All bookstores struggle with getting people to attend events. Whether you’re a large store in a big city or a small store in a rural village, there is always pressure and anxiety about who will come to author readings. I hate poorly attended events, not for me, but for the author. I want all events to be great experiences for the author who might have come a distance to share him or herself with our community. It is impossible to predict how many people will not only come to an event, but sign up to coming beforehand.
This is where the family calendar is king. If an event makes it on the family calendar, then it’s very calendar likely folks will actually come and not just think about going. The family calendar runs the lives of everyone I know. It has to. Families are so busy these days with children’s sports, play dates, tutoring sessions, etc., that there’s very little wiggle room for spontaneous additions. This is why getting a bookstore event inked in the calendar in advance can mean greater attendance for store events – making it to the calendar means someone in the family has committed to going to it.
In less than two hours last night we had upwards of 12 people RSVP for an event with parenting expert Vicki Hoefle on April 6th. (And three more people have signed up since I began writing this post.) We did not run an ad, nor did we do a radio spot. In fact, we spent no money at all. All we did was write up a modified press release for the event and post it on our local Front Porch Forum. This is the description of what FPF is from their website: “Front Porch Forum is a free community-building service. Your neighborhood’s forum is only open to the people who live there. It’s all about helping neighbors connect.” Its simplicity is genius. Its reach is vast and its cost is delightful.
The FPF goes to everyone nightly. It is often the only email people read because it is so local and it’s about your town and people you know. It’s not just about commerce or announcing tag sales, but it can help solve mysteries. For instance, everyone in part of my town heard a massive BOOM last weekend and many folks posted to FPF about it wondering what it was. Was it a train derailment? A frost quake? Ice shifts? Earthquake? Turns out someone had a party and set off a cannon. Yes, a cannon. Without the back and forth conversation that can happen on the forum, we’d all still be wondering. In the meantime we all learned a ton about big noises that can happen in winter.
Posting is simple: text only, no embedded images or links. We emailed our event listing in the morning and it was added to yesterday’s forum. Our announcement was towards the end of a rather long forum with lots of posts, but everyone read it through, as evidenced by how many people RSVPed. That kind of response is so gratifying. And the beauty of this is while you can only post to the forum in your neighborhood, other people can post your text to theirs for you, so you can cover the entire county for free if you have enough friends.
Knowing now how many folks signed up in one night is a great indicator of how successful the event will be. We will run the post three more times until April 6th and hope to fill the store and use the money we saved by not paying for advertising on bringing in more books.