Publishers take a financial risk when they organise an author event or attend one an author has organised, especially if a sale or return agreement has been made with a local bookshop. Sometimes when books are returned they are no longer sellable.
Here are some case studies:
Three writers were show-cased at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, a tastefully converted mill in Manchester, just behind the Oxford Road station. I went along because I knew two of the writers – a poet who is a colleague and a novelist with whom I used to work.
It was a delightful evening. The third writer was interesting as well. I bought two of the books – I already had one of them. I think the publisher sold five of each title. This wouldn’t have even covered her traveling costs let alone the hire of the venue – which was packed, actually.
I attended a launch of a collection of poems and short writings by someone I know. I was also interested in the publisher because he is young and produces the best covers I’ve ever seen.
Again, the venue was packed. The writer clearly had a lot of friends and fans. The publisher sold twenty-five copies of the author’s book and a few other titles. I don’t know if they paid anything for the hire of the room – it was in a pub so sometimes this can be free as it’s a given that people will spend at the bar. Certainly the publisher would have covered his costs. But he’d hardly be paid for his time.
The winner of one of our novel competitions was a young girl aged sixteen. She later confessed to having written the book when she was just fourteen. We had to make a fuss of this one. We paid for the hire of the venue - a quirky, independent café. We paid in effect the salaries of the waitresses. The girl’s parents bought cupcakes and a drink for all of the guests.
We sold all fifty books I’d brought along and some of the author copies the family had bought. We more than covered the cost of the room but our profit would certainly not have paid for drinks etc. Let alone the cost of my travel and overnight accommodation. The book has since covered those but my time remains unpaid for.
An imprint of one of the big five launched a book by a mid-list author in a regional branch of a high street book store, but in a town not too far from London. The charismatic editor-in-chief, after whom the imprint is named, attended – he was rather fond of the author. Many people came to the shop – and about thirty of us even went out to dinner afterwards.
The book is still in print but it never did become a best-seller.
No doubt the editor covered his immediate costs that evening but sales probably didn’t pay for his time.
All of the delegates from a writers’ conference attended a book launch in a High Street bookshop. We were offered wine and snacks – not sure who paid. Few people bought books because it was just too crowded.
The first book we published was a collection of short stories mainly by authors published for the first-time. Several authors held their own events and sold over 100 copies a time.
We held a get-together in London and charged the people who attended enough to cover the cost of a buffet-lunch, a drink and the hire of the room. The book sales on the day and the slight profit on the event covered my travel expenses.
Although the book was only out for six weeks before the end of the year, each author got about £25.00 royalties – quite unusual in a collection of unknown authors.
As we’ve moved on and those writers have come back to us, now with more experience and no longer able to sell to friends and family, and as we’ve attracted more established writers also, we’ve not been able to repeat that pattern.
We launched a book at prestigious literary festival. We got some pretty decent high-profile media coverage. It is our bestselling book. All copies ordered by the festival’s bookshop sold and they ordered a few more than normal.
In fact, not all sold at the festival but the bookshop owner decided to keep the rest and even gave us a donation for the charity the book supports.
However, there were quite a few entertainment expenses.
Nevertheless the book continues to trickle out.
Book events aren’t just about selling books on the day
Book events are, in fact, a type of PR. It is fine for them to be loss-leaders. Frankly, my favourite type of entertainment is a book event. I’m probably pretty typical of all of those who work in the book industry. I love the whole process. I relish being around books and all those in the involved in the process of making them. What else would I do with my time? We have to make money and we have to be paid for what we do, but other than that … Even those involved with the big five would get far more return on their effort if they invested their business acumen in any other industry apart from farming. Theatre is probably on a par and possibly the other arts.
We feel, though, immensely privileged that we spend our time doing what we love.