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Taking the Show on the Road (Tips for Booking Successful Author Events)

In book marketing, we tend to get focused on all of the online promotion opportunities that are available to us. And while it’s so important to explore and utilize those, we shouldn’t forget how beneficial an in-person event can be.

Not only are they great for meeting your readers and making a personal connection, but author and book events are great for generating local media interest as well, leading to lots of quality exposure.

They’re also a fantastic way to find new readers as you’re looking to build your fan base.

So what’s the best way to approach a book event? Let’s first take a look at some different venues to consider.

1. Chain and Indie Bookstores

There’s often a big difference between chain stores and independent bookstores. Most chain store schedules are far more competitive as they tend to be more popular among trade publishers. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead, you don’t want your book to age too much before you get a chance to do its big, local debut.

2. Libraries

These are always great venues and sometimes easier to get into than bookstores. Participate in various events that your library may hold.  Ask if there is a local author program. There are also showcase events that usually happen annually. Contact your local library. Reach out on the state level, or at your capitol, where many additional events can take place.

3. Non-Bookstores

Non-bookstore markets like coffee shops, Costco, gift shops, restaurants, and other creative venues can be a great place to pitch an author event as well. Get creative and look for places that tie into your book, or are places where your readers typically hang out or visit.

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To start, compile a list of places that are popular with your target buyer market. Once you’ve compiled your list of places to hold a book event, be sure to do these simple things.

1. Check the Schedule

Go online first and see what events they have coming up. That way you’ll know a) how far out you may need to request a date and b) what events you may be able to participate in. Ask if you can jump on an upcoming event already planned.  Two authors are better than one, and three authors are better than two.  Increase the likelihood of catching their patrons’ attention. Start by speaking to their events manager. If you’re pitching a Barnes & Noble, this would be the CRM (community relations manager). Make a couple of phone calls or just stop in.  Often times, the face-to-face request gets you a lot farther.

2. Prepare Your Pitch

You should have some information ready to go before you start pitching. A one-page author sheet (often referred to as a sell-sheet) is a great thing to have on hand to share with the bookstore or library. Author sheets are brag sheets, which have information about the book, any reviews you’ve gotten, endorsements, and etc. Tell them if you’ve done other author events or are a regular on the speaker circuit. Find samples on LinkedIn!  Make this your most used tool when book marketing. Consider having a local graphic designer help you with this.

Prep what you can do to help promote the event. Keep blog/social media following numbers handy.  Look to add your author event on your city’s online event calendars.  This could be through their local newspaper’s website.  Pitch your confirmed author event to popular bloggers. Prepare to do some promotion, and spell out what leg work you’re willing to do – you’ll be a better sell.

When you’re ready to pitch, start by calling the events manager and get right to the point. Most bookstores and libraries are working with far less staff than they used to so most are probably doing several jobs.  Ask what their process is if you’re a local author interested in events.  Most will probably have you email them. If you’re nearby, dropping off a copy of your book and sell sheet is a great idea.

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1. Book Promotion Ideas for Timing Your Event

There is no “best time” per se, but I would suggest not going after super popular dates that everyone is clamoring for. Targeting events around Thanksgiving and Christmas is not generally a good idea. Some bookstores simply don’t do events around that time because of how busy they get.  If they do, they book up early. Stores want a “sure thing” around major holidays so getting a ‘yes’ as a new author, may be difficult.

Look at small details like pay periods when scheduling events. Around the first and the fifteenth, when paychecks come in, people are inclined to spend more.

Sometimes bookstores will offer you dates that they’re normally “dark,” which tends to be the slowest for any kind of event. Should you take it? Say yes because if you’re going to get local media interested in your event, what better way to do it than on a day that’s normally slow for events and news in general?

2. Additional Things to Consider When Planning

Check the calendar for the upcoming holidays and observations aside from the usual ones. Each month has a host of just plain wild and wacky holidays and observations. I urge you to try and align your event pitching and planning with something timely that matters to your buyer market and the customer base the venue caters to. The media will key into these pitches and it gives them an angle to play off of!

3. Book Promotion Ideas Using the Buddy System

If you have a network of authors in your local area, consider pitching yourselves as a group to your local bookstores.  Boost your visibility in numerous ways by teaming up with a two, three or more authors.

The media might be more inclined to do an interview or story when there is a group of authors involved.

Pitch yourselves, if you are in the same genre, as a theme. Gather all of the romance authors together for a night around Valentine’s Day, or local mystery authors in the fall when weather starts cooling down.

Combine the all-powerful buddy system with a solid seasonal tie-in whenever you can!

4. Book Signings are Boring

Sitting at a table with a stack of books and a full pen is generally a terrible way to conduct a book signing. Unless you’re a mega-bestselling author, this is usually a pretty bad idea. You’ll draw far more people to you if you offer to do a talk and a reading. Consider whether you can create a unique hashtag to use on signage to peak interest when people walk by.

If you write non-fiction, present those strolling by with a common problem you can address. If you write fiction and aren’t sure what to talk about, 83% of Americans want to write a book so you could always talk about how you got published, too.

Some other book promotion ideas include handing out candy, chocolates or other small snacks to break the ice and get people over to the table.

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So you’ve secured your event date (congratulations!)  Now what?

1. Pre-Event Planning

Follow through on the book promotion ideas you shared with the event manager.

In addition to our previous ideas, see what’s possible in terms of promoting the event within the bookstore or library now that you’ve confirmed.

Leave small fliers in advance as long as the bookstore doesn’t mind.

Get some inexpensive bookmarks printed at GotPrint.net or VistaPrint.com. These bookmarks should have your book cover on one side and event date, time and location on the other side. Remind them what will make the event unique as well, whether you’ll be signing book or handing out goodies.

See if the bookstore will let you drop off posters that announce the book signing. If you have a book poster, you can easily get your local copy shop to make an addition to the sign to make writing the date/time of your event easy to update.

Get your event added to the bookstore’s newsletter.

Do your own outreach to local media, including A&E journalists!

Submit your event to local event calendars online, local bloggers, local groups on social media like mom-centric and singles-centric pages.

2. Book Promotion Ideas for Event Day

Show up early and be ready to sign a ton of books.

Your local broadcasts media may have 30-second or 1-2-min holes to fill in their newscast. This happens when stories fall through, which happens more than you think. Be sure and pitch them on event day, too, early in the morning before they go to publication or broadcast. Don’t be surprised when the media shows up to cover your event!

Reaping the Benefits

Author events are a great addition to your book marketing plan, and when they are well thought out and planned, they can be really successful and fun! Do your research and be open to new opportunities. The right pairing of author and venue can be a definite win-win they can’t say no to!

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Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. To learn more about Penny and AME, visit www.amarketingexpert.com.