True, as Crispin laments, echoing author David Milofsky in his Pity the poor author at those painful book readings in the Denver Post, all too often at readings there are
no audiences, no publicity, sometimes the only person you’re reading to is either your mother or a homeless person who came in out of the rain.But it's time to stop laying all the blame on the bookstores, and for authors to take some responsibility for themselves. Authors should go to places where they know they'll have an audience: through personal connections (family, friends, alma mater), a receptive community (say, Milwaukee for a book on beer), business/professional connections (e.g., Seattle for a history of Boeing). And those local connections must be PRIMED via email and postcard mailings for each stop along the way. Which is why authors must build up their mailing lists.
Of course, reading at a bookstore that does lots of publicity and advertising helps. On July 6, I went to the first author event at Tattered Cover's new flagship store. Francine du Plessix Gray read from her memoir Them (which I have most happily read now that my right arm is stronger). There were some 25 people in the audience--for a paperback reissue! in July! in Denver!--of which at least 10 bought books and had them signed.
Katharine Weber had an audience of 80 at Politics & Prose in D.C. last night for her marvelous new novel, Triangle. I wasn't there, but I know from having had her on panels at the VaBook Festival, that like du Plessix Gray she gave a well-organized, polished, easily audible presentation.
Crispin extols non-bookstore reading series, especially ones with alcohol (tipsy people buy more books), as the wave of the future. It's certainly a wave, but not the only one on the beach, and it's not going to wipe out well-run bookstore events any time soon. Besides, there's no guarantee that the authors at a reading series will be any better performers than the ones at your local Borders.
I've sat through deadly readings by the nominees the night before presentation of the National Book Critics Circle Awards. You'd think all those authors would be brief, audible and well-rehearsed, but NOOOOO. One year, the first reader (who shall remain nameless) went on...and on...and on!... for twenty-five minutes. I was itching to run up with a hook--or at least an umbrella with a curved handle--and yank him off the stage. If the other readings had been that long, we would have been there for 7 hours. As it is, they got shorter and shorter (a good reason why one should have a set of different-length readings prepared). Nominee #14 brought the house down when he prefaced his 3-minute reading with the proclamation, "I am the last man standing...[dramatic pause]...between you and a DRINK!"