Putting Fans To Work: A new tool for successful author events
For authors, one of the risks of doing promotional events is sitting at a table stacked high with books and reading to an empty room. Even in this era of social media, getting out into the meatspace to build an audience is vital for authors. But not only is it demoralizing when the book you've poured your passion into is met with a shrug (or worse), it's a big waste of time—time that could have been spent, say, promoting a more successful event.
What's an author to do? Andrew Kessler—entrepreneur and author of "Martian Summer," his first-hand account of shadowing NASA's 2009 Phoenix Mars Lander mission—thinks he has an answer.
Togather.com, presently in beta, is a self-described "fansourcing" site that's designed to ensure that authors spend their promotional time effectively.
It's a little bit like Kickstarter in that once an event is proposed (by fans or by the author), a target number of committed, paing attendees is set, with a goal of making the event worth the author's while.
"It's hard to find an audience for your work. I don't know that anyone would deny that," says Kessler. "When you're new and you're just starting out you have to try. This makes it easier to try."
The key, says Kessler, is knowing when to cut bait on an event that's not finding traction.
"Our success is based on people's ability to let go," says Kessler. "You have to let the events that don't find traction go away gracefully. Then you don't have to give talks to nobody. And you can always try again [with a particular audience or venue]. It's a small shift in thinking, but if you can manage that, it can lead to a lot of good things."
Kessler, who's based in Brooklyn, gives the example of an event at Rutgers University that he wasn't sure would attract enough interest. "I wasn't sure if they would make it happen, but when I checked back and saw that they were making amazing progress, I thought, 'Wow, these people really care, and I've found new community for my work."
It's a way to get those exalted "influentials" or "evangelists" in an author's fanbase to working for the author.
"My audience became more engaged," says Kessler. "There wasn't a scramble to find good media coverage. There was no risk for me to go down there—I'd be talking to a bunch of people who [would] be excited to see me."
Kessler points out that in its beta stage, Togather is primarily an author tool, but that "the swimming pool gets more fun as more people join."
Togather is a free service for authors (the service takes a small percentage of cash transactions or speakers fees, and gives stores the option to sell the authors books through its site). It also has plans to expand its functionality for fans, including adding event search.
"What it all exposes," says Kessler, "is that the job of someone who wants to promote themselves shouldn't be about scrambling to fill seats, it should be connecting with communities."
But is it awkward to cancel an event that had some, but not enough, interested parties? "I would posit that that quick conversation is much less irritating and painful than giving a talk to a big auditorium with nobody in it," says Kessler.