Round Robin: The Fate of Booksignings and Conferences

Janet Dawson:  Joe Konrath, on his blog The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, predicts that conferences and booksignings will go the way of the dodo and disappear entirely. Here’s the post where Joe first brought up the issue. And here’s the post with his predictions from 2009, how many of them have come true, and updates his predictions based on what’s happening now.

Perseverance Press blogmates – comments, please!

Jeanne Dams:  I think that signings will continue as they always have, with small turnouts for lesser-known authors and big ones for the big sellers. I think that conventions will continue, since readers love to meet their favorite authors, and a convention is a good way to do that and have a wonderful time in the bargain. If Joe is referring to the e-book phenomenon, that may cut into signings – one can hardly sign a Kindle – but not into conventions. At least that’s my opinion, and my hope.

Lea Wait:  Conferences and bookstores and booksignings go away?  Not yet. Maybe not ever. But they are changing. I think readers come to conferences to meet the authors of the books they love; some of them turn their love of books into love of authors. That’s fan-dom. And it really doesn’t matter whether they read the book in a hardcover or a mass market or trade or on an electronic device. Fans love movie stars whether they see the movie in a theatre or on a DVD in their living room or on their computer or smartphone.

So I think venues where readers can meet authors (conferences, bookstores and libraries) will still be around for quite a while. Skype isn’t quite the same. (Although I’ve visited classrooms and book groups via Skype.)

Maybe fans won’t ask authors to sign books. Maybe they’ll want signed photographs, or poems or printed paragraphs or “first pages” from books that are primarily distributed electronically. But I think they’ll want some sort of personal souvenir of their time with the author. Again, that’s part of being a fan. And I don’t think all the electronic communications in the world will change the nature of being a fan — just the way in which fans communicate with their favorites.

Shelley Singer:  Interesting thought. I don’t think they’ll disappear completely. I think the people who love doing them will keep doing them, but they’ll no longer be – already are not – major ways to publicize a book. The Internet has changed the world, and it’s certainly changed our corner of it. Opened it to massive new possibilities and new ways of connecting with our readers.

Lev Raphael:  Joe surprisingly seems to have a limited vision of book signings. I’ve done between 50-60 of them in the last two years or so here and abroad touring for just one book, My Germany, but they’ve been at other venues than bookstores: museums, libraries, book fairs, churches and synagogues, cultural centers and so on. Twenty years ago I chose to start building connections and networking outside the bookstore world and have flourished there as many other writers do (even those who sign at bookstores). I don’t see these kinds of signings disappearing even with e-books gaining ground.

Camille Minichino:  If conferences change, they won’t disappear. At my first conferences 15 years ago, agents made themselves invisible. No badges even, since they weren’t “soliciting.” At Thrillerfest in July 2011, 60 agents held a pitchfest. It’s almost as if the publishing model has gone the way of the Hollywood model. Never mind mailing that proposal package on the best bond paper you can buy. Just show up and convince the industry that you can be as hot as the next one. I’ve seen agents’ sites where they discourage even email queries; it’s best to “network,” they say. The conferences that provide networking, and not just promotional panels, will become the place to be, at least for awhile. Interesting that while books are disappearing into cyberspace, authors are coming out.

Sheila Simonson:  I love signing books, but I’m not fond of “signings” where the authors sit miserably in a bookstore while customers scuttle around avoiding their eyes. The best situation is signing after a talk or a reading, or after a panel at conventions. I like conventions, but they can be expensive. As to what’s going to happen, who knows? Signings are pretty dependent on bookstores, though Lev’s experience of speaking to and networking with groups clearly works well. Meanwhile this blog looks like a good place to meet readers, fans, and other authors without actually pressing the flesh.

Sara Hoskinson Frommer:  Everything changes, including me. These days, traveling to conferences, not to mention finding a hotel that will accommodate someone who can’t climb even a few steps or step over the edge of a bathtub, is a major stumbling block, and stumbling is a major hazard for the body that makes me do it.

