A conversation with Print: A Bookstore event coordinator Rachael Conrad!
featuring Chris Pine, Becky Chambers, Liberty Hardy, Jade Song, and more!
This week, I’m bringing you an interview with one of my favorite bookish internet personalities, Rachael Conrad, the Events Coordinator for Print Bookstore in Portland, Maine. Leading up to this conversation, Rachael was headed to Winter Institute, a sales conference for booksellers and publishers (where I told her to look out for one of my favorite people, who happens to look just like the dad in 101 Dalmatians, Walker Rutter-Bowman, the publicist for Deep Vellum). We conducted this conversation via email.
You can check out the full Print: A Bookstore events calendar here.
Cassie Mannes Murray: Of course my first question is to introduce yourself, and what you do!
Rachael Conrad: I've been the Event Coordinator, Social Media Manager, and a Frontline Bookseller for Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine for almost two years now, but have over ten years of bookselling experience under my belt. As Event Coordinator it's my job to write up pitches for author events on a local, national, and sometimes international scale. These pitches include information such as which organizations we've worked with in the past, other local authors who might make for a good conversation partner, similar titles we've sold (this tells publishers what our clientele is interested in), and which members of our staff would lose their dang minds if we were lucky enough to host an event with certain authors. Once we book an event I work closely with that author's publicist to make sure that everything is exactly to their liking.
CM: Not every bookstore has a coordinator that does more than get the event on a calendar, so this is exciting. It’s all so helpful to authors to have as much anticipatory thrill as possible behind books, and I’m sure Print has an infectious excitement in store too! I am always keen to hear your recommendations on social media too. I read Our Wives Under the Sea because you tweeted about it and I just got Chlorine on NetGalley because of your description!
Where and how do you “discover” upcoming books and authors that you might want to have in the store or celebrate on socials? I guess what I’m asking is what’s your go-to method of finding what you think will be HOT next for you (and the Print Bookstore patrons if that’s a different thing?)
RC: Oh man! I’m so excited to hear that you’ve got Chlorine on your to-read list. It’s wild. Truly only a matter of time until A24 picks it up and turns it into a movie.
As much as we all love to hate Twitter, it’s still one of the best networking platforms when it comes to discovering new books. I’m also very lucky - I’ve been part of this industry for long enough that a number of our publishing reps know what I enjoy reading and will send galleys my way. Other platforms such as Edelweiss come in handy as well. And I love to turn to people like Liberty Hardy - she’s a Senior Contributing Editor at Book Riot - who always has her finger on the pulse of what’s new and hot that’s coming out.
CM: That makes me even more excited to read Chlorine!
I love that you, a social media manager, are mentioning the power of Twitter! I think there is (was?) a real worry about the loss of Twitter for book publishing. I do feel like it has become ubiquitous with the whole process of publishing a book from #amquerying and #writingcommunity threads to the famously analog Publisher's Marketplace announcement. (Authors, put that announcement on merch, baby!)
You're always talking about books on Twitter too, are there any social media tips and tricks for book and bookstore promotion you've picked up along the way (or any tweets that really hit?) I always tell authors that being their authentic self is the best thing they can be on social media, but with the drive of “platform” as part of selling books and publicity, I'm so curious if you've found your audience cares more about certain ways of talking about books?
Shout out to Liberty Hardy, I always scroll through her book grids on Instagram and wait patiently for updates about her cat. :)
I also wonder (sorry for two questions at once) if your everyday writer and reader even knows publishing reps exist (other than their editors saying "it's sales conference time,") can you talk a little bit about how that works for you at the bookstore?
