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05-19 Sarah Raplee – Riff on 7 yrs. Of SPAM & a Giveaway

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


*The opinions expressed below are solely mine. Dissenting opinions should be directed my way, and not toward the very lovely ladies who organize this blog. Read at your own risk. J

Okay, I have a bee in my bonnet. No, this is not about archaic clich├ęs—that’s next month’s subject (I just decided as I typed this sentence). This is about jumping on bandwagons (yes, there’s another) and crushing good ideas under good intentions.

My rant today: Reader Events.

Lately, everyone and their brother (I’m on a roll, here!) have decided to host their own Reader Event. In deciding to do so, these obvious assumptions have been made:
  1. The organizer makes money.
  2. They are easy to pull off.
  3. Copious amounts of books will be sold.
  4. All the organizer needs to do is recruit lots of authors and readers will flock.
Let’s address these poor misguided ideas one at a time.

First off, the organizer usually loses money. Guarantees must be made to hotels and paid in full, even in the case of half the expected turnout. Promised 200 and only 100 registered? The organizer must pay for the 200 anyway. It takes 3-5 years to turn a profit, and only if the event is consistently well run.

Next, anyone who has planned a wedding knows that the success of a quality event is hidden in a myriad of mundane details. There are no Event Fairies who will make sure that everything is magically contracted, informed, designed, ordered, collected, dispersed, arranged, printed, licensed, staffed, bought, sold, transported, reserved, double-and-triple-checked, or paid for. Not even a little OCD? Don’t even think about it.

As for copious amounts of books being sold, most leave that to the author to handle. Rather than bring in a licensed bookseller, they make the author responsible for all legalities. Not cool, in my opinion. Sure, swiping a sale on a Square is easy. But getting shut down for not having a sales tax license can really ruin the experience.

Last of all is the myth: just recruit every author around, and you can rest on your laurels (What the heck is a laurel? Ah. Next month.) Readers will rush to attend and make your event a rousing success.

Nope. It doesn’t work that way. Not even a little.

Here’s what has happened in the last year or so: authors attend an event, make assumptions 1-4, and then schedule one of their own. Other authors rationalize that, “Hey, it’s one more chance for my readers to see me!” and sign on.

To ALL of them.

Why not? It’s a tax-deductible business expense. So these authors end up appearing somewhere in the country every month or so, which makes the chance to meet up with them commonplace. No longer special. No longer sought after.

Meanwhile, readers—for whom these event opportunities require both 1) disposable income, and 2) time away from jobs and families—rationalize that, “I can maybe go to one…” The depth of attendees is consequently spread so thin, that no newly sprouted event is making its budget.

Worse than that, the ratio of authors to readers has been abysmal. Out of curiosity, I attended four of these new events in the last 18 months, and their ratio has averaged 3.5 authors for every 1 reader. I am not kidding.

Needless to say, copious books are not being sold, legally or otherwise.

So what should we expect next? In my opinion:
  1. Everyone has the right to try. Not everyone will succeed.
  2. The failed outings will not be re-offered; not by anyone with adequate business sense, anyway.
  3. The glut should theoretically ease, with a few successful events holding on—if they can survive the current drought of attendees, that is.
  4. Travel-hungry and over-extended authors need to understand what they are doing to their own situations. More is not better. More overwhelms the system and it collapses.

A year ago I would never have predicted the Reader Event Tsunami and the resulting devastation, and I certainly cannot predict the future now. I only hope authors understand that making one or two special “event” appearances a year will do much more to drum up excitement about them and their books, than by standing on every street corner peddling their wares to anyone who walks by.


Judith Ashley said...

Interesting rant, um post, Kris. The Reader Event Tsunami as you've described it hasn't hit where I live - however, I totally agree that it is better to be selective in where we spend our money and our time in promoting our books. While I've not been to a Reader Event yet (would like to start smaller than RT so I sort of know what I'm getting into), I'm also finding book signings not that productive. While there isn't the up front financial investment of hiring a hall, etc. there is still a time, energy and some financial investment.

I sold 2 books at Desert Dreams, no books at Emerald City. I sold 9 books at my first book signing at a local indie book store and 1 at my next signing at another local store six months later. That's a total of 12 books at promoted book signings in 12 months. I don't have any statistical information but that doesn't seem like that great of a return on investment.

Would I do the book signings again? I would if I was already attending the Conference. And I am signed up to do another signing at a Farmer's Market an hour or so away. What I've heard is that the authors really don't sell many books but they get exposed to a whole different audience and have done well in people signing up for Newsletters.

I don't think there is any magical method to promoting/marketing and therefore selling our books. My plan is to write the best book I know how to write, get at least two if not three new books out there a year, and now that the 5th book in my series is almost available (by the end of June), start being more visible on social media and see if that does anything to boost my sales.

Diana McCollum said...

Interesting blog post. I totally agree with you, Kris. I've been to three book signings and none have made a return of breaking even. One can get there name and books for recognition out a lot quicker on the social media sites than at book signings.

Kris Tualla said...

Like Judith, I am concentrating on writing. My reader event is taking next year off, in hopes of the market settling down. X fingers crossed X

Kris Tualla said...
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Kris Tualla said...
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Amber Polo said...

Thanks, Kris, for saying what writers need to hear. Many, many people are trying to cash in on writers with dreams. Do we need a new "writer beware" website for the new breed of scam artists?
Writers need to research and be discerning where they invest time and money.
Your event is so well managed and so much fun, I hope you keep going.
See you in 2017!

Paty Jager said...