The first conference I attended wasn’t the kind of thing we’re talking about, but a week-long writers workshop at which I learned a lot about the process of getting published. My first Bouchercon was so long ago that Sara Paretsky was a brand-new mystery author, and Stanley Ellin was holding court. I’d found my agent and would soon be published, so I wasn’t hunting. Later, I enjoyed traveling to a variety of cons, networking with other authors and fans alike. I have no idea whether it made a difference to sales of my books, but it is indeed fun to know as human beings authors whose books I enjoy and to meet people who enjoy mine. Not so long ago, I stood in line at Magna cum Murder like any other fan to have a book signed by Alexander McCall Smith, who charmed all the ladies and quizzed me about conferences. Were there others? he asked. I told him about Malice Domestic, which would love to have him, I was sure.

Depending on the economy, I suspect that kind of pleasure conference will continue to draw fans for some time. What will benefit authors is a different question. E-books are here to stay, and my agent prefers electronic copy to carry on the subway, but I still read paper for pleasure after hours of staring at a screen. I hope the two can coexist for many years to come.

Laura Crum:  I’m probably the wrong person to comment on this, because I don’t do conferences and signings any more. I’ve done some signings in past years, and attended a couple of conferences and it just isn’t my thing. It is fun to have people acknowledge my work and to meet authors I’ve admired for years, but to be quite honest, I feel life is too short to give much time to this. Being at home with my family, horses, pets, and garden, traveling to places that interest me means so much more to me than the sort of talk/promotion I’ve experienced at signings/conferences, that I choose to prioritize away from these events. I have not noticed that those midlist authors who have religiously attended them (conferences) and sought them out (signings) to have become markedly more popular. Many of the authors who started out when I did (my first novel, Cutter, was published by St Martin’s in 1994), and who were zealous about touring and conferences, are no longer being published. So I have to say that I think it is more about whether an author enjoys such things or not. For myself, I have very much enjoyed connecting with fans through blogging at the equestrianink blogspot, which leaves me free to stay home and ride my horses and homeschool my son. If others enjoy this aspect of Internet promotion as much as I do, then perhaps Joe Konrath is right.

Lev Raphael:  I’d like to respond to Laura’s trenchant remarks. Like her, I’d much rather be at home with family, friends dogs, sleeping in my own bed, seeing my circle of friends, living a normal life. I had done dozens of panels as moderator and panelist and had to stop for several reasons. It was lovely meeting fans and booksellers and spending time with writer friends, but several things became clear:  1) they took too much time away from writing; 2) the expense was way out of proportion to any effect they might have on my career despite publishers pushing me to go; 3) the conferences were much of a muchness after a while; and 4) I was starting to earn a significant income as a speaker about my other books and when I weighed spending more than 1K to go to a conference vs. earning that same amount for a talk at a university (and having all my expenses paid), it didn’t make sense to keep going down the conference path. We all need to make choices about what works and what doesn’t work in our careers. Some people won’t do readings, some love them. Some people love blogging, others don’t.

Laura Crum:  I didn’t mean to imply anything negative towards those who go down the conference/signing path. It’s just not my path. I have to admit, after three years of posting on equestrianink, I have become somewhat addicted to blogging and to the connected network of “horse bloggers.” It’s an interesting phenomena. But yes, blogging has worked for me, and signings/conferences/touring did not. Just an individual preference.

Shelley Singer:  Laura, I couldn’t agree with you more. I know some authors who got a quick boost by doing a lot of bookstore and conference stuff, but it didn’t stick. I’d rather spend the time writing. Never enough time for that as it is.

