Amanda Bullock is director of public programming at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a nonprofit all-donation and mostly volunteer-staffed social enterprise in downtown Manhattan where all proceeds go to fight homelessness and AIDS. She books, organizes, promotes, and runs over 150 events a year at the bookstore, and she manages the store’s social media accounts and general bookternet presence. She also writes the occasional book review, and she co-founded and co-organizes, with Polly Bresnick, Moby-Dick Marathon NYC.
Amanda took some time out of her busy schedule to tell us how fun collaborations, free booze, and treating your event proposal like a job application can lead to more successful events. See you at the next You’ve Got Mail screening!
Togather: What do you think separates a good book event from an average one?
Amanda: Besides the obvious, or should-be-obvious, like don’t read over the time you’ve been advised, at least act excited to be there. It matters, and it doesn’t always happen. And free booze for attendees always helps, if you and/or your publisher can swing it.
Togather: At Housing Works you host over 150 events a year. What do you think makes for an awesome event?
Amanda: There’s a place for the read a chapter, do a Q&A, sign books style of event, but less and less. The common threads in my favorite events are crossover and collaboration. Try to do something unique, whether it’s audience interaction, adding a musical or visual element to your event, opening up the theme of your book to discussion, anything. The more unorthodox, the more interesting.
Togather: Do you have any tips for new authors who are just starting to do readings?
Amanda: Think of event proposals like job applications: it’s not what my bookstore can do for you, it’s what you can do for my bookstore. I know that you would love to do a book signing here, but if you take one look at our calendar you’ll notice we don’t really do that kind of event. And assuring me all your friends will come is not enough, we all think we have 100 friends. Write a thoughtful, store-specific proposal. Look at other events the store has done to get a feel for their style, know the space and attend an event there if possible. I’ve taken risks on small local authors and publishers because they sent thoughtful pitches that won my heart, but I’ve rejected far, far more for missing the mark completely. Give yourself a chance by knowing your audience.
Togather: My book is coming out in six months. How early should I get in touch with you? When should I start my event planning?
Amanda: We usually book two to three months out, up to six, but because we don’t buy books I know we are a little later with that than most bookstores. It doesn’t hurt to start the conversation early, and definitely don’t try for something the same month (“I’ll be in your town in two weeks” will never work unless you are J. K. Rowling or something), and it’s risky asking for the next month. Aim for at least two, ideally at least three months.
Togather: Is there one really offbeat event that you’ve booked that was really great? Like tonight’s Literary Speed Dating, perhaps?
Amanda: We rarely do “normal” readings (if that means one author reading and signing), in fact! Recently we’ve hosted everything from an interactive screening of the bookstore classic You’ve Got Mail to a a marathon reading of Moby-Dick. I think the less normal, the better, although that doesn’t mean you need to create a circus (unless your book is circus-themed, then that would be pretty cool). Take some of the themes of your book and get creative with it; the event can still be centered on your own work, but you’ll have more success if you tie it in to something larger.
Photo credit: Yvonne Brooks.