Author events are tough. First-time authors are enthusiastic about them; bookstores want to host them, in theory; literature lovers want to attend them, in more abstract theory. Unfortunately, somewhere between author desire and actual attendance, something gets lost, and sometimes no one shows up. It’s a lose-lose-lose for authors, bookstores, and the customers who just stayed in their homes.
One proposal in the bookstore world is to restructure author events, to think outside the box in terms of programming. Perhaps the traditional reading/Q&A/book signing is no longer sufficient to capture audience interest. Maybe it’s time to raise the stakes for the authors and attendees. For this reason, I brainstormed a number of high stakes author events with literary themes. Authors have already proven they can read and write books, why don’t we see what else they can do? (Bookstores, please feel free to sample from the below as you see fit.)
Authors compete in literary challenges such as who can hold the most books. Who can read the fastest. Who can go the longest without idly snacking while reading. This event will appeal to fans of The Hunger Games—one of the bestselling series of all time—so will be sure to draw a crowd! Note: Instead of fighting to the death (law suits!), the eliminated authors forfeit any future book contracts to the winner. Publishing is a dog-eat-dog industry! The strong survive on the backs of the weak!
An event in which each author has to submit a proposal outlining how they will spend their advance and pitch it to the audience. The audience will deliberate after hearing all pitches and select which author is most deserving (have a baby or buy a house? A classic Sophie’s choice!) The author whose proposal is selected wins everyone else’s advance in addition to their own. May the odds be ever in your favor, indeed!
Authors are sorted into houses based on the relative merits and demerits of their writing. The four houses compete against each other in a four-way Quidditch match, wherein the Seekers have to find a copy of a first edition Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in order to end the game. Note: Recommended for bookstores that have plenty of space and access to a magical sorting hat.
Inspired by the popular children’s book, Holes, instead of reading from their work, authors have to compete to see who can dig the most holes in the typical 90-minute author event slot. Whoever wins gets to read an excerpt from their book! From the bottom of their deepest hole, just for fun. Recommended for bookstores who have access to a large yard, probably one completely filled with sand.
Inspired by Weike Wang’s novel, a group of single authors participate in speed-dating with the audience. The twist is that the participants can only discuss the subject of chemistry! (Authors who can’t expound on molecules and compounds will be eliminated.) If any of the authors want a second date with someone they spoke to from the audience, they have to ask them out by dedicating their next book to that person (playing the long game here!).
Instead of reading from their books, the authors have to empty their pockets, backpacks, purses, etc., item by item and discuss how each item contributes to their life as a working writer. Note: In an optional Marie Kondo twist, the event could also require that authors throw away anything that they find does not facilitate their writing life.
Authors of dystopian fiction have to discuss what they were doing in 1984 and what they predict the world in 2084 will look like. Then, in 2084, whichever author was the closest will get to have their first book re-released! Note: Event is optimized for authors who were born as close to 1984 as possible.
When you stop to think about it, there are really so many ways we can engage with authors on level even deeper than just “hearing their work.” Let’s not settle for the tried and tried again traditional author event. What kind of author event would you love to see in your hometown bookstore? (If you answer, you are hereby obligated to show up.)