I had the pleasure of reading Kent’s Rants blog this morning. He talked about the book tour, and his humble beginnings a dozen years ago where sometimes the only people at the event were the store manager, the manager’s cat, and Kent.
Yah, we’ve all been there at one time or another. And it is humbling. You come away after a few hours of drinking too much coffee and wearing a fake smile for so long you need to check the mirror to make sure your face didn’t crack. You can only wonder what satanic entity enticed you to endure such torture.
Or you could look at it with a different perspective; as Kent did. Just because few showed up for your event doesn’t mean that you wasted your time. You met the store manager and created a rapport with someone who sells books. Your book. If you’re gracious and have a good sense of humor, that leaves a huge impression with the manager. I’ve known booksellers to recommend books based solely on the fact that they really liked the author. I’ve also seen the opposite.
Additionally, showing your pretty face sells books. I don’t care how many Facebook accounts you have and how often you twit your tweet, it’s not nearly as effective as the personal touch; when audiences hear your voice, see your smile, and observe your passion for your book.
Don’t Just Sit There – Talk!
Authors don’t want to hear crickets and stare at empty chairs, and that’s the main reason they balk at doing events. Ok, so let’s get it out there; an empty room is the very worst thing that can happen. But there are ways to bring people into your sphere.
The first thing you have to decide is whether you’re doing a signing or an event where you give a talk. Either way, have something to talk about – whether it’s “Hey there, I’m Jane Author. How you doing today?” Keep the smile on your face. Be prepared to engage a customer in some idle chit chat that imparts your personality. Your personality leaches over to your book, so this is not a time to be shy.
If you choose to give a talk, be sure to have a great title. It’s an eye-catcher that draws people in when they see the poster:
“Lynn Price talks about margarita-mixing beagles.”
“Jane Author talks about main characters we wish we could marry.”
Whatever. It’s an attention grabber and is far more effective than sitting at a table with your finger up your nose. I don’t care what your book is about, there is always something about your book that appeals to most readers.
The Signing Table
How do you get people to unglue themselves from their chairs and approach the signing table? They may have loved your talk, or merely sat down to rest their feet, but they may feel shy about coming up to the signing table because they think they are expected to buy the book. Yes, it’s lovely when they do, but the bigger issue is to make a connection so that at some point when maybe they have more money or time, they will have your book at the top of their Wish List.
I always have a handout that relates to my book(s). For my novel, I had a list of local doctors who include complementary healing methods in their medical practice. For Tackle Box, I have several; one is a matrix that explains the differences between the current publishing options. Another is a sample query letter and a writeup of the elements of plot. Each of these one-page handouts are from the book.
I wanted to give readers a reason to come to the table. By the time they got their handouts, they could see that I didn’t bite (much) and were willing to chit chat. Sure, I’d love to make the sale, but I’d rather make that connection because those roots can have far-reaching consequences.
Ah, food soothes the savage beast and placates hungry readers, and I always have plenty on hand. Whether it’s a veggie tray and some water or a bowl of Sweet Tarts, it’s a way to bring people together. I know authors who have brought cakes with their cover art on it and pass out freebie slices. It’s a nice way to engage people. “Hey, what kind of books do you read? Care for a carrot?”
We all know book events can be grueling ego-killers. If you’re shy, get over it. If you’re scared, get over it. Understand that “If you write it, they will come” is reserved for those mega authors who earn big money and are well known. The rest of us whose feet actually touch the ground need to work hard at making an impression. They will not come unless you impart something of yourself to them. That means stepping away from your phobias and fears and getting out there time and time again to put a face to your book. A smile and some chit chat can sell a book faster than a tweet or blog post.
Read Your Book
If you’re in a setting where you have an audience, definitely read short passages of your book. Stop and give some clever reparte‘ about why you wrote the scene this way and had your characters react in a certain manner. Audiences love to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of a book , its characters, and the author. It’s what aligns them to the author. Don’t be afraid to laugh at the funny parts. Heck, you wrote it! In fact, if you have a funny part, use it. Laughter is as effective as glue.
Don’t Forget the Indie Stores
The store chains are great, but I love indie stores because they’re more intimate. It’s easier to get great table placement – preferably by the front door – whether you’re doing a signing or a talk.
Let People Know You’re Coming
I’ve had email blasts and postcards in the mail from author friends, and I try very hard to attend every one of them. If you write SF, send an email to the head of the local SF writers group in that city. Whenever I hit the road, I contact the writer’s groups in that city. I include elements that make Tackle Box unique from all other writer’s reference books by divulging what and how professionals in the publishing industry think. I include that I’ll be talking about Topic XYZ, and that I hope to see them at the event. Because I prepare well in advance of a tour, I get a very good turnout and sell out at every event.
Now I realize my book is different from mainstream fiction, but preparation and innovation is key. Research the types of groups you feel would enjoy your book for every city you visit and contact the head of the group.
Look, in the long run this has to be fun. If you’re bored, scared, or angry, guess what expression is going to be plastered all over your face? Think about whether your mood is one that will make readers approach you and buy your book. If you’re snarling, my money is on a sale-free event. Even if you’re smiling, you still may not sell a single book, but you are planting seeds – whether you know it or not. It could be that someone came in later and saw your book display and bought the book. Maybe someone saw your smiley face and will contact you later about doing an event at their writer’s group/library/private function.
We can never know what impact we make at book events. But as sure as there are jelly doughnuts and chocolate martinis, doing nothing guarantees that you’ll probably remain obscure. People like Kent and my own author Adam Eisenberg rock my world because they understand that preparation, innovation, the personal touch, and a never-say-die attitude leads to success. Makes me all goosey-like.