I've attended two "Reader" conferences. Both times there were so many authors I felt sorry for the readers who were being attacked from all sides by authors vying for their attention. While I handed out freebies that were more than pieces of paper, I didn't believe I gathered any new readers from either of the conferences. I've been told I need to go to RT but the size of it scares the beejeebies out of me! I'm an introvert and deal better with smaller crowds. Thank you for the information and rant. ;)

Kris Tualla said...

Thanks, Amber! We'll be back in 2017 when the smoke (hopefully) clears.

And thank YOU, Paty, for confirming what I experienced.

(Looks like my last comment went in 3 times... I sent it from my phone, so who knows. Fingers crossed on this one...)

Anonymous said...

Food for thought, Kris. There was a Reader Event in the Carnegie area of Pittsburgh recently. I didn't go because they capped the number of invited authors to forty and I couldn't get in. Needless to say, I was in no rush to go after what I sensed what a closed shop experience, some got in, some didn't, everybody wants a chance to promote their books and I did not have that chance. I heard they sold very few books. Half the people who went as attendees were wannabee authors and they're watching their money just like all of us are. Still, it was exposure for those authors on the panel. I'm still ticked about what I sense was an insider gig. My feelings I believe are legitimate.

Adriana Allegri said...

Yes, I agree, it sounds like over-saturation to me. I'm prepublished, but my background is in marketing, and I've noticed the same type of trend in two other ways from a reader's POV:

(1) Total overload on e-mails to potential readers: Sometimes I get 3 or 4 announcements a day on new releases. They go in the junkmail folder. Instead of doing a weekly release newsletter (by publisher or author group/blog), authors often bombard readers with too much e-mail. It doesn't look polished. If publishers would do a coordinated newsletter, it would be much more professional -- with better click-through/open rates and better likelihood of an actual sale.

(2) All those free or .99 books on Kindle. I've got thousands on my Kindle, but I haven't read them all. Interestingly enough, I read the ones I pay $$$ for FIRST. There's a definite link between price and value for me. Can't say the same for everyone, that's just me personally.

This is just MHO, and I may be way off (and way off topic). But there is a perceived value behind what anyone charges for their work, right? Higher price generally = higher value/exclusiveness. So maybe being too "available" -- either at these signings or via e-mail-- doesn't serve authors well either. It's a fine line. Too much exposure cheapens the brand. That applies to everything, at least in old-school marketing. Social Media has changed the game, but much attention can a person spend on anything if they're exposed to 10,000 tweets/messages/photos/emails a day?

I wonder what the Social Media craze will do to us in the long run.

So now I've wandered off topic, but does this make sense to you? It's a similar type of thing.

Instead of running around trying to do EVERYTHING, we should take a deep breath, figure out a solid plan, and pick and choose carefully. That's smart marketing, anyway.

Judy said...

I'm grateful for the Dreamin' Convention. I was given the opportunity to participate as a reader and small enough I didn't retreat completely. I went in as an author knowing I would spend more than I would make. Making money wasn't my goal. When I chose to participate as an author I had one goal in mind: Do it because I said I would. I battled fears and doubts the whole year. I knew Kris, Deena, Morgan, and Rhonda were working hard, and I feared letting them down. I planned and prepared something every week until the convention. I didn't feel prepared, but I didn't know what else to do.

I did it. I learned a lot. I have a much better perspective of myself as a writer. I had fun.

When I returned home I found an article on one of the blogs I follow that talked about conventions. They said that the main purpose is to network. I did much better interacting with people as an author than I did as a reader. I met some lovely readers and delightful authors.

Confession: I'm glad Dreamin' is taking a break for a year. I have a whole new respect for the Dreamin' team doing this five years in a row! I can't imagine jumping back in to prepare for next year. Looking forward to 2017.

Brava Dreamin' team!

Maggie Lynch said...

Good rant. I'm sorry that your event has been suffering. I think all events have suffered during the past recession. It is wise to take a year off.

When I first started publishing in 2011, I went to every event I could in 2011 and 2012. I did big events like RWA National where all the profits go to literacy, to smaller events in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and the South. No matter the event size, my average book sales at any one event--no matter the size--was 5-7 books. Never enough to even pay for the convention fee, not to mention air fare, hotel stay, meals, printed goods, etc. After that I decided I was only going if the event offered me something I wanted--good workshops, I was a featured speaker, or something similar.

I have two nieces (in their mid twenties) who plan their vacations around ONE reader event per year. They tend to choose RT or a big con like WorldCon for SF/Fantasy. They go for the free books from NY publishers, to meet famous authors, to play dress up for whatever the event themes are, and to party. They rarely purchase books because they read on their e-reader. If other attendees are like them, I understand why I don't sell books.

Now I limit myself to four events/signings per year. I choose the event based on the probability of reaching readers I do not normally reached through bookstore affiliations or other local programs. My goal is not to sell my books, but to get readers to sign up for my mailing list. That means I giveaway ebooks via a download code. I spend my time talking to potential readers, getting a sense of what they read and how they read and where they spend their disposable income. When I do that I come home satisfied. Depending on the turn out, I can get anywhere from 30-50 new people on my mailing list at an event.

This year I'm doing an event in Shedd, Oregon about 100 miles away from me and therefore not in my local area. I'm also doing Comic Con for my YA Fantasy books because it brings in readers that I normally do not reach in my marketing efforts and I'm exploring potential cross over. I have room for one more event but not sure if I'll find one that matches my criteria.

Good luck with your event coming back in 2016.