June 28, 2012
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes, Events

(There are actually no other disasters in this post.  It’s just the one.  But that’s enough of a disaster.)

(photo ganked from LSE Library)

When you’ve created a graphic novel, there may subsequently be events to celebrate.  Bookstores and libraries and schools and lecture serieses and museums and occasionally the odd garden party will have events for you.  That’s great — any time you get the chance to talk to more people, there’s the possibility of selling more books.  We all like selling books — let’s do it!

Sometimes you’ve got those events on your schedule months and months in advance and then at the last minute you’ve got to cancel.  You’re throwing up, a tornado has hit your house, there’s been a death in the family, the airplane meant to transport you had mechanical difficulties and is just not going to get you there.

Here’s what to do next.

1. Tell people.  This one may seem obvious, but here we go anyways!

Has your publisher organized your event?  E-mail or call your publisher.  Have you been in touch directly with the event organizers?  E-mail or call the event organizers.  Make your (valid and also hopefully heart-wrenching; the more small babies that can be desperately ill the better) excuse and express your regrets.  If it’s not going to be possible for you to keep in touch with these people directly to confirm that yes, you were serious (ie, because you are being attacked by a tornado and need to evacuate the area), be very clear that you cannot come and that you will now have to be out of touch; your situation is not going to change in a few hours.  If you have posted about the event on the internet, consider posting a cancellation so that all your friends planning to show up know they can stay home and have pizza.

2. Make a plan.  Then tell people about the plan.

Sometimes you’re doing a single hour-long event and you have to cancel because of laryngitis or bubonic plague and you’ve called or e-mailed everyone and your event is off, everyone’s very sorry, and that’s the end of things.

However!  Sometimes you’re a Guest of Honor at a multi-day conference; sometimes you’re scheduled to be on tour; sometimes you have five consecutively scheduled somewhat local events.  Your plane trouble may cause you to miss the first day of events for you, but will it ruin all your plans?  Will you be back from your relative’s funeral and sufficiently emotionally recovered in time to make the last two events out of your five?  Sit down for a few minutes and make a clear plan for your schedule in the coming days; then let the people organizing your event know what you’re thinking.  Try to be logical; if you have to cancel tonight’s event because of all the vomiting, probably you’re not going to be bright-eyed and busy-tailed for tomorrow’s morning event.  It’s better to at least give the event organizers a heads-up that you’re feeling ill; they may have an opinion themselves about whether you should do the event (ie, ‘we try not to bring sick authors into schools because then 500 kids go home sick too — there will be vomiting everywhere!’).

3. Try to understand the inconvenience this causes (for other people).

So say a bookstore agrees to do an author event.  Just figuring out the scheduling has probably taken them through five e-mails; the structure and the event contents are another five to ten e-mails; an hour or two of their time.

Then they send out an e-newsletter to all their customers telling them about how wonderful this book and author are; they spend some time responding to their customers’ e-mail inquiries about when and where and what (though this was clearly stated in the e-mail); they create a facebook event invite and invite all their store’s facebook friends.  They post a glowing review of the book on their store’s blog.  They update their website so it contains information about this upcoming event.  They buy lots of copies of the book (which is not cheap) and put it on display on the counter or as a ‘staff pick’ and ask their staff to talk up the book and the author and the event to all the customers who come to the store.  They make a poster and put it in the window.  They make flyers and give one to everyone who comes in their store.  They call their local schools and libraries to tell them about this great author who’s coming, they organize to post flyers there, too.  They organize for the author to go speak to students at the local school before her event.  They start a pre-order program and put specially-labeled copies aside to be signed for customers who can’t come to the event but still want books.  They send out a press release to the local newspapers and spend some time on the phone with them, pitching the author for stories.  They tell any other authors who call about doing an event that this night is dedicated to Awesome Author X, these new authors are too late, they cannot do events at the bookstore at this time.  Organizing the events that the bookstore hosts is someone’s full-time job.

Then, the day before, the author calls to say that she isn’t coming.

The bookstore sends out an e-newsletter correction; don’t come to the event after all!  They cancel the facebook event invite, update their website, return the bulk of the copies of the book to the publisher or distributor (a not uncomplicated process), take down the poster and the flyers; call the local schools and libraries and have them take down the their flyers; cancel the school visit (the kids are very sad; they’d all read the book in advance, and this is the first chance they’d gotten to meet a real-live author).  They call up all the customers who had asked for personalized copies and tell them it’s not going to be possible.

That’s a lot of work that they did that’s not going to pay off for them at all.  (And of course, this process varies for different bookstores, and for different venues.  Some of them do less work; some of them do more.)  And, yeah, it totally sucks for you that your dad died and your house burned down, but any venue who put in that much work to make an event happen at least deserves an author who is genuinely apologetic for the difficulties they’re causing (or else can fake it really well).

4. Offer something to anyone you’ve disappointed.

You’ve had to cancel your event, and you and your bookstore put in so much work to make it happen!  What should you do to make it better?

After you’ve recovered from vomiting all over everything, talk to your bookstore again; ask them if there’s anything you can do.  If you’re in the neighborhood, maybe you can come in and sign stock.  Maybe they’d like to reschedule — if not for this book, maybe for the next one.  If you’re not local, maybe you can send them some signed bookplates.  Or you can send them a handwritten note about how sorry you are (not as good as the bookplates).  Maybe you can reschedule your school visit and do it by Skype.  It won’t be as good as having an event, but at least it’s something.

Of course, we hope that none of this happens — we hope that you are never sick, that your planes are never delayed, that no one close to you ever dies and that the weather is always bright and beautiful.  But in case something goes awry: know what to do.

Your Comments are Welcome!