Friday, July 13, 2012

Live Author Appearances – They are not the marketing mainstay they once were, but if you are going to do them, do them right!

by Sophie Perinot

Once upon a time when a writer sold a book author appearances of some sort were pretty much a given. Writers, from newbie to veteran, gamely piled into their cars (or got on planes if their publishers would spring for airfare) and traveled through a wide swath of  bookstore-land, giving readings and signing novels. Nobody questioned the wisdom of the live author appearance as a way to sell books and generate buzz.

But the times, they are a-changing.  It is increasingly unlikely, oh-book-pregnant-one, that your publicist will be planning live events for you.  The question then becomes--if you must plan them and bear the costs of them, how important is it for you to make live author appearances?

There are probably as many opinions on this as there are authors but here is mine--not veryIn a world of “virtual bookstores” and lively, on-line reader communities the internet provides authors with many new and efficient ways to connect with potential readers.  Ways that don’t involve spending a fortune on gas, shirking your day jobs or suffering from jet lag. For example, in conjunction with the launch of The Sister Queens I did a blog tour that took me to more than 45 blogs, most catering specifically to readers looking for new and notable historical novels. My name and my novel were brought to the attention of thousands of book fans while I remained comfortably ensconced in my home-office.  So, If your budget or your "real life" don't lend themselves to a fifty-store swing through your home state, no sweat.

If, however, you do want to do a handful of live appearances (and, squee, even I couldn't resist): 1) keep your expectations realistic; and 2) arrange and execute your author appearances in the manner most likely to maximize their sales impact.

About those expectations . . . If you are a newbie author and you expect a reading or signing to draw an audience full of book-buyers, you are likely to be disappointed. Oh you may have a super turn out—particularly if the event is close to home. Your Aunt Tilly and the cousins will pile into the front row, the book club from your church will wave to you from the “cheap seats.” Folks from the office might even drop by. Everyone will be there to celebrate your success. That’s a gratifying feeling—pretty damn gratifying. Enjoy it. But recognize those full seats probably won’t increase your over-all sales numbers by much. Why? Because these attendees are folks you should be able to count on to buy your book even without an event. I mean, does Aunt Tilly want to stay on your Christmas card list for next year or not? Your friends, your relatives, your colleagues, are BUILT IN sales. You don’t need an event to woo them.

This does NOT mean an event can’t sell books. But you have to PLAN IT CAREFULLY, AND you need to THINK BEYOND THOSE ACTUALLY IN ATTENDANCE.

“What’s your advice Sophie?” So glad you asked!

The banner I created for my novel displayed by B&N
in their front window ringed with copies of the book
Plan a “value added” event to get the biggest interest and attendance from potential buyers. A signing is easy. You show up, sit at a table surrounded by piles of your books, talk to anyone who approaches, and sign books they purchase. Not much prep on your part. But not too exciting for readers either. Give potential buyers of your book original content—something they can’t get from your book itself or your website. That will make them turn out.

My favorite author event thus far was the panel discussion (billed as a historical fiction triple-treat) I did with a pair of fellow historical fiction authors. We prepared a discussion called “Sex, Lies and History: A Literary Threesome.” Those who turned out had something more to see (and hear) than authors sitting quietly at a table, or reading text they could just as easily read themselves (which, after all is what a traditional reading is). They witnessed a lively debate on, among other things, common misconceptions about women in history and the trend towards more sexual content in mainstream historical fiction. The audience was also able to participated during the Q&A—and believe me they did, enthusiastically. Every seat was filled, and many of those bodies were people none of us had met before. These were people turning out to be entertained and educated, not just to support a friend or family member.
Promote your event—tweet it, blog about it, put announcements in your local paper and in on-line sources for local events and entertainment. Consider having a banner or foam-core poster made that you can use to promote a variety of events (you can see the one I created in the picture above). Often you can get the venue hosting your event to display this for you and that can really pay off (see below). Even if the people who see your announcements or poster don’t show up for your actually appearance, this type of publicity increases name recognition for you and for your book. The more often potential readers run into your work the more likely they will start to have the feeling your book is “hot.” That’s a sale waiting to happen.

If you are lucky, the bookstore hosting your event will promote it as well. This, in my opinion, is what really distinguishes the super-worth-while event from the average appearance. The Barnes & Noble that hosted the triple-event mentioned above gave each of our work a prominent window display—dozens of copies of our books right in the front window with huge banners showing our covers super-sized. You can’t pay for that type of exposure if you are a debut author—literally. Your publisher may buy coop placement on those coveted front tables (“New Releases” anyone?!) but the chances of you being in a front window of a major chain bookstore—let alone for a full week—are pretty slim. Now THAT’S the type of exposure that sells books because it makes you look like one of the big dogs.

Be gracious and friendly to the bookstore staff, whether in you are stopping by the store to discuss details of your upcoming event or during your appearance. I recently did a signing at a nearby bookstore. Unlike my panel event, there were no chairs sent out for an audience and I gave no presentation of any sort. The entire event was just me, chit-chatting with shoppers and hoping some of them would buy a signed copy of my book. And some did—but probably not enough to warrant two hours of my time.

When I wasn’t talking to customers, however, I was chatting with the staff.  I made sure to meet every person on duty.  I answered their questions about my book.  In the case of those who were also writers—lots bookstore staff members are also writers—I made sure to ask about their work and recommended my favorite on-line writing communities and resources.  Now I am a very outgoing person and would likely have done all this anyway.  But even if you are the hermit type I still strongly recommend this level of cordiality, because these are the people who recommend books to buyers.  If they connect with you they will make an effort to hand-sell your book.  Before I left I signed all the remaining copies of my novel (more copies than I’d sold) and the store manager helped me create a little display with them (on my own separate table) right at the front of the store.  Again, priceless exposure.  I whistled on my way back to my car because I knew the manager and his staff are going to see that those signed copies find good homes.


  1. Thank you for the great tips in this post, Sophie! I'm going to refer back to it when my times comes. :)

  2. Printing out right now! Fabulous, thank you.

  3. Great advice! Thanks for a great piece!

  4. Great ideas! The whole way of marketing books has changed so drastically in the last few years it's unreal. I think you really honed in though on those important in-person places to be. Thanks!