So now your book is being published and you’re overwhelmed in general about things, and in specific about this event, and WHEN WILL THE HELPFUL EVENT WIZARD SHOW UP AND HELP YOU?
The wizard is in, friends, and it’s time to roll for initiative.
First, as a shiny new author, you should rethink how you look at events. It’s not just a single blip on your calendar and done. It’s a continuum. Your book event is like the first date in a long and fruitful relationship with a particular bookstore. Many authors have their first book events at their local bookstore, so this is a vital relationship.
And much like dating, debut book events can be confusing and stress-inducing. So where does a new author start?
Before the Event
If you’ve never seen a book launch or a reading, go to a few. If you’re lucky enough to have a local indie, go to the one that will be hosting you. Check out the space. See how they run events and what they do to promote. Talk to other author friends and ask about their first book launch—they might have tips. Don’t have a bookstore near you? Some post videos of their events online.
Don’t have a local indie or author friends? Don’t panic. You can reach out to the bookstore you’ll be visiting—or to your publicist if you have one. Is there anything you need to know about the space? I host events at my local independent bookstore, Third Place Books, and I know that our Events Coordinator sends out an information packet to publicists and authors. If you’re lucky enough to get something like this read it carefully. If you have questions, ask. Don’t just call up the bookstore and ask a random employee—ask the point of contact for the event. That way you know that you’re getting up to date (and correct) information.
Communication is key. If you have plans, run them by your publicist or event coordinator. Want to bring cake? Have a raffle? Bring Morris Dancers? A three piece band? Wine? Eight other authors? ASK. There might be very valid reasons why these things won’t be okay. Lack of a liquor license, for example. Not enough space for the Morris Dancers. They might not want the ink for your Japanese calligraphy station near their rare and collectible books. (You think I’m pulling these examples from thin air, don’t you?) Don’t assume they’ll have plates, forks, knives, etc., and plan to set these things up and clean up anything you brought once your event is over. Keep in mind that while this is a huge milestone for you, to the bookstore it’s a smaller piece in a larger event schedule. Of course they want to do everything they can to make your event a smashing success, but they might have to spread their attention to four other events that week… as well as possible off-site events, and the daily workings of a bookstore.
Have a presentation? Make sure they have the capabilities for it (like a screen, a projector, and sound) and see if you need to bring any particular dongle. (I can almost say dongle without laughing. Almost.) I would also think long and hard about whether or not you actually need that presentation. Unless your book has a highly visual element, I’d skip it.
Do your own outreach before hand. Hit social media and make sure you tag the bookstore involved. Don’t swamp your Twitter feed—a good suggestion is a week before, a few days before, and day of. Let readers know if they can preorder their books with the bookstore—my bookstore will also put books on hold for you. This not only makes sure the reader gets copies of the books they want, but let’s the bookstore know that people are planning to attend! Bookstores order books for events based on projected attendees, noise, and sales if the author has more than one title. For small and first time events, our store orders in around twenty copies on average. Despite all preparation and experience, stores can be blindsided by events. They might not know that you have a huge local fan base, family, book clubs or knitting groups attending. Let them know so that they can order accordingly.
Come prepared—bring your notes, pens, any bookmarks or swag, and a copy of your book with the pages marked for a reading, even if you don’t plan on reading. As an author, I’ve shown up to events before where I find out that they’ve presented it as a reading and I’ve had to scramble last minute and it’s terrible. Practice your reading or presentation beforehand so you’re comfortable with it. And keep your reading short—best reading advice I got from my MFA professor? “If you don’t have them after five minutes, you’re certainly not going to have them after twenty.” You’re giving them a taste, not the whole menu…
Get more great advice from Lish—a behind-the-scenes look at author events, including Event Day and After the Event—at Tor.com.
Lish McBride currently resides in Seattle, spending most of her time at her day job at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. The rest of her time is divided between writing, reading, and Twitter, where she either discusses her desire for a nap or her love for kittens. (Occasionally ponies.) Her debut novel, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and was a finalist for the YALSA William C. Morris Award. Her other works include Necromancing the Stone, Firebug, and Pyromantic. She is presenting a NaNoWriMo Teen Workshop at the Redmond Library tonight (10/25/16).