Book readings don’t usually have the, shall we say, glamour of a rock concert or blockbuster film. Many draw only a handful of people. The sound of crickets may be peaceful when reading a book, but will probably sound mocking when reading a book to complete strangers.
After one spectacularly under-attended reading in Minneapolis, five organizations, including three local independent publishers—Milkweed Editions, Coffee House Press, and Graywolf Press—the Loft Literary Center, and Rain Taxi Review of Books, were downright dejected. This wasn’t the first time this had happened, and they presumed it wouldn’t be the last.
“The five organizations all put on book readings,” said Eric Lorberer, editor of Rain Taxi. “Over the years as things have changed, we’ve all noticed that some of our events have had fewer people than we wished were there. And we’ve had some big events.”
The organizations sought a creative way to get the Minneapolis and St. Paul literary communities together more often. Some bookstores have been charging customers to go to readings, but the literary quintet preferred to attract crowds and support authors with a carrot rather than a stick. Their solution resembles a trick that coffee shops have used to keep customers coming back: a punch card. Or in this case, a Literary Punch Card.
Here’s how the Literary Punch Card works. Take the card to a sponsored author event and you get one punch. If you purchase the author’s book while you’re there, you get a second. Once you complete 12 punches you can redeem the card for a $15 gift certificate for a participating bookstore (so far there are three), and a chance to win a “Mystery Package full of literary goodness.”
Rain Taxi and the other organizations made a conscious choice to only count free literary events toward the punch card. “If every event qualifies,” Lorberer said, “we’re not doing our job of highlighting events that might be in danger of being overlooked.”
So if all works out as planned, the bookstores will see bigger crowds for their events, authors will have an audience, and literature fans will save a little bit of money on their next purchase. Lorberer thinks that there may also be a secondary benefit from the program—one that humanizes the literary and publishing worlds: “My hope for an ancillary benefit is that our local audience develops a sense of what really goes into writing and publishing a book. It’s easy for people to take for granted that people put blood, sweat, and tears into an enterprise.”