Size Matters Not
Larry Correia has just come back from a book tour, and it appears he generally had a good time and had good crowds along the way, which is nice. Near the end of the post he wrote about the tour he notes that after his Portland stop, some Twitter commenter gave him stick about the size of his crowd (which eventually topped up at over 40 fans) and how real successful authors pull larger crowds, and so on. Larry responded as Larry does, and that’s fine for Larry, but as a general topic of interest, let me add a few additional cents.
First, an anecdote. Back in 2006, I was at the Worldcon in Anaheim and I gave a reading, and I pulled in, oh, about, 40 people to the room. A little earlier than that, I walked past a room where George RR Martin was doing a reading, and that room had maybe ten people in it, listening to George read. From these numbers, can we assume that in 2006, I was four times as popular as George?
Answer: No, don’t be stupid. The reason I had more people than George at my reading is that at the 2006 Worldcon, the rooms where the authors were holding their readings were really difficult to find — in a hotel, on a somewhat inaccessible floor, away from the main convention — and if you didn’t tell people how to get to the rooms, they may not have found them. I had a signing just before my reading and I told every single person in my signing line how to find my reading. That’s why I had as many people as I did at my reading. I don’t assume George did the same thing, so I suspect that’s why he had fewer (seriously, those rooms were hard to find. If I hadn’t have scouted the room before my reading, I’m not sure I would have found my way to my own reading).
Moral to this anecdote: It’s not a good idea to make assumptions of a writer’s popularity from a sample size of a single reading.
Indeed, speaking from some experience, it’s also not a great idea to make assumptions of a writer’s popularity — as it is expressed by overall number of books sold — by how many people show up, on average, for their book events, no matter how many of them you string together. Why? Well, because it all depends on the writer, and the book. Some writers are good at book events and pull in a crowd disproportionately large to number of books they sell in general; some aren’t and do the opposite. Sometimes the book subject doesn’t lend itself to people showing up in a bookstore. Sometimes most of the readers of a book might be in a demographic that doesn’t correlate to going out to events.
In terms of single events, sometimes your event is counterscheduled against something huge going on in town. Sometimes it’s scheduled in the middle of weather that is likely to kill people if they go out in it. Sometimes the bookstore, who is supposed to promote the event, did a bad job of it (although in my experience this is rare; bookstores are usually on it). Sometimes it’s at an odd time of day where people can’t get away to a event. Sometimes you do everything right, and people just don’t show up anyway. There are lots of reasons why people don’t go to book events, in other words, even if the books sell just fine. These reasons often have nothing to do with the author themselves.
I’ve been actively touring novels since 2007, when Tor put me on tour for The Last Colony. Since that time, across several tours, I’d say my largest tour event had several hundred people at it, and my smallest event had… three. Yes, three. I was at the time a New York Times best selling, award-winning author, and yet three people showed up to a tour event of mine. And they were lovely people! And we had a fine time of it, the three of them and I. But still: Three.
Because sometimes that happens. And it happens to every writer. Ask nearly any writer who has done an event, and they will tell you a tale of at least one of their events populated by crickets and nothing else. Yes, even the best sellers. And here’s the thing about that: Even with the best sellers, it’s an event often in the not-too-recent past. Every time you do an event, you roll the dice. Sometimes you win and get a lot of people showing up. Sometimes you lose and you spend an awkward hour talking to the embarrassed bookstore staff. Either way, you deal with it, and then it’s off to the next one.
Also, tangentially: the dude on Twitter trying to plink one off of Larry because of the size of his event crowd? Kind of a dick. For all the reasons noted above, but also because the size of the audience has nothing to do with the quality of the event. Larry and I have our various differences, but I’ve seen enough of him up close to know the dude has a work ethic and that he values his fans. If he had seven or eight or forty or however many people in attendance, I’m pretty sure he did his best to make them feel like they made the right choice by showing up. I have no doubt they had a good time.
And then those seven or eight or forty or however many people will go home feeling valued by Larry, and they’ll keep buying his books and keep recommending them to friends and others. Because that’s the point and that’s how it’s done. The value of doing a book event is not only about who is in the crowd that day. It’s the knock-on effect from there — building relationships with fans and booksellers, and benefiting when they talk you up to friends and customers and so on. I know it, publishers know it, booksellers know it. I’d be very surprised if Larry doesn’t know it. We all know it.
Which is why I’m fairly certain that however many people showed up to Larry’s event, he entertained them and they had a ball. Just like I do my best to give people who show up to my events a good time, no matter the number. Just like pretty much any writer does.
That’s what makes a successful author event: What the author puts into it and what people who showed up came away with. Not the gross number of people who show up.