Author Events

(This article originally appeared in the MWA Midwest newsletter, Clues under the title “Book Events: Why, Approaches, and Glitches”.)

A few years ago, I interviewed Marshall J. Cook, writing coach extraordinaire at the University of Wisconsin (now very actively retired) and author of many books, fiction and nonfiction. Among many other gems he offered was: “POD [Print On Demand] and e-books have opened up publishing incredibly and made book publishing much more economical and less wasteful. That said, it has made it tremendously difficult for any one title to receive any attention and find its readers. (The problem has shifted from getting published to getting noticed.) When I first started teaching, there were 65,000 books published that year in America (about a tenth of them fiction). The number is now ten times that! (With the same ratio of fiction to non-fiction.) Average sale of a POD self-published book is 147 – but millions of people are selling them, so the so-called tail of the marketing dragon has become huge.”

Add to the getting noticed argument the fact that even very few traditional publishers currently offer substantial marketing services to any but their celebrity and bestselling authors, and you have a good incentive for staging events and becoming personally known to readers and potential readers.

The first principle of staging an event is that it, like your book, should be entertaining. It is only secondarily an opportunity to sell something. Most readers want to meet an author, learn how he or she thinks, and perhaps ask some questions. They also appreciate receiving something at your gathering, whether it is food/drink, a handout document, a souvenir, or a raffle ticket for a free book or other prize. Marketers will tell you that people who receive something are more likely to buy something.

The most traditional of book events takes place in a bookstore and may have the format of a reading, an informal discussion, or a lecture. The format usually depends on the facilities and the interest of the bookseller. It may take place during normal business hours or in the evening after the store has closed to the public. In either case, the critical keys to success are a diplomatic and low key approach to the bookseller, sufficient lead time to fit the store’s schedule, and a clear understanding of who is responsible for what tasks, including (for the self-published) furnishing the books to be sold.

Perhaps the most enjoyable event is one that is tied to the content of your book. My Lord’s Prayer Mystery Series and my Imp Mysteries feature a continuing cast of characters and an ongoing joke about a Chinese restaurant called House of Ming that is owned by Tony Fleming, who learned to cook Chinese food in Chicago and truncated his name to gain an oriental atmosphere. This offered me the obvious option of staging events in Chinese restaurants, with delicious benefits for my attendees. The restaurant approach works well if they have a private room, but may be difficult in the main dining room unless you have an intimate group.

If you want to sell books, your best opportunity may be to stipulate that desire in connection with a speaking appearance. This may augment the honorarium you receive, and it offers exposure of your books to people who have already indicated their interest in what you have to say. You should, however, realize that sales may be limited to brief break intervals plus time remaining at the end of the meeting. Speeches to other writers are a good opportunity because writers tend to support each other and enjoy learning techniques from others.

A valuable variation on selling books at a writers’ meeting where you are the speaker is the shared adjacent event. A few years ago, I joined with two other members of Off-Campus Writers’ Workshop (OCWW) who also had new books out, to rent an adjacent room immediately following an OCWW session. The event took place at noon, so we provided tasty snacks and shared the hour with three short presentations and sold books at three separate tables.

It’s important to be creative. If you can build your event around a setting, theme, or incident in your book, do so. You will also find that one event may trigger another. I did an evening presentation at a bookstore that was attended by several members of a Sherlockian group. They later approached me to address their group. I doubted that they would purchase many books, (They did buy some.) but I used the event to generate and distribute charts comparing various authors’ detectives including Sherlock, other classic sleuths, and my own Pastor Arthur Blake.

Whatever events you organize, remember to always follow up with a summary on social media. The fact of each event, regardless of its economic value, enhances your authoring brand. Keep your followers talking about your books and your activities whenever possible.

Events allow you to meet your readers and potential readers. They build your brand. No matter what happens, you learn from them. At the very least, you might cultivate a better relationship with booksellers who might suggest your book to readers long after you are back at home.

Richard Davidson’s latest book is Impending.

 Richard Davidson is the author of the Lord’s Prayer Mystery Series, The Imp Mysteries, and the self-help book, DECISION TIME! Better Decisions for a Better Life.
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