My husband, Joe, is the frontman of a very popular Northern Arizona blues band, Blues Dawg. Because his schedule running our bookstore, The Well Red Coyote, is so demanding, Joe can’t play as often as he might like. That pent-up demand means that the gigs he does play are almost always really well attended. I’ve seen bars so packed that they can’t squeeze in another person until someone leaves and concert halls with standing room only.
That’s why it was such a surprise when a recent gig was poorly attended. The timing was poor — it was Good Friday, a day when lots of people either stay home or travel to visit family. And it was a brand new venue that few people had discovered yet. For whatever reason, they only attracted around twenty-five people in a venue that could have held far more than that.
I also knew that my husband was playing sick. He’d contracted a stomach bug, and while he wasn’t violently ill, he didn’t feel well. The thing is, though — nobody could tell. Not that the band members had to feel disappointed by the poor showing, and not even that Joe wasn’t well. They gave a dynamite, energetic, tight performance, which the small audience loved.
It struck me that there was a lesson there for authors. If you’re a professional — you perform, no matter what.
As both an author and a bookseller, I see author signings from both sides, and I see them handled both well and poorly. These days, after five years in business, our bookstore mostly gets good turnouts for our author events.
But every now and then, we have a clunker, with few people showing up. I always feel badly for the author, because I’ve experienced it myself. But I also know that as an author, I give my all, whether there’s one person there or a packed house. Yet I’ve seen authors phone in their appearances if they don’t consider the size of the crowd big enough to matter.
For a while we were scheduling a nonfiction author for regular educational events related to his latest book. I noticed that the enthusiasm he brought to speaking was in direct proportion to the number of people in attendance. With a big crowd, he was engaging and facilitated an interesting discussion. But when the crowd was smaller, he seemed remote and almost sulky.
One night, only one person showed up. The woman had come in earlier and was interested in his book, and came back to hear him speak. But though she tried to engage him in direct conversation about his book, he pretended to be too busy with his own browsing to talk with her. When his speaking time came, I asked him to get started, even though he would only be speaking to that one customer and me, unless someone else showed up. But he wouldn’t begin. He insisted on waiting until more people arrived. After more time had passed, and nobody did come, he canceled that night’s talk. With a sigh, the woman said, “I hope I get to hear you talk someday,” and she left. Without buying a book, something I felt sure she’d wanted to do when she arrived. I canceled his future discussions, even though I had every expectation for better attendance for many. I knew I couldn’t trust his professionalism.
Some of you might be saying, “Big deal. It was just one book.” But you know what? Whether titles are sold by the hundreds or thousands or millions, whether an author is present when most of his sales are made or not — at the retail level, all books are all sold one at a time, to one individual at a time. Every reader should matter.
Whether we’re thrilled with our large turnout or disappointed by a small one, a professional performs, no matter what.
That’s what I believe. How about you?
Causes Kris Neri Supports
Sedona, Arizona Humane Society