Nancy Means Wright:  Yesterday’s book journey may have some bearing on the Round Robin question. En route to Mystery on Main Bookshop yesterday I stopped at three Vermont Indy bookstores. The first, in Brandon, in business for over 20 years, would close by Christmas, according to the proprietor; he just “wasn’t making it.” There was damage from Hurricane Irene, but that wasn’t it. Sales were down. No new books except for special orders. The second store in the city of Rutland had a sprinkling of new books, many by Vermonters like me, but a huge new section of used books, and shelves and shelves of toys and gimmicky stuff. The toys outsold the books, he said. The third, in Chester, was full of leaf peepers, but when I asked how business was, the proprietor, one of my favorites, just frowned and shook her head. But “for the time being” she’s “holding on.” When I arrived in Brattleboro and met Lea Wait who would partner with me for the event, we ran into a table stacked with mystery writer Archer Mayor’s new books. The owner, David, had hopes, since hometown Mayor was highly popular. He’d bought myriad copies of my and Lea’s books, too, and taken out ads. A handful of people dropped by – but not to listen to us, though they did come around to chat. But we scrapped our planned talk. Lea showed them prints of Maine artist Homer (featured in her new book) and I displayed a copy of Henry Fuseli’s erotic painting, “The Nightmare.” David, Lea and I sat around for another hour lamenting the demise of print books and David vowed he’d never have a used book in the store as other booksellers had done, and then he sat us down to sign a pile of copies that he vowed to sell. He wasn’t giving up. My Tuesday event is to be held in a local bar-restaurant. The Vermont Bookshop owner in Middlebury thought we might sell more books that way.

Sue Trowbridge:  (Sue Trowbridge of Interbridge is the Left Coast Crime 2012 webmaster, as well as the designer of the Get It Write blog)

Many authors spend a good chunk of each day interacting with people via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, mailing lists, message boards and email – even if the only human beings they encounter are their spouse and the mailman. But there’s no substitute for getting together face-to-face. We’re social animals at heart (even us introverts), and I just can’t foresee a day when writers won’t want to spend time with their peers and fans. If you don’t believe me, simply check out the action around the hotel bar at any mystery convention!

That said, I think mystery conventions will get smaller, cheaper, and more regional. We started planning for Left Coast Crime 2012 during the 2009 event in Hawaii, which suffered scores of cancellations after the economy tanked. Our goal was to provide a reasonably priced convention in an easy-to-get-to location, Sacramento, that is also within easy reach of some of California’s top tourist destinations (Gold Country, Wine Country and, of course, the San Francisco Bay Area). Considering that we’ve had over 250 people register with over five months left to go, we think we’ve succeeded – and that our attendees will have a great time hanging out with and learning from each other.


6 Responses

  1. I ought to add that I agree with Sue about conventions–smaller and cheaper is good, too. And for conventions authors are very dependent on the amazing people who volunteer to organize them. I don’t even want to think how much time and energy that takes. Good luck to them!

  2. Interesting discussion. I think booksignings are dead in the water unless you are a famous author signing in a big bookstore in a big city. In the small town where I live book programs at the library don’t even draw a crowd, except for review programs featuring a professional reviewer.

    There’s a gorgeous independent bookstore in Oklahoma City (Full Circle Books) but even signings there can’t seem to draw a crowd, except for special programs featuring well-known Oklahomans.

    Big conventions are fun. I wouldn’t trade anything for memories of the Bouchercon in Las Vegas and Left Coast Crime in Monterey that I attended, but that was then. Now I’m looking for nearby, regional conventions, especially those with presenters I want to meet/hear.

    Two of my favorite authors, Thomas B. Sawyer and Dennis Palumbo are on the program at the Oklahoma Writers Federation annual conference in Oklahoma City this May. I love their books and look forward to meeting them in person. Also on the program is Jack Dalton from Anchorage, Alaska. Jack is a Native storyteller and I have strong family ties to Anchorage. In fact, my book, ABSINTHE OF MALICE, is for sale in the bookstore at the Anchorage airport.

    I guess what it boils down to — These days I look at a confererence or convention with one question: What’s in it for me?

