The Price of Book Readings

Portland writer Diana Abu-Jaber published an interesting article in Poets and Writers about the cost of bringing writers to town. I have often wondered what the price tag was for someone like Toni Morrison. ($50,000+) I once tried to set up a reading for Russell Edson in Seattle. He said he’d read for $2,000, plus airfare and expenses. This seemed like a reasonable cost, even though I suspect I’d be lucky to get 50 people to come to his reading. Really lucky. The math of this event then works out very poorly. I would be better served probably to just buy copies of Russell Edson’s book for 200 people. It would surely result in more books sold for Mr. Edson if I just bought them. I have rarely been to an event (especially in Seattle) where people line to up to buy the author’s book en masse. I did a reading with David Guterson once and several dozen people started grabbing his book and lining up. It was weird. (No one bought any copies of my book. In fact, the bookstore working the event didn’t even have copies of my book.) Charles d’Ambrosio’s reading from Orphans at Elliott Bay right before Christmas had people buying stacks of his book. But these seem like freakish happenings. In Diana Abu-Jaber’s article, one writer notes, “I wouldn’t mind appearing for free if I knew that at least here were ten people who bought my book, but then I find only one of them has.”

Putting a Price on Writers Who Read

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