Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to have a good author visit to your book club

William Morrow publishers this month offers a video chat with Lacy Crawford, a college admissions officer-turned-novelist. “Early Decision” opens up the world of college preparation in a dramatic setting, illustrating how the increasingly frantic effort to get into the college of choice is “getting in the way of growing up.” Publishers are increasingly supporting book club interest in authors.
GalleyCat, a lively, up-to-the-minute website about books, maintains a listing of authors willing to travel, use Skype or communicate via speakerphone with a book group. There isn’t a simple URL for this one; you’ll have to find it by going through www.mediabistro.com/galleycat, and typing in a search for: authors who visit book clubs.
An author’s website is usually the easiest way to make contact, since many authors invite clubs to contact them online for an interview. Some have a clearly marked “book clubs” link right on the site. In the absence of that, a well-constructed personal email might generate a response. You have nothing to lose by trying.
They’ll also consider a personal visit, weighing time and location. Writers enjoy talking about their book with readers, and an author—particularly a new one—can slowly rack up sales with enough visits, and word of mouth. That’s no exaggeration. Some enterprising writers take their marketing role seriously and visit hundreds of book clubs. Since publishers’ promotion money these days goes to already well-read, top-of-the-list authors, the newcomers and less recognized authors have grown increasingly creative in self-marketing. And, as I’ve noted before, the more famous, or sought-after, may charge a fee, or limit their visits to Skype and such. No problem; plenty of others are out there, clawing their way up the book sales charts and anxious for your love.
If you’re inviting an author, do your homework. I asked Vermont’s Chris Bohjalian what he needs from a book club, to make the experience work for everyone. Chris is a longtime Burlington, Vt. “Free Press” columnist and author of the recently released “The Light in the Ruins” and “The Sandcastle Girls,” as well as several other wonderful novels. His answer was straight-forward:
"As long as the book groups have read the novel, I'm a pretty happy camper. One safety tip? Don't spin the laptop on a lazy susan like it's the teacups ride at Disney World. I had a book group do that last week and I was in serious need of Dramamine by the time we were finished.” He enjoys the one-on-one contact that visits afford. “I usually have fun. I hope the book groups do too. And maybe that's the key: Don't take the group too seriously and feel you need to write a thesis about the novelist."
Jenna Blum, author of “Storm Chasers” and “Those Who Save Us,” says “I've had nothing but good experiences, whether in person, by phone, or by Skype! And I've had the privilege of talking to literally over a thousand book clubs.”
But I’d asked for a tip, so she added, “My best advice for book clubs I visit with via Skype is to schedule 10 to 15 minutes of tech time before we actually get started—and to be prepared to be "Skyebombed" by my boyfriend (who often wears a Viking helmet) and my black Lab jumping around behind me in my study.”
Jenna, familiar to attendees at Grub Street’s Marketplace and the Muse—a three-day workshop in Boston for writers, will appear with other authors Sept. 25 at the Providence, R.I., Public Library. See www.lovecarol.org for details on this benefit. She travels frequently on author visits.”
Claire Cook, Massachusetts author of “Must Love Dogs” and several other terrific books, is also enthusiastic. “I love book clubs and Skype with them often, and I also visit in person I'm going to be in the area,” she said. “If they're interested, they should go to http://ClaireCook.com and click on Book Clubs and we can take it from there.
“One thing I like to do is have everyone in the book club ask me one question, so that each member gets some one-on-one time with me. I also suggest that they find me on Facebook (http://facebook.com/ClaireCookauthorpage) afterward and post a photo of their meeting on my page—it’s a great way for us to stay in touch.
“Book clubs usually choose one of my novels after they've just finished something dark and depressing and are ready to have some fun, so I love hearing all about the thematically related food and activities they come up with. My biggest advice is to not worry about preparation, and just think of me as someone who's coming to the party! In over a decade of visiting with book clubs, we've always had a blast and never once run out of things to say!”
Around the area:
The Charlton Public Library Book Club meets the third Tuesday of each month in the library’s Local History Room. Cheryl Hansen, library director, said, “In September, we will be discussing ‘The End of the Point’ by Elizabeth Graver.”
The Douglas Library Book Group will consider Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 10, in Simon Fairfield Public Library. Kingsolver’s book is about Dellarobia Turnbow, who—tired of living on a failing farm and suffering oppressive Appalachian poverty—leaves to meet with a potential lover but is detoured by a miraculous event that ignites a media and religious firestorm which changes her life forever. Call 508-476-2695 for a copy of the book. New members are welcome. Homemade refreshments, inspired by the title being discussed, will be served.
“Flight Behavior” is also on the menu for the Worcester-area group, Books, Brews & Banter, which meets Sept. 25 at 6:30 p.m. in O’Connor’s Restaurant, 
Arthur Miller’s famed drama, “The Crucible,” is slated for Audio Journal’s next call-in book group, “Speaking Volumes.” The session is at 8 p.m., Sept. 3, at www.audiojournal.net. Upcoming books are listed at that site.
Reading, Sharing and Laughing takes on Khaled Hosseini (“The Kite Runners”) newest, “And the Mountains Echoed,” at 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 26 in Fitchburg’s Chaibo restaurant. To join in, look up www.meetup.com/Reading-Sharing-and-Laughing.
The Women’s Issues Book Group of Worcester meets Sept. 9 to discuss Kris Holloway’s “Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali,” a Peace Corps volunteer’s memoirs. The group meets at 7 p.m., second Monday monthly, in Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St. To get on the mailing list contact jkmiller@wpi.edu.
 Under the subject heading of great bookstores, here’s one that is not an independent, but is affiliated with a library. The Food for Thought Bookstore and Café is inside Worcester Public Library at Salem Square, downtown. Friends unveiled a new, enlarged facility in June, relocated to the center of the first floor. “The bookstore carefully selects the best of donated materials and de-accessed library books to put on its shelves, and sells them at very reasonable prices.  The ‘grab and go’ cafe serves coffee, tea, lemonade, etc., and sandwiches and baked goods supplied by Eric's La Patisserie,” said Christine Weinrobe, Friends president. Volunteers run the store and café open during library hours. Proceeds go toward adult and children’s programming materials.
Fall signals new vigor among book groups as members return from their travels. Be sure to send fall reading schedules by the third week of each month to Read It and Reap at: ann.frantz@gmail.com