Book Tour Physics

Three book events in three days. As always, I showed up to them with no expectations and was always surprised at how they turned out. Providence proved to be a tough show. I wonder who will show up, especially on a rainy Saturday evening, to hear a slide presentation about stencils. Throw in the fact that the bar beside Symposium Books couldn’t work out the video projector back by the bar, where regulars didn’t seem interested at all in a slide show, and things begin to look grim. Surprisingly, about 7 people show up to get cozy around my laptop and learn about the book. The bartender won’t turn the music all the way down too, making me feel like a rookie folk musician who has to play a club full of chatty, uninterested customers. Still, the show went on and I even sold a book to a teenager who loves stencil art.

These book tour gigs have a physics of their own. No telling who will show up, how many books will get sold, and what the solution is to draw larger audiences. I assume that most people don’t go to author events unless they like the book or know the author. I’ve been to a few over the years, and know that David Byrne of the Talking Heads had about 400 people at his event many years ago at CELLspace. They stood in line and even paid to get in before having to buy the book and sit through his PowerPoint slide presentation. I’m definitely not David Byrne, and have had shows as large as 120 and as small as 4. My events seem to be based upon chaos theory, throwing out wild unpredictable results. I’m sure other authors feel this with their own tours.

Gig two of three at Bluestockings Books in Manhattan on Sunday proved the point. As all the amazing collective members and employees moved the book shelves to the side and set up the chairs, I looked at the empty book store and tried to imagine people sitting in the seats. “I hope they show up,” I told myself, feeling bad for all the labor put in to setting up the gig. If no one shows up, will the staff still be nice to me?

At least things have dried up here in NYC. No rain means no wet sidewalks, so I put a globe stencil up outside the bookstore. I have decided not to go out tonight because my foot is killing me and making it hard to walk. I’d like to go out after the book event for a bit but don’t like the idea of limping around the Lower East Side with a computer bag and a bag full of books and art and stencils and paint. Oh well.

Bluestockings somehow forgot to stock books for my gig, so I schlep 8 over from my personal stash. They thought 20 would be a good amount to bring, but I know how the physics of a book gig work. Eight will do. The set up at Bluestockings looks great and their tech is a go. “I have a good draw here for a Sunday night,” says a collective member. She counted 17 people sitting in the audience for the presentation. I only know one person in that crowd, as opposed to 3 of 7 in Providence the day before.

Though the crowd is a good size, I only sell two books. Book-buying behavior patterns also run unpredictable at book gigs. Who knows who will buy a book. I offer to give away my donated art stash to book buyers, so the few who buy walk away with original stencil art as a bonus. I love bonuses, hearkening back to my childhood affection for the MAD Magazine Super Specials. You got free posters, stickers, records, etc. with those reprinted magazines.

Anyway, I hope that Bluestockings gets their book order in for Stencil Nation. One thing about book tour physics is that people will come hear the author, not buy the book, but go home and think about it. Then they might come back later to buy it. Another angle is the person who couldn’t make the author event, so shows up later and wants to buy the book. Autographing the existing books, if the book store has any, helps sell the book after the event too.

Last night took me to Flatbush, Brooklyn for the third of three straight Stencil Nation gigs. I arrived at Vox Pop early, with all my stencils and paint in tow. Ron English’s “Obama/Lincoln” morph poster greeted me at the door. Still limping from my weird foot malady, I wandered into their cafe, not sure if this was the book store. It was. The nice folks at Vox Pop poured me a beer and gave me a cup of three-lentil chili. They didn’t have any of my books in stock either, so I set up a stack on the counter and then walked outside to paint some stencils.

They set the projector up in front of their small stage, which is surrounded by books, so I put my laptop by the projector. Two youths hung out the whole time, watching me paint stencils and chatting. A local walked by and seemed excited to see me painting. The workers at Vox Pop also hung out, and even gave me a consciousness hip hop CD from local and international artists.

When the start time arrived, I couldn’t tell who was at Vox Pop for my presentation and who was here because it was a cool cafe with wifi. I felt like that rookie folkie again but, with no expectations, had no disappointments. About 15 people were in the cafe, and several tables near the entrance had the laptop zombie stations going. They were loud at the beginning of my presentation, but eventually quieted down. Maybe they were listening to my talk or just being respectful. Again, you never know in this environment.

After the presentation, I sold four books at Vox Pop. Only about 7 people seemed to be truly interested in the slide presentation, so I’ll take this as a positive sign. A local artist, Juan Carlos Pinto, wanders in after the presentation for a brief chat and book purchase. The youth who had been there from the beginning bought a book and continued to be enthusiastic about stencils. I wanted to leave to have some personal time with my friends Kevin and Penny, but it took a good 30 minutes to get out of there.

So far, the tour has been great. My bag gets lighter as I sell books along the way, and people have shown up with curiosity and support. I have three more Northeast events to get to and then the Southeast tour begins after Thanksgiving. I hope that the response continues to be positive, and that the physics continues to tick towards the average turnout of about 12 folks per gig. We’ll see what happens along the way!