Are The Days Of Bookshop Readings Ending?
There was a time when it was very common for the bigger UK authors to tour American bookshops. Over here I spent part of every year touring UK bookstores giving talks, conducting Q&As and signing, but never got offered a US tour. Knowing you can’t pull a big crowd certainly stops you from getting a big head.
Around five years ago the American PA book tour circuit started developing holes. Then much of it dried up completely. Now, very few UK authors do tours in the US. They say what happens there happens here five years later, and lo, it is coming to pass. This year, Norwich, usually a reliable indicator of the reading public, failed to sell enough tickets for me to attend. Other writers have found events under-attended too. We’re still selling books, it’s just that people don’t necessarily want to sit and listen to an author talk.
And yet, as with all other branches of the arts, the superstars remain capable of filling halls. JK Rowling brings kids, Brett Easton Ellis brings out old punks, writer/TV presenters like Simon Schama and Mary Beard can instantly fill halls. If you’ve been on TV you can always bring in punters just because of the ‘Oooh look, it’s her/him in the flesh!’ brigade.
So where does that leave writers who just write books? Well, we can read via online videos or we can conduct blog tours. Or we can visit less obvious venues, like the superb David’s bookshop in Letchworth, Herts, where I received a wonderfully warm welcome from the staff and guests, bought a ton of books and had a great time. So there are still catchment areas that make it work. It helped that David’s is laid out so seductively that I would defy you not to leave without buying a book.
But audience ages are definitely on the rise; it’s very rare to see young faces in the crowd now unless you’ve written YA or children’s books. Could it be that older people have more elongated attention spans? Or simply more time on their hands? Last night one lady confided that she had read 18 books last month alone. I wanted to hug her.
I’m a book obsessive, but I know I’m not alone. Now more than ever it seems like good value for money and a wonderful way to spend your life – in the calm, cogitative company of words.