CINCINNATI—Shortly before her reading Tuesday at local bookstore Word Mentality, author Francine Massey told reporters that she does her absolute best for everyone who comes out to see her, whether it's just three people or a much larger crowd of nine people.
Massey, on hand to promote her novel A Lighthouse Keeper, said that with publishing houses slashing their marketing budgets, it often falls to writers themselves to make the most of every reading opportunity, from cozy gatherings of just a few fans at smaller booksellers to major events at chain stores that can draw upwards of 10 people.
"I have to remember that even if just one person shows up, he deserves the same passion and enthusiasm I would give to a big group of seven people or eight people," said Massey, watching as a bookstore employee began setting up rows of folding chairs. "You just have to remind yourself that you're not going to be able to pack the room with half a dozen fans every time."
"I've learned it's best to set your expectations lower and be pleasantly surprised when almost half a row is filled," Massey said.
While she acknowledged it would be wonderful if seven people attended her upcoming reading, the author noted that it's important to be realistic, and to be able to adapt a reading to whatever circumstances present themselves.
"Sometimes 7:30 comes around and only three people are there, one of whom is my agent," Massey said. "Well, rather than go through with the whole presentation I'd normally do for a group of six including my parents and a woman who appears to be mentally ill, I can make the reading into more of an intimate discussion where there's a lot more back-and-forth."
"It's actually kind of nice to get up close with people and be able to look them in the eye," Massey added as her first audience member scanned the room and tentatively took a seat in the back row. "Sometimes when it's this vast sea of eight faces, it doesn't feel like you're even talking to people at all."
Massey said other aspects of the event, such as the audience Q&A, can also be modified to accommodate the turnout.
"You might only get a single question, if any, with a really small audience," Massey said. "But the good thing about that is you have time to offer a longer, more thoughtful response. At one of my bigger readings, I might get avalanched with two or even three questions and have to really keep it moving."
When asked if she could remember the largest audience she ever read in front of, Massey instantly recalled an event at a Minneapolis Borders at which 11 people, not even counting her old roommate from college or an elderly shopper who just wanted to sit for a moment, were in attendance—a reading she described as her "ultimate rock-star ego boost."
As the bookstore employee stacked copies of Massey's novel on a table, the author told reporters that it didn't really matter to her if the line for the book-signing was just a couple of people long or ran all the way from one end of the table to the other.
"Honestly, meeting one devoted fan is enough to make my night," said Massey, nervously glancing at her watch. "Even if I have to read for just that one person sitting all alone there in the back row, I'm going to give him the reading he deserves."
Checking her watch again, Massey sighed and added, "Jesus Christ, one fucking person. All right, fine, whatever. Here we go."