The idea of doing a book reading or author signing sort of terrifies me. I don’t know why this is, because I love writers–we share the same passions and interests. It’s great to chat with them at conferences, see what they are reading, discover what they are writing themselves. I always leave a conference with new friends, and in today’s digital world, some faces to go with the names I recognize online!
So WHY should I be so frightened of a book signing? The people there show up because they are interested in my book, and what I have to say, right?
I don’t know how to pin down my fears exactly, but if I had to get to the root of it all, it would be to say I am afraid of screwing up, of doing or saying something stupid that I can’t undo. Yet, book events are important to authors and for building relationships with readers, so I need to move past my worries. I bet many of you feel the same!
Lucky for us, my friend Rochelle Melander, author of Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) has some excellent words of advice on how to handle such an event! Please read on, and prepare to bookmark this gem of a post to reference for your own next book signing.
Book Signings that Wow
Last month, I headed out on a cold Friday night to attend an author event at my favorite local bookstore. Truthfully, I dreaded it. Okay, the idea of having pizza and wine with a friend sounded good. But then schlepping through the snow and ice to sit through a long and boring reading—not so much fun. Unless . . . the event wows. And this one did.
Mystery author Ian Rankin told stories (in his lovely Scottish accent) about how his newest books came about. (I won’t spoil it for you, but know it involved a secret military camp, a rock star, and drinking.) By the time he started answering questions, we’d laughed and shed a few tears. When Rankin signed my book, he asked: “So how was the evening for you? Did you enjoy it?”
You’re probably thinking, “But Rankin’s a star AND he has an accent. How can I wow like he does?” Never fear! Here’s my no-fail plan for wowing audiences at book events:
Get the Right Attitude. When Ian Rankin asked me, “So how was the evening for you?”—I knew he’d approached his talk thinking: how can I make this event work for my audience? Face it—people can spend their night and their cash in a gazillion different ways. If you want to get them to attend your event and buy a book, you need to make it worthwhile for them. Start by asking yourself: how can I best serve my audience?
Promote Your Event. In the days leading up to the book signing for Write-A-Thon, I had a recurring nightmare that no one showed up for my event. It happens. I’ve been the only attendee at more than one author event. When I asked Daniel Goldin, owner of Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, WI, how to get people to events, he offered great advice:
*Invite people! Ask your family, friends, and acquaintances to come to your event. Goldin says, “The best thing is person-to-person selling, and a personal contact will always be more effective than a bulk mailing. “I’d love for you to be there” is probably more effective than ‘I think you’ll like my book’”
*Pursue publicity. Connect with as many local media outlets as possible. Don’t overlook local bloggers—sometimes they can rally a dedicated group of fans better than a spot on a local television show. Goldin says, “Press is light years better than ads. You get the chance to tell what your story is about and why folks would connect.”
*Build good will with other authors. Be the kind of author who supports other writers. Blog about your friends’ books and events. Write reviews of their books and post them online. Goldin added, “Put your money where your mouth is (figuratively) and attend your friend’s events too. It’s like getting invited to a wedding—they’ll support you if you support them.” Plan your event. Don’t be the author who stumbles through a too-long reading while the audience members surf the net on their smart phones. Successful book events appear effortless. The author may sound like he spontaneously sang a few bars of a favorite old drinking song, but I’m sure he practiced. The authors who wow plan and practice their talks.
*Tell stories. I’ve attended more than a hundred events, and I always prefer hearing authors tell stories over listening to them read from their book. According to bookstore owner Daniel Goldin, “You can throw 5 minutes of reading into it, but make sure you’re a great reader. One technique that seems to work well is telling the story that leads to how the book got written. If you can expand that to 15 minutes, you’ve got half your talk.”
*Connect with the audience. When I attend a talk, just like when I have coffee with a new friend, I’m looking for how we connect. Goldin affirms this, “The #1 reason why someone buys the book at an event is emotional. You connected with them somehow and you’re promising that the book is more of the same.” You cannot manufacture connection. But you can give an event that creates connection: be open and authentic. Tell stories that show why you are passionate about this topic or these characters.
*Add Value. Think about the unique ways you and your book can add value to the event for the crowd. At my event, I gave everyone a complimentary bookmark (that was printed with a fun saying and info about my book). In addition, I held a drawing for Write-A-Thon goodie bags, filled with delicious treats and tools for a writing marathon. At other book signings I’ve attended, authors have given out temporary tattoos (Jeff Kinney), brought in artifacts from their childhood (Patricia Polacco), and served cake (Debra Brenegan).
*Keep it short, Sherlock! Give some people a microphone, and they can talk for hours about how great they are. Don’t be that person! According to Goldin, “Leave the crowd wanting a bit more. You will always go longer than you think. Aim for 30 minutes, and never go over 45.” As you plan your talk, don’t forget to include fifteen minutes for questions.
*Practice. Once you know what you’re going to say and read, stand up in front of your family or pets or even a dozen stuffed animals and do it. Then give the talk twenty more times until you don’t feel stupid or, if you do feel stupid, you don’t care!
But what if I’m terrified? Get used to it. Everyone is. For most of us, speaking tops list of things we fear, along with heights, snakes, and spiders. According to author and certified professional speaker Mandi Stanley, the best way to manage fear is to remember, “It’s not about you, it’s about the audience.” If you need more practical help, she lists several tools in her book The No-Panic Plan for Presenters: An A-to-Z Checklist for Speaking Confidently and Compellingly Anywhere, Anytime:
*Remember that the audience wants you to do well.
*It’s easier to speak to people you know—so get to the event early and talk to people as they come in.
*If you have extra adrenaline or nervous energy, go in the restroom and jog really fast for a few minutes. If your hands still shake, Stanley recommends that you don’t hold paper. That way, no one will see you shake!
After the event. Go home and collapse. You did it! The next day, send a hand-written thank you note to the people who hosted your event. If possible, send chocolate! Why? Bookstore owners, booksellers, and other event coordinators work hard to promote your event and sell your book. A note helps you to be remembered as that kind author who gave a great talk and said thank you (as opposed to the cranky one who sneered at them). And who knows, that might help you get another signing when your next book comes out!
Your turn: What are your tips for creating book events that wow?
Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It.
Rochelle teaches professionals how to write good books fast, use writing to transform their lives, navigate the publishing world, and get published! For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com. (TIP: Rochelle always has great advice, so look her up on TWITTER & FACEBOOK.)
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.