In November, the Authors Guild launched Booktalk Nation, a nationwide community of authors, readers, and booksellers. By joining Booktalk Nation, booksellers can invite customers to participate in live author discussions and to place an order for a signed edition from their own homes, or anywhere else they have access to a phone or the Internet.
“We’ve had this idea for a while now,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. “We wanted to find some way to help bricks-and-mortar bookstores connect to authors with the help of technology.”
Bookstores have the option to host an event, become an affiliate, or both. As a host, a bookstore invites an author to participate and chooses the person to conduct the interview. The interviewer — who prepares an introduction and a 20- to 30-minute interview can be a staff member, another writer, or a friend of the author.
Interviews are conducted via telephone, with “attendees” listening in on a muted receiver. Depending on the participating author’s preference, events can include a Q&A period that opens up the dialogue to listeners on the call. After the talk, listeners have the option of purchasing the author’s book.
The host store is encouraged to promote the event through online communications with customers, as well as through social media. Booktalk Nation promotes events as well, and handles book orders and payments. Customers sign up through the Booktalk Nation site, where they are given the call number and instructions.
Shortly after the event, the participating author visits the store to sign and personalize books, and the host bookstore then fills the orders and ships the books to customers. While these are not in-store events, they can be scheduled in conjunction with book tours, so authors can stop by to sign books.
When acting as an affiliate, a bookstore’s role is to simply promote an event that is being hosted by another store. Affiliates earn a commission on their customers’ purchases. When a participant is tagged as a customer of a specific bookstore, they are persistently tagged as such unless they come through another bookstore’s portal.
“We’ve had a very enthusiastic feedback from authors and booksellers involved,” said Aiken, “It’s so easy for everyone.”
Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut, recently hosted Ann Haywood Leal, who contributed an essay to My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop (Black Dog & Leventhal).
“Hosting an event is quite simple,” said Bank Square owner Annie Philbrick, who conducted the interview of Leal herself. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but honestly, it was so easy,” Philbrick said. “I was at home, got a glass of wine, and dialed in and talked with Ann for 30 minutes. Jen [Sims, of Booktalk Nation] is on the call as well and gets it going with introductions. She is fabulous and very professional and organized.”
Philbrick plans to become an affiliate of Booktalk Nation as well, so Bank Square can benefit from book sales from other talks.
“It provides the author a chance to talk about their book with someone, and there is often a great rapport,” said Philbrick. “Ann loved it. As far as I can tell, customers loved it as well. For 30 minutes, they can listen to one of their favorite authors talk about their book while sitting in their living room, or making dinner.”
Philbrick said that Booktalk Nation is a less stressful way for bookstores to host events. “There is no real worry that we’re going to set up this event and wonder who is going to come when the author has flown in from England, or that there may only be two people there in the audience when we were expecting 50,” she said. “I would highly recommend this to all bookstores. It takes little time and sparks great conversation. I think this is an ingenious way for authors to get out there without the budget of a tour, or even those who prefer not to be in public,” said Philbrick. “Without the authors, none of us would be in this business.”
Full details and a list of upcoming events is available on the Booktalk Nation website.