Tips and best practices for authors with bookstore events and readings.
Congratulations! You’ve toiled and labored over a manuscript, found a publisher, and saw your project to fruition. It would seem, initially, like the hardest part is behind you, but before you collapse on your chaise lounge with a Manhattan, it’s my job to insist that there’s still much work to be done. As a marketer and former bookstore employee, I’m unabashedly biased when I say public appearances and readings are foundational to a book’s success. While the plan of attack will differ by genre (i.e. a niche monograph versus a trade-friendly title), suffice it to say that one of the best ways to put your product in people’s hands is to show up with it in person. That’s all fine and good, but it’s arduous to plan a book tour! Below you’ll find my tips on milking appearances for all they’re worth, from the booking process to the after-party.
I. Booking the Event
When you begin emailing bookstore managers, one essential piece of information of which to be mindful is the fact that stores are businesses. Along with community involvement and authorial support, it’s essential that they turn a profit, so their strictures for which events to book (or decline) are necessarily limited. With this in mind, it’s best to craft a compelling argument explaining why you and your book deserve their time, costs, and attention. You’ll want to answer some questions preemptively in a concise pitch: What kind of network do you have in the area (more on that later) and how many people might that comprise? How can the store order it (who distributes your book—that’s not always the same as your publisher)? What sorts of marketing and outreach will you, the author, do, in addition to the store’s efforts? If you’ve been to the store before, even better! You’ll be able to compare your potential reading with others they’ve had in the past. If you haven’t, do your research, and make sure that your event jells with their past and present line-ups. There’s nothing more off-putting than receiving a message from someone peddling How To Talk To Your Cat About Gun Control at a store that specializes in dogs (that book really exists; that store only exists in my dreams).
II. You’re Booked! Now What?
One critical piece of advice is that you reach out to your contacts. When I say reach out, my emphasis is on “reach”—from your dearest college pals to that intimidating colleague in your field, it’s essential that you tap every resource available in an attempt to broaden your audience and fill the room. The onus is on you (not the bookstore!) to pull from your fan-base, whether they’re rabid readers or distant acquaintances. Consider your range of associates before you tap a store to host your event. Is that pool sizeable? If not, be prepared for a small turnout, as most institutions don’t have a built-in network of attendees. Another important step is to reach out to the store for their list of publicity and press contacts. Often, there’s no dedicated employee on-staff with the time to write personalized events pitches, so if you’re able to do so, shoot off a few emails to journalists and members of the media to let them know what’s happening, when, where, and why it’s interesting. It’s often worth tapping your publisher to see whether they’ve got contacts they’ll share or email directly. In SUP’s case, we’ll certainly use our resources to spread the word for authors in-house. This is also the point at which you’ll want to communicate with the store about any A/V or set-up needs and formatting questions (i.e. “How long do I read?”).
III. The Night We’ve All Been Waiting For
When you arrive at your event, check in with a bookseller first thing—they’ll fill you in on the space, the timing and their standard arrangements (i.e. “Should I sign the stock before I leave?”). Settle in, take a few deep breaths, greet your friends and colleagues, and read or discuss a moderately sized portion of your book. If it’s a traditional reading followed by a Q&A, make sure you’re covering material that’s digestible within a limited time-frame; the less context you have to give before you start reciting, the better. Following that, a discussion is a great way to engage your readership’s interests most directly. Loosen up, delve into your work, and enjoy your moment in the spotlight. Total, a typical event will run between 45 minutes and an hour, but like the rest of these details, that decision falls to the store. Respect their policies while doing your best to sell your book like the winsome, must-have product it is! It might sound obvious, but encourage your fans to purchase a copy of your book at the store itself. If you want to return again, strong sales are your greatest argument. I still cringe when I remember an author asking their audience-members to buy a copy on Amazon… (NEVER! Never at an in-store event!).
IV. Basking in the Afterglow
The toughest part is behind you. You’ve marketed like a machine (if you’re an SUP author, maybe you’ve had my help!). You’ve stood in front of a crowd and bared your soul (or at least your manuscript). Hopefully, you sold some books. The impact can be hard to measure, but have faith in the fact that showing up and shaking hands will put your book in people’s minds and reading queues. A quick email to the store to thank them for their time and efforts goes a long way, and with each successive book, you can revisit these guidelines for bigger and better events at stores where you’ve established a relationship. These may not make you a New York Times bestseller; they may not skyrocket you to instant fame; but these rules will certainly help you make the most of your in-store appearances, where I’ve seen firsthand the power of a memorable, connective reading.