RC: I think that enthusiasm for a book - whether it’s your own or someone else’s - and authenticity (truly don’t be afraid to be a little silly) are absolutely key. I'm a firm believer in a good elevator pitch. You don't want to give away the plot, but you do want to hook the attention of someone who might be idly scrolling through twitter one day. It’s also important for authors to engage with other book people on social media - that means fellow writers, publishers, book stores, booksellers, etc. etc. This is a great way to get your foot in the door and to get the attention of folks who will help spread the word about your book. Also - don’t be afraid to hype yourself up! A lot of work went into what you wrote!! Tell folks how proud you are of yourself, and your team, and then follow that up with a link to buy your book at your local indie bookstore!
When I tweet about what I’m reading it’s almost always because I want to bring it to the attention of other booksellers with the hopes of its popularity taking off. We’re an excellent network that way - the more vocal we are, the more the word will get out.
I think you’re right - the average writer or reader might not know that publishing reps exist, which is a shame. They’re very much the traveling salesmen of the book industry, and a total godsend. It’s their job (among many other things) to visit bookstores and check in with the buyers. It’s reps who key us in on what will be hot, what publishers are pushing, how many copies of titles to buy, AND provide us with galleys.
CM: Ugh, music to my ears telling writers to promote themselves and not be afraid to do it! I love that you talk about booksellers like a network of people who want to hype up authors and readers, and I absolutely think word of mouth is the best publicity tool that there is. It's hard to create, but with a little momentum, it pays off so much! So much of my role in publicity, I think, is creating that sort of momentum and finding the right folks for the right books--A MATCHMAKER! (Maybe that's more the sales reps, but a girl can dream!). When I think of Momentum, I think of books like Anne K. Yoder’s The Enhancers which is still making bestseller lists and getting picked up for interviews and publications even though it came out last fall. We were lucky (we worked hard too) and it got the eyes of the industry in our first waves of pushing it out. Waves though is the key word here.
Okay, okay, now the juicy questions. You put on a WILD number of events last year for Print Bookstore, and I've been reading the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker (have you read this?) to figure out what makes a great event, but especially what makes a great book event. On the publicity side, I do a lot of coordinating, but often don't get to experience the actual event--what do you think makes for a really stellar book event, and can you talk about some of your favorite events from 2022 (and upcoming events too that you're excited about!)
RC: If I'm not mistaken we hosted 95 events - a mix of both virtual and in-person - last year! I'm incredibly proud of myself for getting that many together (especially in my first year as an event coordinator), but on the other hand I wish I could say it was an even hundred.
Obviously factors such as book sales and attendance number help to make for a great event but there are two other things it comes down to for me: a happy author and a happy audience. Sometimes a low attendance means that the author can be more candid and comfortable with their audience, and that makes it more fun for everyone. And if an audience member gets a little one-on-one time with their favorite author at the end of the event, then that's a win!
One of my absolute favorite events of 2022 was the virtual event we hosted with Becky Chambers and Martha Wells. Not every virtual event we've hosted has had huge attendance - such is the nature of virtual events - but this one had close to 200 people tuning in which was amazing! Sales were wonderful, and the conversation was unsurprisingly fantastic!
We've got a couple coming up this year that I'm very excited for - Hernan Diaz will be coming to Print this spring, as will Richard Russo and Margot Douaihy. Our Book Clubs are also thriving and we're looking into working with another brewery in town to help them start a collaboration with us.
CM: That's so many events! You should be dang proud of that number especially in your first year! I'm sure you'll get to an even 100 this year, no doubt in my mind.
I love the idea of a conversation being more intimate and candid when the number of folks is fewer, this has been true for so many events I've been to as well.
200 people for Chambers and Wills, holy cow! That's amazing! What do you think made the Becky Chambers and Martha Wells conversation so dynamic? Did they know each other beforehand or you thought they would make a great pair for the event and reached out?
How do you decide which events are right for the Print Bookstore audience? I'm sure you get a ton of queries, but what makes an event proposal stand out to you as an events coordinator and say, "yes, we have to have this author in store!" or "this conversation sounds like it's going to be a dream, let's do it!"
