Chicago Authors Join Together for Read Local Event at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore
I was honored to take part (okay I was the head cat-wrangler) for an event in Chicago this weekend that can serve as a template of sorts for other Hometown Reads cities. We had some fun, learned a lot, and made some mistakes. I post this only so that you HTR City ambassadors can learn from our experience and make your events even greater successes.
On Sunday, October 15, we held a Read local/Shop local event at the famous Centuries and Sleuths bookstore in River Forest, Ill. We chose 10 authors who have books on the Chicago city pages to take part. The idea was simple:
- Up to 10 authors (turns out 9 was perfect) would appear at a local, independent book store to read, sign, and (hopefully) sell some books
- The authors would agree to sell their books through the book store
- Each author would prepare a 5-7 minute presentation, either a reading or something about their book, then answer questions
- Everyone would bring snacks or drinks to share
- Each author would agree to purchase at least one book at the event, either from a fellow author or from the store’s shelves
- We met authors in all kinds of genres and demographics that we otherwise would not have met, especially in a big city like Chicago.
- The store (Centuries and Sleuths) was very happy with the results.
- Here’s what’s important to remember: while turnout was disappointingly low, each person bought at least one book, which means the owner sold far more books than usual for a pleasant Sunday afternoon.
- He made money, got some promotion, is now carrying some of the authors on his shelves going forward, and has dedicated an entire section of the bookstore to Hometown Reads, and showcasing local authors.
- Find a local, independent bookstore that is known to support local authors. General interest stores would probably work best.
- The readings were fun and the networking was a blast.
What didn’t work as well as we’d have liked:
- Attendance was really low and mostly made up of friends and family. Since most of us have already exhausted those folks with our events, none of the authors sold many books (although since everyone promised to buy something, everyone sold at least one.)
- It was difficult to generate PR outside of Twitter and Facebook. While Hometown Reads sent out a press release, it wasn’t picked up anywhere that generated interest. Ironically, this is a bigger problem in large cities. In smaller towns with fewer outlets, the stores may have more of a local presence, this might be different. I’ll bet it will be.
What happened that we didn’t expect:
- Since Centuries and Sleuths is a small store with a very specific focus (mysteries and historical fiction, as the name of the store would suggest), originally we tried to invite only fiction authors whose work fit those categories. When we had about 6 of those, we opened it up to fiction writers with Chicago or local Midwest themes. At the last minute, due to cancellation, we invited a non-fiction author to fill a spot.
- Everyone had a blast, regardless of who they thought “their audience” was. A Hardcore mystery writer bought a YA fairy tale for a niece. I bought a history of a local Civil War prison camp (although it’s my least favorite historical era), and I sold a couple of books to people who “never read historical fiction, but you’re reading made it sound exciting.”
- Segregating the event by topic may have been a logical thing to do, but it actually would have limited our exposure to wonderful writers outside our own area.
Big thanks to those authors who attended: Lou Holly Sr., David Keller, Tony Mankus, Barbara Barnett, Lolah Lace, Georgann Prochaska, Pat Camalliere, and our Chicago HTR Ambassador, Chiara Talluto, and to Becky and Kristin at Hometown Reads, and especially Augie and Tracy Alesky of Centuries and Sleuths.
So there you have it. If anyone wants to set up a local event based on this, the spreadsheet we used to organize things and the press release are yours for the asking. You can reach out to me at email@example.com.
Good luck, and have fun!
P.S. If any of you have historical fiction authors who’d like to be interviewed for my blog, visit www.WayneTurmel.com and if this looks like your kind of thing, drop me an email. Share this with your other Hometown Read citizens….