“Talking is just masturbating, without the mess.”
-Our Lady Peace, “Happiness & The Fish”
For authors, booking an event is a wonderful feeling. A store values you; people may value you. However, the difficult part of an event is marketing. Yes, there’s the crazy chance that people think you’re worthy of their honored presence, but you have to convince them to come first.
Back in February, I had an event for “Cursed: A Jack Swift Case” at a local bookstore. The owner had stocked both Jack Swift novels leading up to the reading, and they promoted the booking on social media as well as traditional advertising avenues. I was also responsible for promoting the event, and therefore believed that the best way to do so was through social media. Millennials and younger generations worship social media; they believe it’s how society should function, and frankly, advertising rules the world and social media is the best way to reach an enormous audience for not only product placement, but for the arts as well. Unfortunately, this reliance on the medium is unwarranted. Social media doesn’t work for all, and worse, it makes people feel like they’re providing an important and cherished contribution.
I tweeted, shared status updates, posted photos with tagged details and personally asked friends and colleagues to spread the word—through an in-person meeting with the use of my voice! Who would have thought a vocal face-to-face interaction could also be used as an effective source of communication. The responses were promising; thumbs pointing up, warm and bright red hearts and ecstatic yellow faces with wide mouths and tears of joy filled my notification box. I fell victim to my own vulnerability; I thought people cared, but the point of all the responses weren’t to help me, but rather promote other users’ sympathetic support. They did their part by clicking a button or smudging a phone screen, and assumed their work was done as they felt rewarded for their good deed. Let us celebrate their generosity!
From all the likes and loves and encouraging threads of text that others could recognize and praise each other’s care, four people showed up to the event. That’s right; four. That’s not the most shocking part, however.
The event was on a weeknight, and that gave people an excuse. On the other hand, the restaurant that shares the same foyer as the bookstore had a long wait as diners clanged their utensils against their plates and laughed over nursed drinks and loud gossip. I set up as the store emptied and my first fan entered. She was the aunt of one of my closest friends; I recognized her short blond strands before she opened the door, and gladly conversed with her as there appeared to be no rush to start my spiel. Next my friend, business partner and fellow local author, Jason DeGray, sauntered in as the staff placed way too many chairs in front of my podium. To my surprise, a random book browser plopped down and waited patiently as if she had nothing better to do with her time—my third attendee. I finished setting up a clever display: The book was stabilized upright, a replica Honus Wagner card ignited wonder behind its plastic armor, cheap chocolates wrapped in sport ball foil overflowed a homemade bowl, and a Bluetooth speaker softly played the playlist from “Cursed.”
I spoke about my background, credentials and style; I explained how Jack Swift came to be and transitioned from reference to excerpt flawlessly; and I interacted with the audience and listening staff members—especially the browser who was taking notes for whatever reason. The fourth fan, my dentist, strolled in during the presentation, but immediately became involved as she answered a question I had for the spectators. It was a good crowd; it was fun; I had a surge of confidence after practicing my presentation and completing the event. Almost everyone isn’t aware of that, however.
Not one of those four people came because of social media. DeGray knew through me, the browser stumbled upon the event because of first-hand in-store advertising, and my friend’s aunt and my dentist read about the reading in the newspaper. The newspaper of all places! That’s almost as extinct as in-person conversation. As a master of journalism, I appreciate that the newspaper is still relevant and proving to be more effective than the highly touted social platforms that run the world—in regards to this specific situation. That’s why I didn’t share the outcome of the reading right away; it wouldn’t have felt good; it would have been an emotional response; there was no sustenance; no one would care. They would have just pretended to care or completely avoid the recap because it’s easy to not see one post among the meaningless over-saturation of more important things like pictures of food, or fishers hoping to hook compliments about their good deeds, or snowflakes flurrying for empathy as they overcame a difficult situation like making it through a full eight-hour shift.
Social media is just masturbation; it’s purpose is to please the user in any way, shape and form. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a medium that has become essential in society and industry, but from my experiences, it deserves little praise. Authors shouldn’t rely on it because it doesn’t guarantee anything. They also must remember bad showings can happen to anyone.
One of my professors shared that she had an event where no one showed, but at least she had a good book to read to pass the time. Esteemed novelist Leslie Epstein, who is referenced in “Cursed,” told me that he held a reading where two people came: one old lady who fell asleep knitting, and the other seeking shelter from the rain.
Yet, we need social media which is bittersweet to embrace. It may fail most of the time, but if it can create just one success, that may be all an author requires, so don’t disregard the whole system.
We also still need newspapers—obviously—so don’t rely on just one form of marketing.
For authors booking their first event, don’t expect much and, most importantly, don’t base your future on how many people did or didn’t attend your reading. Practice your presentation and interact with anybody in attendance—even if that’s just the staff. Go through the motions before human interaction becomes artificial.
Talking to someone in the same room is still pleasurable, and less messy than social media.