RC: Chambers and Wells definitely both knew each other before the event - they run in the same circles and have the added benefit of both being published by Tor. They’ve both written books about sentient robots, which I’m sure helped too. The conversation felt so natural between the two of them, and rather than spend the entire time talking to each other they turned it over to the audience Q&A pretty quickly which was a lot of fun!
We do get a ton of queries and it can be really difficult trying to pick which ones we want to host! Sometimes we’ll have to pass on an event we’re excited for because of an already full calendar - we try to book everything three to six months in advance. If a publicist comes to me and I’m unsure whether or not it’s something that we’ll want to move forward with, I’ll check in with my bosses.
CM: Now that I think about it, my friend Melissa Goodrich has been telling me about Chamber's robot book for weeks and how delightful it is. This is fun--I so much prefer a sort of conversational format to these events because it is so fun to learn little nuggets of surprise.
I'm sure it's so difficult to pick which ones to host! I can only imagine what sorting through your email looks like. Is there anything you recommend authors can do when they reach out to make an event more appealing or more likely to go through? I know a local connection is always helpful because obviously the goal is to sell some books for everyone involved, but can you think of other ways authors can connect with bookstores where they might like to party?
Also, how was the Winter Institute? I saw the cutest photos of you and other favorite booksellers of mine! I hope it was a blast!
RC: It's an extremely delightful duology! And Winter Institute was an absolute blast. I can't remember if I told you this before, but it was my first time out on the west coast. Seattle is a fantastic city.
It can be very difficult to pick which events to host, especially when there are so many fabulous books out there and you don't want to leave anyone (author or audience) disappointed at the end of the day. You're totally right - a local connection is definitely helpful. If an author is able to visit a local bookstore and make connections with the booksellers and event coordinator that way, that's wonderful too! Another great thing to do is visit bookstores when traveling. Call ahead and ask if there are copies of your book in-stock to sign or if you can bring some with you/talk to the appropriate book buyer while you're there! You’re bound to find a bookseller (or booksellers) who is interested in what you write, it just might take a little leg work.
CM: I loved all the pictures of Seattle from AWP--it's wild that Winter Institute was the week before, I feel like some people did dueling conferences back-to-back which is extra fun.
oh, I love this advice! Finding a bookseller that would be interested in your writing sounds ideal. I love my local book buyer (shoutout Epilogue Books!) and I know when I go in there they're going to have a stack of books tailored to my taste, which is one of the many, many, many reasons to shop independently.
Okay, last question, but what would be your recommended book list to the Hollywood Chris's that you always share on Twitter? (You can also share some favorite photos with your recommendation lists!).
RC: I didn’t realize the conferences were back-to-back until I started seeing pictures! It was fun to see a second group of book nerds descend upon Seattle.
Oh, to be able to hand sell my favorite books to the best Chris (Pine). Right now I’m pretty obsessed with Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova. It’s a gorgeously written horror novel that really breaks down how folks process trauma and grief. I genuinely haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished reading it. Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is a must read (it’s out in April). If it doesn’t end up on book of the year lists, I’ll eat my hat. I also looooooved The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks Dalton. It’s the first book I’ve read comped to Station Eleven that’s actually come close to meeting it.
CM: There are truly so many Station Eleven comps, I’m never sure what part their comping–but I want a book that matches the sort of eerie subtlety of that book. I’ll have to read The Light Pirate. Thank you so much for chatting with me about all things books, bookstores, and events!
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this is such a great interview, and so helpful to see things from the bookstore side!
but also, Cassie, I would *love* for you to write about book events + The Art of Gathering--I've been thinking about something you wrote previously about how an event needs to *offer* something, not just be a reading, and I'd love to know how you're thinking about The Art of Gathering in this context. (I really like the book, and I get her argument about being a "generous host" conceptually . . . but I have time thinking about how to take up those ideas in my own social life with feeling too bossy/corny/etc!)
What a great interview! The questions were smart, and the responses were clever. I felt like I was sitting over coffee with both of you. It was cozy.