Hello, my name is Chorel Centers and I’m the events director here at Bookshop Santa Cruz. I’ve worked at Bookshop for five years now, and for a decade or so before that I was a frequent customer, like many of you. I’m excited to give our readers a little behind-the-scenes peek at my job and into my world.
How do events get onto the calendar? What’s the process?
Events are scheduled through a few different avenues, and it’s an arduous operation. Many—but by no means all—events are sourced from the “Big Five” (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster), sometimes with a publicist reaching out directly about an event (like when Grove/Atlantic sent us Roxane Gay out of the blue!), but usually with us requesting events through seasonal “event grids” that contain touring authors. We write detailed proposals for the authors we love, authors our customers love, authors we think will expand our horizons. Since we’re a business, numbers matter, but so do representation and staff enthusiasm. It’s a balance. Of the events we request, we land some, then go about scheduling, building, and marketing them. Other events come to us through local routes, including via Santa Cruz’s rich literary community and our incredible partner organizations.
What goes on behind the scenes at an event?
Lots of adrenaline, and so many details! For an in-person event, there are the physical considerations, like doors and seating and the signing table, and questions like: What kind of water and signing pens does the author prefer? Have the staff taken their lunch breaks? Is the author late because they’re stuck in traffic on Highway 17?! For virtual events, tech is everything and again, details abound.
The booksigning is a key component of a traditional author event. Sometimes the author signs their books ahead of the event; we prepare by “flapping” all the books (tucking the jacket cover so that it is open to the signing page), then getting the author settled at a table and orbiting them as quickly and smoothly as possible so they can bust out hundreds of signed books—sometimes thousands, in the case of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who signed for (no joke) eight hours, finishing up in a freezing locker room at the Warriors Arena in the final moments before she took the stage. Michael Pollan is possibly the fastest signer ever—he had us running for more cartons. Other authors provide signed bookplates—like Flea, whose super-charming autograph I still have a stack of at my desk, and who was generous enough to do a totally insane fan photo line for our event instead of a live signing. The signing is emotionally and mentally draining work, but if we do it well, attendees probably won’t be aware of that.
What in your own background prepared you for this position?
For most of my twenties I worked in the service industry as a barback and also as a barista in some of the best coffeeshops in SF, so I’ve been known to thrive in chaotic environments. In 2015 I also had the great fortune of being the conference manager for Santa Cruz’s Catamaran Literary Reader, which changed my life. It helps that being highly organized is legitimately gratifying for me. Plus I’ve loved stories since I learned to read, often wondering at their formation and the lives of their authors.
What do you love about books?
Growing up, I was a library kid, approaching the checkout counter with a stack to my chin (the Ann Arbor public library had a generous borrower limit and I will love them forever). When other kids were playing sports and practicing their instruments, I was turning pages. I loved the possibility in books, the worlds books contained, from Newbery winners to Goosebumps, books on tape to sweet-smelling treasures mined from the library’s basement sales. I got lost in books and I loved it. That’s still true today: Where else but through words can you so intimately inhabit another’s reality?
What are your favorite things about your job?
Witnessing the joy that emanates from a fan when they come face-to-face with a hero.
Connecting with humans—especially in some of the unforgettable backstage moments, like Elizabeth Gilbert showing me the pages of her bullet journal; sharing an ironic laugh in the wings with Colson Whitehead; bantering with a US congressmember about Trump and the radical left; helping Terry Tempest Williams select reading glasses before her in-store event. I get to work with many of Santa Cruz’s shining organizations and community members. And during COVID, I’ve had the refuge of a bi-weekly meeting with other event leaders from independent bookstores across the country. We’re all wrestling with the same questions, big and small, on how best to do our jobs in this strange time.
The incredible variety of writers. From their preferences to their processes and goals, every author is so different. My job creates experiences not just for the audience but for my team and me, and the insights are fascinating!
Working for a company that’s at the heart of our community. When I tell people what I do, I’m always gratified by the response—people love and value Bookshop, and I’m proud to be a part of what we do.
What are your least favorite parts of your job?
Declining event solicitations from kind, talented people, and the comedown after a stressful event, in which every imperfection encircles me with vivid, merciless repetition until I somehow manage to pass out.
Outside of Bookshop, what keeps you busy?
I’m an avid runner (please, share the road with us!) and of course I love to read. Also: good shows and music and food; transforming rage into love; taking care of my health, my hair, my recovery; keeping a diary; unlearning the lies of white supremacy and other toxic systems; and spending time with the people I love!