    Pat Browning

    • I agree with Pat about booksignings. One of the first — and best — pieces of advice given me by my favorite book publicist, Milt Kahn, was to “only do signings in places where you’ve got a lot of relatives.”

      Writers Conferences, on the other hand, are great for networking — a practice to which I owe – well – my career, bioth in books and in showbiz. And they’re great for bookselling. I rarely decline an invitation to be a presenter at writers conferences, and I think that even if one is a wannabe, they’re wonderful places to learn, to meet people, etc.

      Incidentally, I also recommend joining the local chapter of MWA, or SinC, (or both), and attending their meetings. Great for business and for one’s head. I’m really looking forward to OWFI in May, and to reconnecting with Dennis, Amy Shojai and others, finally meeting Pat, and a lot of other people — not-to-mention learning stuff!

      Tom Sawyer

  3. I read Konrath’s blog, have read some of his books, and greatly admire the role he’s played in ushering writers to publication, and some authors to increased sales and success.

    That said, I think that much as the only rule is there are no rules, the only sure prediction is there are no sure predictions.

    I attended a Lee Child signing at a Barnes & Noble in NYC recently and stood in line for an hour, amongst a group of Kindle lovers who said they still buy hardcover so that they can see Lee and Lee can sign them.

    Nancy’s experience with the bookstores is disturbing to hear, but just as a balance, we recently came home after a 60 bookstore cross country trip and saw the stores filled with customers, the registers opening and shutting, and events scheduled as many as one a week. One bookstore could charge $30/ticket–with only $5 going to the purchase of a book–and sell out. Yes, some bookstores are limping along. But I wonder if this is a function of a scaling back economy–and thus of growth that got over-inflated for a while there–versus any indication of books’ and bookstores’ longevity?

    When my own novel comes out in Jan/Feb 2013, I will be hitting the road with my family. For me there’s nothing like meeting a bookseller or a reader face to face. I teach online via Skype (as Lea has done), and this is a wonderful breakthrough–I can have students from SC to WA in one “place.” But it’s nothing like the 360 degree interaction of human encounters with all their subtle cues, smells, full body gestures, and intonations.

    This “prediction” is as subject to flaw as any of Konrath’s or anybody else’s–call it more of a hypothesis. But I wonder if in this increasingly digital world, real time encounters and F2F events at bookstores and conferences will become *more* precious and in demand?

    Thank you all for sharing your experiences and thoughts–it’s a fascinating topic.

  4. I love cons, always have. Feels like going to a family reunion. I’ve made many friends at cons–readers and other writers.

    Book signings I don’t do unless I am giving a talk of some sort with one exception. I do signings at a local used bookstore whenever I have a new book out and they carry my books–and sell them. I get a check every quarter. (I supply the books, of course.)

    I love giving talks at libraries for service and social groups and do well at book and craft fairs.

  5. As a soon to be published author–my first book, Redneck Ex, is scheduled for release Jan 20, 2012–I was sadden to learn that booksignings were a thing of the past. I’ve seen my newly published friends spend a lot of money in gas and time to get to a signing and not sell any books. That’s disheartening.

    As for conferences, I think they are invaluable. I actually got my contract for Redneck Ex as the direct result of two conferences, the Ozark Creative Writers and the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation (OWFI). I networked with the editor who spoke at both conferences and ended up with a 3 book contract. Pretty exciting stuff.

    As the conference chair of the 2012 OWFI conference, May 3-5, I’ve worked with the president and the board to come up with a program that should provide speakers on a wide variety of genres and every writing skill level. At least that’s what we’re aiming for. As mentioned, Tom Sawyer will be presenting as will Steven James, Jack Dalton, Chuck Sambuchino from Writers’ Digest and Dennis Palumbo. In addition to the top-notch speakers, we also have 7 agents (6 from NY) lined up.

    I hope you’ll consider attending:

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