When starting out, many authors wonder how they should promote their books, and many are disappointed when they hold a book signing and no one shows up. An author might sign books at a bookstore in his or her hometown and have a dozen or so friends and family come, but then the second book signing in a neighboring town might be a flop with only one or two books sold at the most. For a long time, book marketing experts have said that a bookstore is the worst place to sell a book. I don’t think that’s true-over time, authors sell the majority of their books in bookstores-but a book signing in a bookstore usually is a colossal failure for most authors.
What makes an author event effective? Participation by the author in terms of spreading word about the event is a large factor. You can’t rely on the bookstore or organization to promote your event. You still may not get a crowd of people if you do, but the more effort you put into advertising the event yourself, the more likely you will attract a crowd. Here are just a few ways you can help to promote your event:
- Send out invitations via Facebook, Twitter, and other Social Media.
- Send out an email invitation to your email list-remember not everyone is on Facebook, and not all your Facebook friends are on your email list so cover your bases both ways (and don’t discriminate and fail to invite friends in other states or across the country-they may not come, but they may cheer you on from afar and the positive energy helps a lot-it’s also a reminder to them to order your book.)
- Send out postcards to people on your snail mail list-especially your older readers who may not be on Facebook or even have email.
- Post the scheduled event on a prominent place on your website.
- Make up posters and distribute them around the area-grocery stores, libraries, restaurants, anywhere there’s a bulletin board or a door where you can tape something-always ask the manager’s permission before doing so (and invite him or her and the staff to the event while you’re at it). Be sure to give some posters to the event planner, bookstore owner, etc. to distribute.
- Send out an event listing, or even a press release, to local media-many television stations and newspapers have community events calendars. And you never know when the newspaper might write up the event, or the TV station might come to cover it.
Promoting your event yourself can be a lot of work, but it gives you a better chance of having an audience and selling your book than if you don’t promote it. Making posters might especially seem like a waste of time and money, especially if you can’t place them all, so I recommend making up a generic poster for all your events and then leaving a place where you can list the time, place, and location details for each specific event. Then you can later print up stickers or just handwrite that information on the posters so you always have posters available and don’t end up throwing any away.
Making an event effective also has to do with how you “sell” it to your prospective audience. Saying “John Smith will sign his new book on X day at X place” may not excite too many people, especially if they can always get the book at that place any other day of the week and don’t care if it’s signed. But spicing up the event can help a lot. Here are a few additional ways to give that bonus reason for why people should attend your author event:
- Invite fellow authors to attend. They are not your competition. They are your greatest resource. If you get other authors to do the event with you, they can help you to promote it, and their fan base will show up and discover your book as well. People are also more likely to show up for six authors than one author. You might have to spend a little more time coordinating the event with everyone, but it also extends your chance of making the event a success, and if no one does show up, at least you’ll have other people to talk with, and network with-slow author events are often where you can get some of your best ideas for marketing your book just by talking to the other participants.
- Have a contest or giveaway. Have a drawing-sell tickets, or give away a ticket for everyone who buys a book-you can give away free books, or it can even be non-book related items. You might even want to find a sponsor, someone who will donate an attractive or desirable item as a prize for the event-a great way to advertise for the sponsor. Don’t be afraid to get creative. I know of one author who held a contest for the chance to be named as a character in the author’s next book.
- Entertain your audience. People may not be willing to show up just so they can buy a book, but they may show up if you are going to give a talk on a topic that interests them. If you have five or six authors, make up a schedule and each of you can give a twenty minute talk during the event. If you know anyone musical, it doesn’t hurt to have someone sing during the event or play an instrument. You can also show a short film or your book video. People want to be entertained, and they like free entertainment. Entertain them and they’ll be more likely to buy your book. And even if you don’t sell books, you planted a seed, so they might later buy the book as a Christmas gift for someone else.
No matter how hard you work, some events are going to end up being failures. But even if an event is a flop, if you are invited back to participate in the event the next year, give it a second try, and analyze what you could have done better to promote the event so you have a better chance the second time. If it still flops, then perhaps you might reconsider not participating in the future-especially if you are busy or could spend that time writing or doing something more fruitful-but if you have the time and want to keep going, the worst that can happen is you spend your time, and you never know who might show up the third time around.
Eventually, you might end up deciding not to attend certain events any longer, but also remember that sometimes it just takes the one right person showing up to make the event worthwhile. For example, I know an author who held a book signing and only one person showed up for it, but that person was the right person. She was the head of the library book club, and she liked the author and his book so much that she got the book club to read the book. The author spent two hours at the book signing and only sold one book, but it resulted in the other sixteen members of that book club buying his book a couple of months later. Not only that, but the book club invited him to their book club meeting, which included a free dinner and they paid him to come and talk. I’d say those are pretty good results from a book signing where only one person showed up.
Author events can be a success if authors are willing to make the effort and be a little creative to bring in the crowd. Don’t just show up for an event. Create the event, own the event, be the event. Then your author event can be a success.