I hit a new milestone last week: my first reading and book signing. It proved a fun and educational experience for a new author like myself, so I’m here to share some thoughts and advice for my fellow authors.
1. Choose the Right Bookstore
Many book stores host author events, and I’m fortunate to live in a major city with several brick-and-mortar stores. The fact that I’m local (and grew up here) ended up making a big difference, but we’ll get to that in a minute. In any case, I had several options, but Left Bank Books was a no-brainer. Here’s why:
- They sell new books on a returnable basis. This is the type of store you need for an author event, as opposed to, say, a used bookstore.
- They have experience with author events. Left Bank does 300 author events a year, so they know what they’re doing.
- They support local authors. This is an area where independent bookstores often have an advantage.
2. Make the Polite Approach
I’d met one of Left Bank’s booksellers at a regional convention, so I reached out to ask him about the best way to approach them about a possible event. He gave me the name of the events coordinator. I passed this to my publicist at HarperCollins, and asked her to make the initial contact. There are pros and cons to this kind of approach:
Pros: Your publicist may know the bookstore and/or events coordinator already (which was true in my case). They can talk about the business side, which doesn’t usually require author input. It also keeps the publisher in the loop, which is never a bad idea. Bookstores, after all, are their customers.
Cons: Your publicist is almost certainly a busy person who works with many authors. He/she may not have time to help with your local author events.
In my case, my publicist made initial contact, and I took it from there.
3. Partner Up for Promoting the Event
I promoted the heck out of my author event — on social media, on my e-mail list, and even with a well-timed profile in the local business journal. Left Bank did their own promotions, adding the event to various community calendars and advertising to their customers. Harper Voyager gave it lot of Twitter love. Between the three of us, I think we spread word about my author event far and wide.
Although this made me cautiously optimistic about the turnout, I couldn’t ignore the fact that a new author just breaking in doesn’t really have a fan base. We’ve all heard the horror stories of an author event where no one shows up, so I braced myself for the worst. Luckily, we had a good turnout: 25 people, which was just enough to fill the room (actually, they had to bring in some folding chairs).
Interestingly, nearly all of the people who showed up had a personal connection to me. Friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers made up most of the audience. That, honestly, was my favorite part, because I got to share this event with people I care about.
4. Author Preparation is Key
In the days leading up to my event, my wife and I both did a lot of prep work, including:
- Working out the event agenda with the bookstore staff
- Test-driving a couple of different passages for the reading
- Planning/practicing the author presentation
- Deciding on what refreshments to offer (we went with water and cookies)
- Buying supplies: pens with archival ink, book plates, book-themed decor, etc.
In most cases, I deferred to the bookstore staff’s recommendations, because they do a ton of these events. But I’m very, very relieved that I practiced reading a few different parts of the book, because we ended up choosing a scene in chapter 3 rather than the opening pages. For mental preparation, I recommend the debut author blog series by Mary Robinette Kowal and LitReactor’s 11 tips for a book signing.
5. Read Less, Talk Less, Listen More
Although I listened to most of the bookseller advice, I made one small change to their proposed schedule: I did my reading first. I’ll say this about it: shorter is better. I’d originally planned to read seven pages, but ended up stopping after about five and a half. Even that felt long. I’m glad I chose a passage with some snappy dialogue and humor. Next time, I’ll try to find one with less cussing.
After the reading, I did a 10-minute presentation (using Powerpoint) on what inspired the book and how it came to be. My reasoning for read first, speak second was simple: reading puts the audience (hopefully) in the world of the book, whereas a presentation gets them into “interactive mode.” I wanted them to ask a lot of questions.
The Q&A was the most fun by far, mostly because I was fielding questions from people I knew. Just as it started to die down, my event coordinator showed up to help set things up for signing books. Then it broke down into a social gathering, during which folks enjoyed the refreshments or wandered around the store.
Bottom line, although I was pretty nervous before my first author event it turned out to be a lot of fun. The bookstore sold out of my book, and took orders for a few more. Even better, Left Bank has offered to stock signed copies of The Rogue Retrieval, and they ship anywhere in the U.S. for $0.99. I hope you’ll consider supporting them, since they’ve been so kind in supporting me.
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