From bookstore launches to trade shows, author events have long been a trusted way to spread the word about your book, but navigating these in-person appearances can sometimes be confusing or overwhelming. Read on for several tips on how to ace your author event.
What is considered an author event?
You will likely hear the term “author event” a lot in your publishing journey, but what exactly does that mean? There are in fact many different types of author events, most (if not all) of them coordinated by your publicity team.
Here are some of the most common:
- Bookstore Events:
- Solo: The most standard bookstore event is a solo appearance. Authors are expected to speak for fifteen to twenty minutes, followed by a ten-to-fifteen-minute audience Q&A and a book signing. Fiction authors often choose to read from their books during their presentation.
- Joint event: Bookstores may pair authors who have similar audiences to draw a bigger crowd. The format of the event can vary, but typically authors present separately and then do a Q&A together, followed by a book signing.
- In conversation: In this format, authors can expect to be interviewed and should also prepare a few questions for the person doing the interviewing, especially if it’s another author.
- Straight signing: Authors are not expected to give any formal presentation at a straight signing but simply sign books for attendees.
- Panel Discussions: Panel events typically have a moderator, who asks each individual author specific questions and also raises broader questions that anyone on the panel can answer. Authors typically receive the panel topic in advance, and in some cases the questions as well.
- Conference or Trade Show Appearance: These events can vary greatly in format, from meet-and-greets to panels to formal presentations. Often you are grouped with a few other authors and asked to speak for five to ten minutes about yourself and your new book because your story or topic dovetails with a particular theme or trend that is relevant for attendees.
Each author and book will require different kinds of planning, but one thing all authors should consider is what they want people to take away from the event. Think: “What would make this a success for the people attending and the venue organizer? What do I want the audience to learn?”
If you have been asked to speak at an event…practice! Even the most seasoned authors use notes at events and practice before hitting the road. It’s also recommended that you reread (or at least skim) your book and press kit (the materials mailed out with your book), especially if you’ll be doing media interviews.
Your publicist can help you come up with talking points or even help you do a mock presentation. To prepare for the Q&A portion of the event, think about what types of questions are likely to be asked and have a clear idea of what you might say. If there are controversial themes or topics in your book, chances are you’ll be asked about them at some point. Discuss potential answers and any concerns with your publicist before your event.
The publicist will ask the event coordinators about the format of the event (solo, panel, Q&A, moderator), if AV will be needed, and for any and all other details, so that you will feel as prepared as possible.
What happens at the event?
Your experience will vary based on the type of event. At a bookstore, you can expect to be greeted by the store’s event coordinator or event host and introduced to the staff. You may be asked to sign stock before or after the event, so that the bookstore can hand-sell your book in the weeks following the event. A panel or in-conversation event may involve you meeting and speaking with the other panel members or the interviewer beforehand to familiarize yourself with the people with whom you will share the stage.
If you are reading an excerpt from your book, think about selecting a passage that ends on a cliffhanger or with a really interesting moment. You want to leave your audience wanting more (so that they’ll buy the book)! You can also select a few representative passages instead of going with one longer excerpt. For your talk, audiences want to get to know the author. They want to hear what inspired the book, what your writing process was like, and maybe something notable or funny that happened along the way to publication.
This probably goes without saying, but if you know that the audience will be made up of a certain group of people (booksellers, librarians, etc.), consider including a story or anecdote directed at the group. Did you write or research the book in a library? Tell them! Did you spend your weekends as a kid in your local independent bookstore? Let them know. Making it personal always goes a long way.
Other things to keep in mind:
- Be on time: Plan to arrive at least fifteen minutes before the event begins. This will give you a feel for the store, the set-up, and the audience. If you are going to be late for any reason, call the bookstore or your publicist to give everyone a heads up.
- Think long-term: Every time you step into a bookstore, think of it as a sales call. While it’s wonderful to meet fans and readers, it’s most important to make a good impression with the staff, who will be selling your book long after the event is over. Introduce yourself to all the booksellers, ask questions about the store, and make connections where you can.
- Plan for a big event…but also for a small event: Prepare a presentation for a bookstore full of readers, but also think about what you would do with a small crowd. Would you adjust what you’re planning to say? Pull up a chair with the attendees and make the event a bit more informal? Small events still give you a great opportunity to connect with devoted readers, so prepare for the experience!
- Not every event is worth doing. It’s best to be strategic about author events so as to maximize both your time and the publisher’s and host’s resources. Publicists try to make sure that every appearance they ask you to do will be worth your time and will sell the book. One big event, rather than a couple of smaller ones, is often most beneficial.
- Be gracious, and say thank you! Debut and seasoned authors alike rely on the support of bookstores, librarians, and readers. A lot of effort goes into setting up an event, by both the bookstores and your publicist. There are many ways to say thank you. Are you on social media? Take a photo with the booksellers and give the store a shout-out. Ask your publicist who they worked with on the event and send a thank-you note via snail mail. Booksellers love feeling appreciated and a nice note or shout-out goes a long way.
If you are interested in setting up an event or if you have received an invitation to one, please alert your publicist. There is a good chance they have a relationship with the venue and can help arrange the details. Your publicist can also advise you if an event is worth your time and effort. Making author appearances may seem daunting, but your publicity team can help you ace these events and leave a great impression long after you’ve left the store.
Neda Dallal is Associate, Publishing Development and Author Platforms at Penguin Random House.