells them how to do it…” Done deal. I also set up a blog (http://www.howtobuyart.blogspot.com/) where new collectors could email me their art-buying questions and get same-day answers.
The bookstore component of my marketing plan was reduced to a single sentence: “I’d be happy to do in-store events as well.” To avoid looking clueless to potential publishers, I had cut the sections about why bookstore customers in resort towns, artsy neighborhoods and affluent suburbs might be interested in The Intrepid Art Collector.
My husband, who’s also a non-fiction author, promotes his books – Crafty Screenwriting and Crafty TV Writing -- in non-bookstore venues too. It’s funny: he’ll stand up in front of 200 people at a film festival event, or happily host a writing conference panel, but is terrified by the thought of a bookstore signing. What if no one comes?
Somehow, we’ve both internalized the view that bookstore audiences only want novelists.
Thus I felt a mix of surprise, delight, and terror when my publicists told me I had two readings at superstores. Instead of my usual lecture concerns (What do I say? What do I wear? – not necessarily in that order), I had a new worry: How do I avoid talking to a roomful of empty chairs?
Here, though, non-fiction authors may have an advantage. Publicity is much easier when you can describe your book in a nutshell (“It’s about how to buy original art without getting ripped off”), rather than fumbling to explain a complex narrative (“Um, it’s a literary coming-of-age about a girl named Kate who finds herself suddenly orphaned…”)
We’ll see whether that actually helps draw people to my readings. If it does, I might dust off my earlier marketing plan about doing indie bookstore events. After all, even though I’m not a novelist, I wrote my book for readers. Why not go where the readers are? Is that such a crazy idea?