On Saturday I had the privilege of meeting fellow author Avery Olive (her book is A Stiff Kiss, published by Crescent Moon Press). She held a book signing at Monkeyshines, a children’s bookstore here in Calgary. Her turnout was modest but I was still glad I went, because we had a great discussion about writing and publishing and marketing yourself in this big world of ours.

It also got me to thinking about book events in general. I’ve been to book launches, readings and celebrations, and had a few of my own, and let me tell you something. These events, unless you are a well-known author with a large following, aren’t going to sell your books. You’ll probably sell a handful. But don’t expect to sell hundreds or even tens of copies. Just because you create the event, doesn’t mean people will come. II’ve been to book events where a large crowd was expected, but only friends and families of the authors showed up. Talk about awkward–especially if you’ve rented a large room and hired a catering company!

It’s hard being an unknown author and getting people to come to your events. More often than not, your event will turn into a small family & friends-only gathering. This isn’t because your book sucks. More likely, it’s because you didn’t engage your target audience to the point where they would come check you out in person. Or, you’re holding the event at an inconvenient location or time.

There’s a certain threshold–a tipping point, say–that a person has to reach and cross before they’re willing to invest time or money into an activity. For example, if you ask someone to check out a website, the threshold is low. There’s little investment in doing this, and if you hate the site, you can easily escape. One can’t easily escape a public event, unless there’s a crowd.

The goal, then, is to either lower the threshold, or make it easy for people to reach that threshold. You can do this in many ways.

  • Offer free snacks & drinks: free food can be a draw, especially if it’s near a meal time.
  • Call your event a “drop in”: this will ease a person’s commitment. The person will know that they can come and go whenever they please and not insult the host.
  • Make your event free: If you charge a fee for people to come to your event, there’d better be a good reason for doing so. For example: if your event has a catered meal, or has open bar, or has a live band, it makes sense to have a cover charge–those things aren’t going to pay for themselves and it’s doubtful you’ll recoup your costs otherwise. Charging for the event makes it less desirable to attend if the person feels like they’re not getting anything in return.
  • Have the event in a public place/well-trafficed area: Walk-in traffic is the best, because they’ve probably never heard of you before and once they’ve stopped to ask what you’re doing, you can direct them to your event. Bookstores and libraries are good places for this because presumably people are already there to find books–maybe your book might interest them.
  • Offer a giveaway or discount for people who attend: Reward those who have come to see you in person. Ask everyone to put their name in a hat for a “door prize”–a copy of your book, or whatever else you can come up with! Make sure to include this in your advertising.

Speaking of advertising–don’t rely on the venue to advertise for you. Take control of your publicity! Send press releases to your local newspapers, put up posters in places your target audience frequents, and put electronic ads on free websites like Kijiji or Craigslist. Plan your event months in advance if you can–this allows for more advertising time.

Don’t get your hopes up. Set realistic expectations. If you’re a new author, tell your friends to invite their friends. Set your event in a small location so that if not a lot of people show up, the room will still seem full. Don’t spend all your money on food and entertainment. If you’re doing a reading, practice the section. Don’t make your reading long–five minutes tops. Don’t read spoilers–read an exciting part that will make your listeners want to know more! Prepare answers to potential questions so you’re not left tongue-tied.

But most importantly, be humble. Thank the friends and family that do come. They are your true supporters. And thank the venue that hosts you–you’re more likely to be asked back if they remember you as positive and gracious rather than negative and disappointed. Don’t get discouraged–if only three people came to your book signing this time, then maybe 6-10 will come to the next one. And 20-30 at the next one. Things can only get better, especially if you learn from your mistakes.

What do you think? Have you been to any book-related events recently, and how did they turn out? What do you think authors should do to make their book events more attractive to potential readers (and buyers!)? Send your responses to aurora@faeryinkpress.com and I’ll feature them in the next issue of the Faery Ink Press Book Club!