I was a major book source seller for many, many years, and I was responsible for booking events. I invariably found that the authors who actually made it an event—the ones who did more than sit behind a table—did much better. If you want people to be excited about your book, you need to seem excited about it too. Get up and introduce yourself! Give a talk! A lot of the time, small publishers who were getting their first books out had enough enthusiasm to make an event successful, whereas big-name authors didn’t seem as excited. As a result, their events didn’t always go well.
When you’re at an event, don’t just read a long section of your book. Don’t give a lot away. A lot of times you’ll find out the authors that are going to be there want to find out how you got published. They’re interested in more than just your book. They want to know how you got where you are, so be prepared to meet your audience’s needs—that’s the main thing to keep in mind, whether two people show up or two hundred.
For my book Without Grace, I hosted a launch party. I was very fortunate, because I’m in New York and got to have my event in an incredibly wonderful atmosphere, but you can do it wherever you are. Another place I had an event was at my hair salon on Long Island. They hosted an event for me because they were so excited. They came to me and said, “Could we host an event for you?” Of course I wasn’t going to say no to that. I gave them suggestions about how we could make it work. We had refreshments. I didn’t, again, just sign books. I did a meet and greet. When I had my big book launch in the city, I had food and a wait staff. Your refreshments can be as simple as punch and cookies or as sophisticated as hors d’oevres served by a formal wait staff. It’s really up to you, but what you want to do is try to draw attention.
You should also think creatively about how your book’s theme fits in with different venues and different kinds of events. If your book cover has anything to do with animals in it, go to your local pet store and ask them if you can do an event there. Most authors wouldn’t think to do this, but ask them when their slowest time is and tell them you’d like to bring in some foot traffic. That way, they can’t really doubt the fact that you’re looking out for their needs, and they’re more likely to let you set up a table. You can also offer to give a percentage of the proceeds from any sales to an animal rescue organization. You’ve got a lot to compete against, so you have to be creative. As another example, let’s say your book has a Santa Claus theme. Chances are you’re going to do better around holiday time, although a lot of bookstores will not do events at that time of year because they just don’t have time. They’re trying to get product out, so they don’t really want to do an event. However, you could do a signing. That’s one time I tell authors to do a straight signing as opposed to an actual event. When people are very busy, it’s best to keep it simple and unobtrusive.
If your event ends up having a small turnout, try not to act disappointed. Treat the people who did show up with respect. When I was an events coordinator, I sometimes saw authors who were extremely rude to the two people who showed up for an event. Those two people did not buy books. I did an event in Burlington, Vermont, and I think it was the coldest day of the year. It was freezing. Three people showed up. They were thrilled that they were the only three people there, because I sat down with them. I said, “You know what? Let’s just chat. Ask me what you want to ask me.” We talked for a good forty minutes, and each of them bought two copies of the book because they wanted to give it as a gift. I don’t look at that as a failure. They were going to go tell their friends about me. If you’re an author, be willing to meet your public no matter how many of them show up.
If you’re shy and afraid a huge crowd will show up, plan ahead. You can always have a friend interview you. That way you have a support system and you’re not up on the platform alone. You’ll have someone to engage with from the very beginning, and when it comes time to answer questions from the audience, you won’t feel like you’re all alone.
Whenever I do an event, I always ask the audience before I even start how they heard about the event. It really helps to find out what worked. Afterward, I always send a thank-you note to the person who hosted the event and let them know that I hope I managed to sell some books for them. They usually tell me how many were sold and thank me for signing copies to leave on display. If they say they would like to have me back, I always follow up and ask them when would be a good time. It’s important not to drop the ball, or you’ll miss opportunities. You have to keep going with it.
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