While you might be in the process of writing your book and haven’t gotten to the stage of publishing, let alone promoting, it, it’s important to think creatively about bookstore events and author readings from the get-go. (I thought this was a great take on the challenges of author readings.) Fresh off the promotion merry-go-round for my Prospect Park book Things I Want to Punch in the Face, I’m sharing some tips here from The Business of Books site (I’m also a publishing consultant) that ensured that my events were well-attended and more fun than a bag of kittens.
- Make it inclusive. I went to an event by YA author Kevin Emerson. To kick off The Lost Code, the first book in his rad dystopian camp trilogy, he created a camp theme for the evening, reading actual letters he wrote from camp as a kid and inviting other writers to share their letters from camp. I did something similar, asking my friends to write their own Punch in the Face rant to share—with feeling—at the author reading, and played a game with three contestants from each audience. These Punch Parties were a blast for everyone involved and felt like an open mic night or literary salon. What’s not to like? And as an added bonus, involving others in your event ensures that you won’t get dry mouth or performance anxiety from being the only one talking.
- Get in on group events. Much like tip 1, seeking out opportunities for author panels or roundtable discussions is a surefire way to have a successful event. I participated in an author lunch, acting as MC and introducing four other respected authors, including the magnificent Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler). I also read a Punch in the Face-themed essay during a Lit Crawl around Seattle, part of a Funny Ladies evening with three other hilarious writers. With a group event, its success doesn’t lie solely on your shoulders. In addition to you, several other participants will be promoting the event, inviting their friends, and working to draw a big crowd.
- Help your venue help you. Don’t assume that bookstore and venues are as together as you when it comes to promotion and social media. After all, you know your book and your vision for the event better than anyone. I ran around town, delivering foam core signs in advance of each Punch Party and brainstormed with the event coordinators about the various details of the event—including AV needs, chairs, window displays, snacks, number of copies to have on hand, etc. I sent promotional tweets and blog posts for the stores to use to advertise the event. If you can be prepared and thorough, the venue will thank you—and ask you back.
- Timing is everything. Think about the best time for optimal attendance. Is there an artwalk one night a month in your neighborhood? If so, coordinate your event for the same evening and have wine or snacks on hand to draw people in. I planned my Punch Parties for weekend evenings so attendees could kick off the night at the event and then go out on the town afterwards. A Friday night event at a strip-mall bookstore, however, wasn’t as big of a draw. In retrospect, that was totally understandable.
- Make attendees feel part of cool kids’ club. Kevin Emerson had people list their camp nickname on a nametag for his Lost Code event. I had stickers that said “Things I Want to Punch in the Face” with lines under it so attendees could wear their beefs loud and proud on the lapel. These were a huge hit. While nametags may not be the right tone for your book, think about how you can involve your audience and make them feel part of the event.
- Don’t be proud. In addition to promoting the events with the bookstore, I handed out postcards to coworkers, friends, and random people on the street. I sent sincere Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail appeals to her friends, asking them to help spread the word, that the success of the blog-turned-book was entirely due to word of mouth by her supporters. Humility, appreciation, and shared success go a long way.
- Post in local media. I used social media, of course, listing events on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and asking people to repost or retweet the information. But I went a step further. While bookstores and your publisher generally send event listings to local papers, magazines, and websites, you can do this yourself to ensure placement. I also reached out to reporters and writers she knew and told them about the events; this paid off with more than one mention in print and online.
- Seek out target-rich environments (i.e. industry events). Yes, you want to get books into the hands of readers. But that means getting them into the eager mitts of booksellers first. Work with your publisher (or if self-publishing, set aside marketing funds) to attend regional trade shows and conferences. During the course of her promotional tour, I signed books for booksellers and librarians at BookExpo America, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association nightcapper, and the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association author feast and trade show. Win over these people and they will hand-sell your book in their stores.
- Think outside the box (or bookstore). Finally, think beyond the bookstore. When my business partner Kerry promoted her book Good Drinks for Bad Days, she did a cocktail demo at a local kitchen goods store during a neighborhood “Moms’ Night Out” event. The turnout was huge. In addition to numerous Punch Parties at local bookstores and even a gastropub (hey, it had a stage and a mic, not to mention a special drink for the event), I joined in two shopping events at a high-end boutique in Seattle. The store bought copies and gave them to customers as a gift with purchase during these events. Win-win. Think about the kind of stores or events that bring out customers willing to drop some cash, hopefully on your book!
Find out more information about Jen Worick’s publishing classes and workshops with Kerry Colburn at The Business of Books.