For this week’s topics—book events—I had to take a breather from…setting up book events. I plan events as part of my full-time job, so you’d think I would know how to do this, but I’ve learned some things along the way. Here are just a few.
You have to identify your audience. Bookstores will publicize your event on their websites and perhaps in the store windows, but let’s be honest: they are hoping that you’ll bring some people with you. So you should be targeting bookstores you frequent yourself. (You…frequent bookstores, right? If not, you might be in the wrong business.) Consider venues in towns where you have friends and family. If you already have a non-friend, non-family (NFNF) reading audience and a public relations team of superheroes at your back, good for you, but debut authors have to be realistic and selective.
You might need to be creative. I’m from an area of the country where you drive past the Amazon fulfillment center every day, but nary a bookstore remains. Instead, I’ll be having my hometown launch party at the library I used as a kid. To sell books, I’ll probably have to order bulk from my publisher or an independent store willing to ship them in to me. What started out as a bummer (no bookstores in my hometown) has become an opportunity (to thank my childhood library, to support an independent elsewhere in the country). Consider nontraditional venues that connect back to the themes or locale of your book.
You need a plan. If you’re asking for an hour of the librarians’ or bookstore employees’ time, what do you plan to do with that time? Are you reading? Answering questions from another person? Just taking queries from the audience? Think about the best way you can showcase your book to the people you’ll meet—specifically those NFNF readers who might be eavesdropping on you in the next aisle. What can you do to entice a new reader out of the clearance section and into your signing line? Be interesting, that’s what. Keep the reading portion short; no one can follow a story for long without their minds wandering. Leave them wanting more.
You could invite a friend. Debut authors: do your knees knock at the thought of being the center of attention? Consider joining forces with another writer in your genre to turn your event into an EVENT. Their readers could become your readers; they get exposed to new people through you. And the event becomes more lively and fresh, more a conversation than a lecture. If your event is a distance away, you can also turn the occasion into a road trip, traveling together and splitting costs.
You should get organized. You like spreadsheets? Many spreadsheet opportunities here, my friend. Keep track of where you’d like to read, who might attend, who might partner up with you at each location, publicity contacts, all of it. Keep a calendar on which you can rely totally with times, addresses (even if you think you know where the venue is), and the name of the person you’ll be looking for when you walk through the door. That’s the person you want to be ready to thank.
As much as I love paper, I’ve embraced the dreaded Google Calendar for this stage of my life. Everything goes in, and I just ping from place to place with my phone in my hand. You might also need a battery-operated phone charger.
You have to stay professional. From the moment you reach out to the venue to the moment you recount the adventure on social media, you are representing your brand, your book, your next book, your career. Even if only one person shows up—especially if only one person shows up—carry on with your event in a way that makes that one person (and the bookstore staff) understand how grateful you are to be doing this work. Because aren’t you? Aren’t you happy to be at the stage of your writing career where you can show your book off to potential readers? So am I.
Events are scary for some of us, but they can be a great way to make connections, get your work known by new readers, and to celebrate how far you’ve come. But if one goes badly, don’t worry. Get ready for your next event. All the details are already in your Google Calendar, right?
I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t, so this list is in flux. What additional tips do you have?
Image courtesy of hondawellness.com.