Store signings / Conference programming

By now you've observed that I sometimes collect here posts that I've sent to various lists that I try to follow.  The difficulty with doing this that if you're reading this here, you're coming into the middle of a conversation.  I hope that what I write gives you enough context to understand what's going on, and that my comments are still of interest (and, I hope, of value).

The post below is somewhat more problematic than most, in that it addresses two separate discussion threads.  Still, you'll catch on.

Store signings

On Aug 16, 2007, at 7:23 AM, wrote:

When my first book came out I was assigned a publicist and was told by the head
of publicity that I should absolutely not attempt to contact bookstores
or set up bookstore events on my own. She said that I would run the risk
of annoying booksellers.

Your publisher gave you bad advice.

In terms of setting up events, publishers and writers don't have the same interests. There are some overlapping goals, to be sure, but not all are the same.  As a writer, you want the best opportunity to meet the largest number of people who might find your book of interest.  Publishers will schedule events to make key customers happy, sometimes without regard to the suitability of a venue for a particular title.

It's not uncommon for a writer to be scheduled into a B&N store when there's an independent in the same market that has a better track record with that writer or for that type of book. The reason this happens is that B&N is, overall, a very large customer.  That independent is likely to be a much smaller account, and therefore a much lower priority from the company's standpoint.  Still, that independent might have a better relationship with customers for your type of book, a bookselling staff that's particularly passionate about what you write, etc.

I have no quarrel with B&N in general, or Borders for that matter, and I certainly recognize that there are some things -- including events for some writers -- that the chains do well.  But there are other things that I do better, despite the fact that many big publishers steer writers away from stores like mine.  Almost none of our events in my store ( are the result of a publicist's efforts; I'm always happy to hear from and work with writers who are as understanding of our needs as we try to be of theirs.

Conference programming

I'd like to add one thing on the conference issue, now writing as the unpaid, volunteer program director for Magna Cum Murder (, and as the unpaid, volunteer co-chair of Bouchercon 2009 (

Betty used a form of the word "entitlement" in her comments about some writer's requests/queries/bullying about conference programs.  I want emphasize her point: there are no entitlements at conferences.  Conventions such as Magna and Bouchercon are not designed for YOU to sell YOUR books.  Yes, book sales happen at conferences, and a well-run event will offer writers opportunities to meet readers in a way that improves their chances of selling books.  If and when such sales happen, though, they're a by-product of a program that's designed first and foremost (exclusively?) with goals that have little to do with book sales and everything to do with engaging and entertaining an audience, celebrating the richness of our genre, and enriching our appreciation of these books we love.

As a conference programmer, I'll try just about anything -- ask folks who've been to Magna over the past few years, and what you'll hear should prove that I mean that -- but what I won't do is schedule an author who tells me that he or she is coming to Magna only because he or she expects to sell books.  I schedule panelists -- writers, others working in the business, readers, everyone -- because I have reason to believe that they have something interesting to say and that the folks attending the conference will want to hear them.  Each and every person on the program is there because I believe he or she will make a contribution to the program, say something that others won't say, provide a different perspective on the issue at hand, have expertise that will be instructive, etc.  It's not my goal to simply put together a string of commercial announcements for writers' new books -- no matter who's published them.