The machinations of a celebrity author tour can seem as baroque as any kingly campaign, and the general tepidity of the current book market makes their stakes just as high — especially for book stores. If a celebrity author visit goes right, a store stands to earn $10,000 or more on a single event.
Generally speaking, publishing houses announce the cities a celebrity author will visit months before their book goes to print. Book stores in those locations then place bids to win the honor of hosting, promising publicity and, above all, sales. The stores are chosen by the strength of their marketing proposal as well as the publisher's desire to keep its biggest accounts happy — if Neil Gaiman reads at Brookline Booksmith for one release, he'll likely visit Harvard Book Store the next time around.
George R. R. Martin's tour wasn't announced formally. Rather, the stores Martin visited were chosen, behind the scenes, on the basis of sales and other mysterious factors. Though seven of 10 tour dates will be held at independents, Martin's first three signings took place at Barnes & Noble outlets on the Eastern Seaboard.
"It just worked out that way," Moench says.
Whatever winds of fate drew Martin to the Burlington Barnes & Noble, the store was ready to receive him for his scheduled 7 pm appearance. To keep order in the realm, they hired a police detail. They took on 30 extra staff for the event, sending for managers from the neighboring kingdoms of Peabody and Framingham.
All were needed. Martin's public began to arrive the night before, ready to camp out, but they were turned away. They returned the next morning — some as early as seven — to wait in line to purchase a book which granted them the wrist band that secured their place in line for the signing. One hundred people greeted the employees when the store opened at nine.
By five o'clock, the line stretched to the edge of the parking lot. By six, it had grown to over 1000 people, and would — according to Random House — eventually reach 1600.
A small encampment had formed, and the parking lot took on the air of a Renaissance faire. A black-clad Barnes & Noble employee snaked through the crowd, dispensing instructions and wait times. Another hawked $2 iced tea at a plastic table at the front of the line. Roasting fans splayed on lawn chairs and blankets they had lugged from home. Some ate from Styrofoam containers of food from the neighboring Chili's, some played cards or other games, many read A Dance with Dragons. All appeared overheated.
Robert and Becca Kirker were among the first people there. After traveling from upstate New York the day before and attempting to camp out, they awoke at dawn to return to the parking lot.
Robert, a ponytailed English teacher, has spent his summer re-reading the series in anticipation of A Dance with Dragons. He didn't have time to read much of it in line, since he got to talking with a group of others who arrived before lunch, including a man who had traveled all the way from Toronto and a high school student from Nashua named James Scott who'd been waiting all day in spite of the fact he was only halfway through the first book.