A few people have asked me if I’m planning a book tour for THE BEECHWOOD FLUTE. I’d be happy to come talk to just about any group that invites me, but I find talks at schools or to teachers much more fruitful than bookstore signings.

The sad truth is I’m not famous enough for people to flock to a bookstore to see me. Not very many authors are. Think about it: how many times have you gone to book signing and author talk, especially for a new author you don’t already know? Bookstores know this. Some of them (I’m talking about you, Kepler’s) even charge an author or her publisher for the chance to visit.

Still, I’ve had some really great events. The trick is to have a main event that is something more than a signing or even a reading. I’ve talked about women in science in places from colleges to gatherings of science teachers to research labs, and in April I’m going to lecture at the American Library in Paris. Not that they’re paying for my trip or anything, but I’ll be there visiting family, and it will be fun to talk about the Curies and Sophie Germain in their home country.

At a lecture, I can often sell twenty to fifty copies of MAGNIFICENT MINDS or REMARKABLE MINDS, and one site bought two hundred, so those are good events.

And then there’s family or kid-oriented events. Once a co-author and I created a trivia contest. For LOST IN LEXICON, I worked with the wonderful Kirsten Cappy to create a “Lexicon Villages” event. At schools or in libraries, I set up nine stations of playful word and math-related activities for kids. We pulled in teacher or parent volunteers to help staff the tables. At one of the very best of these events, a school in Brookline held an event on a snowy evening. Parent volunteers even served pizza. A third of grades 4 through 6 showed up with their families, and I wandered among the villages and signed books for two happy hours.

But even having great activities is no guarantee of a good event. Once an enthusiastic bookstore owner in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who urged me to come do an event. She could get 200 schoolchildren there, she promised. Eventually, I decided to stop in Albuquerque on my way to California for a work trip.

At the airport I rented a car. The event was going to be the next day, but I decided to scout out the store ahead of time. That was a good idea that I carried out badly–by locking the car keys in the trunk in the bookstore parking lot. It took AAA an hour to come, and my trip expenses rose further. I also learned that the bookstore owner had recently suffered a heart attack. She was much bettlil-coverer now, but she had never managed to contact her partner schools to make arrangements.

Next day, I arrived in plenty of time to set up my activity tables in the aisles of the bookstore. Then I sat. And sat. Finally, a young black woman came in with her daughter, who must have been around five years old, and asked about the special event. I started to show her some of the activities, but the proprietess bustled up and told the visitor that her daughter was too young and could not participate. Frustrated that she had come our for nothing, the lady muttered angrily as she swept her daughter away.

Nobody else came.

So that was that. Two thousand miles, two days, and one angry, rejected customer.

That was my worst book event ever.

What would you most like to see or hear at a book event? Do you like to hear the author read? Talk about how the book was constructed? Hear about what the author is working on next? Play games?



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