Emma Straub wrote a very cool article about how authors can create a lasting love story with the bookstore who is hosting your upcoming event. To say that it’s a must-read is the same as admitting the beagle needs an intervention.
Her advice is sound – be nice to bookstore workers because they’re the ones who will either recommend your book or use it to squash bugs. Bringing food is also a great idea because, let’s face it, they’re doing you a favor by hosting your event and went to a lot of work, so bringing cookies is just good manners.
Signings are more work than most authors realize. They have to order your book in plenty of time, they set up your table and chairs for your audience, make posters advertising your event, and hand out fliers. Sometimes they take out space in the local papers. They put thought into hosting you, so there are some things you should do so they don’t regret their decision.
The key is PREPARATION.
Emma makes a good point here with respect to time and choice of what you plan on reading. I’ve gone to a number of author events, and I’m a huge fan of a bite-sized bits of reading, then stopping to explain or clarify why you like that particular section. What this does is personalize the book to your audience.
I like knowing an author’s character was inspired by his best friend who died of cancer. I like knowing the setting is based on the author’s happy experiences of living there. It’s the inside info stuff that makes me squiggly. And I like feeling squiggly. I get that same feeling from Twinkies and the beagle’s margaritas.
I also like the idea of reading short snippets because you won’t put your audience to sleep. Nothing worse than sitting in an uncomfortable chair, wishing you’d brought your No-Doz.
Don’t go to your reading without having practiced your reading selections. I’ve thought I was going deaf because the author spoke so softly. I’ve listened to authors read their selections so fast that my brain simply gave up and went home…rendering me alarmingly vacuous. Take care that you maintain an even tempo, not too fast or slow, and enunciate in a solid, strong voice, so even the poor slob sitting in the back row can hear you.
I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating. If you’re going to speak before an audience, have something to say. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and consider topics you think they may want to know or hear about.
- Why did you write your book?
- What is the basis behind your plot?
- Why these particular characters?
- Is there a socially relevant theme to your book that you can expand upon?
- What is it about your setting that enhances your story?
As you can see, there are a million things you can discuss, but it takes planning and being considerate of your audience. Yes, you are like the stand-up comedian who’s on stage and needs to maintain audience interest because you want them to buy your book and profess their undying love for you.
You thought that all you had to do is arrive and your adoring fans would line around the corner, right? I wish. And I do hope it happens to you, but the chances are hit or miss. More realistically, you lack name recognition, so it can be a trying thing to gather up enough people to fill those chairs. I suggest going after ’em.
When I was promoting Tackle Box, I contacted the surrounding writer’s groups in the general area of the venue to let them know where I was appearing, who I am, what my book is about, and what they can learn by attending. Instead of talking to two or three people who were looking for a place to sit down and munch on free cookies and bottled water, I had fifty or sixty people show up.
Bookstores love this. Not only do they sell my book, but those same shoppers buy other books. And this is why bookstores host events. It’s good publicity for them. If more authors worked like this, there would be more bookstores happy to host author appearances. Sadly that isn’t the case, and many stores no longer host author events, or will only host the big names. They have found it’s not time- or cost-effective.
Being prepared ingratiates you to the store, while benefiting from the added exposure for you and your book. A win-win proposition.
Many authors go into trying to book an event as someone doing them a huge favor. This attitude always makes me wince because the attitude is all wrong. Think about how you feel when someone is asking you for a favor. You stop and consider the worthiness of their request.
On the other hand, if you propose all the reasons WHY a bookstore would love to host your event, now you make their mouth water. Look at what you have to offer to a store and an audience, and you’ll see that instead of them holding something over on you, they’ll be very excited about hosting your event.
It’s the idea of “what can I offer you,” over “can you, pretty please, with sugar and Twinkies on top?” Here’s the cover letter I used in one particular case:
XXX is a good friend of mine, and recommended this morning that I contact you about the possibility of my doing a writer’s seminar, “I’ve Written ‘The End’ – Now What?” at XXX Store. It’s a two hour seminar that shows writers what editors/agents are looking for in a query letter, the ingredients to an effective synopsis, questions every author should ask of a publisher before ever querying, and the dos and don’ts after one has submitted. I don’t normally charge, but some of the venues I’ve been to have insisted upon charging. I’m fine with this either way.
My purpose in doing these seminars comes from the fact that not only am I editorial director for Behler Publications, a commercial press, but I’m also a writer. Education in this business is key, and I’ve created this seminar out of that need. I see so many submissions crossing my desk that tell me the writer isn’t ready for prime time yet. As XXX has told you, there is a plethora of misinformation about the industry. I see this every day in the submissions I receive. Writers have asked me exactly what it is I’m looking for, why I rejected them, and what mistakes they made. This seminar was borne of the vast amount of writer feedback I’ve received.
The natural question is, what’s in it for me to do these seminars? I don’t charge, nor will I accept anyone’s manuscripts. In fact, most of the writers who attend my seminars aren’t ready for publication. As hokey and benevolent it may sound, my sole purpose is to plant seeds of education. As a writer, I enjoy being with other writers. It’s my hope that writers will take whatever knowledge I have to become better at their craft so that at some point they can submit to a publisher with confidence and pride. It’s two hours of my time to create some helpful ripples in the pond. Because I’m a writer as well, I can easily relate and empathize with every bit of angst and frustration they’re facing.
XXX asked me why I didn’t take my seminar over to Borders since I’ve been working closely with their CRM in other cities. I told him that I prefer working with the independent bookstores because they know literature. Chains know about shoving books out the door. Besides, you’re the best. Ask anyone who has been to XXX; they all know XXX.
Lastly, why XXX when I live in California? Over the past four months I’ve seen a dramatic rise in submissions from the XXX area, and each of them were rejected due to their simply not knowing the basics of how to query. I felt I had a ripe audience for hearing my seminar. I’ve attached my seminar outline to this email.
I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for your time.
Obviously, your letter will be different, but you get the gist of what I’m saying. I’m trying to give all kinds of reasons why that bookstore should host me. In return, I made sure that I’d bring in a lot of people from the surrounding area. Yes, this takes time, but I care a great deal about my book and getting word out about its benefits to new writers who don’t know much about the industry.
And there is no reason why you can’t tailor this to make you equally loveable and in demand…regardless of whether you’re pitching to an indie bookstore or a chain.
Now go out and create your own Love Story!