Tales of the unexpected: Events at Riverbend Books
Events manager Vicky Tosh shares the joys and hiccups of managing author events at Brisbane’s Riverbend Books.
Before I was hired at Riverbend Books, I had never worked in a bookshop. Although I wasn’t naive enough to imagine the job would involve curling up in a corner and reading all day, I was clueless as to the vast number of tasks booksellers perform to keep an indie bookshop running.
As events manager, I organise and run author events both in store and offsite, and in doing so I meet a lot of authors, sell a lot of books, pour a lot of drinks, carry a lot of books and move a lot of tables. Every day is different, and every event has its own unique charms and challenges.
When I first began at Riverbend, I couldn’t ever sleep the night before an event for worrying over every little thing that could possibly go wrong. It took some time to learn that all you can do is be organised and have the basics in place—the unexpected is bound to happen, but things are rarely derailed. In fact, it is often the things you can’t prepare for that can make an event wonderful.
Many of our events are hosted on Riverbend’s timber deck. Surrounded by trees, and with a high roof, the deck has a semi-tropical feel, and there are many memorable events that have taken place here.
One night, about five sentences into an author talk, there was a loud explosion and subsequent blackout. With no PA, and only a little torchlight, the author raised his voice and the audience huddled closer as the fire-engine lights flashed behind him in the otherwise dark street.
A few months ago, a baby bush turkey decided to crash our event with Matthew Reilly. As it flew in a direct line right through the audience of 400 people, one amazing audience member raised his hands and caught the bird in mid-flight—it was truly a spectacular catch. The audience erupted into cheers and laughs, and Matthew invited the man to be the first in line for signing. You can’t plan for acts of god and errant birdlife, but with good-natured authors and receptive audiences, the unexpected can make a good event even more memorable.
Though we host a lot of big events, some of my favourites have been the small interviews that we host at the back of the shop in amongst the shelves. It makes for a cosy, intimate atmosphere, and the audience feels more a part of the proceedings. On occasion, people will call out questions mid-event, which though sometimes a little disruptive is often charming and inclusive. A small audience is not necessarily a bad thing—it can lead to wonderful connections and incredible engagement between authors and readers.
Events management is a team sport. I am lucky enough to work with a lovely bunch of people who help set things up and are brilliant emcees and interviewers. Our local publishing reps are fantastic and come to most of the events. Not only do they check on our stock, but they have also been known to tend bar and stack chairs when things get busy. A good publicist is a true gift. As well as taking care of their authors, they also manage book signings, control photos and remind us about getting extra stock signed.
Then there are the authors themselves. In this position, I get to meet so many wonderful writers, and hearing them speak about their work is the biggest perk of the job. We hosted an event with a hero of mine, Jennifer Egan, and I was delighted to find she is even more brilliant and lovely than I had imagined. People often ask me if I have had to deal with difficult authors. Of course I have. All I can say is this: a good attitude goes a very long way when it comes to selling your book. If you are warm and cooperative with the bookshop staff, they’ll be more inclined to display your book at the front of the shop and recommend it to customers. Everyone has bad days, but if you’re rude to even one member of my audience, or the staff, it will colour everyone’s opinion of your book, no matter how brilliant it is.
Luckily the vast majority of authors (and publicists) that I have worked with have been lovely and giving—and none more so than our local Brisbane authors. We are incredibly fortunate to have such talent on our doorstep, and such a strong community of readers who return time and time again to our events. They make moving all that furniture worth it.
(Pictured: Trent Dalton in conversation at Riverbend Books)