After 17 years of running author events at a bookstore, I think I can claim to be something of an expert on the subject. Having learned from some of the best authors who have graced the store, (you know who you are) I know what to do when it’s my turn to be the star.
When it is me behind that podium talking about my book, the number of chairs (set up by someone else for a change!) will be conservative since it looks better to be adding chairs then have rows of empty seats. But worry not: at my event, those chairs will be full because I will only appear where I am pretty damn sure of an audience. That means, my proud mother (not in my case, since she’s no longer alive – but you get my drift) lives in town or I have a lot of friends nearby. I’ve contacted an existing group interested in the subject I write about.
Yes, authors, the onus is largely on you. Unless you are a ‘name’ or are a psychic willing to do readings at your event (seriously – this always gets a crowd) do not go down a list randomly calling bookstores hoping to set up an event. And even if my publisher provided publicist (still dreaming) sets up my events for me, I will still personally reach out to the organizers to discuss the date. Maybe they always have a core group audience – and more likely, not. I’ll know in advance what kind of hustling I need to do to entice my supporters out and will do it. I will not delude myself that an audience will just be there – I know how hard it is to get people to come out so I’ll help rather than talk only to 3 homeless people asleep in the chairs.
At my book events, here’s what I will not do: I will not read from my book. I know, that’s what everyone’s instinct is — to share your glorious book with everyone by reading your favorite passages. Okay, maybe I would read a very little bit. Trust me, even 10 minutes at a shot is a wee bit too much. Really. The fact is, most people, including authors, are not good readers – not good enough to have that be the feature of the show. Record yourself and you’ll understand. See how your voice changes into a ‘readerly’ voice? Maybe this sounds good to you, but it’s unnatural sounding and in most cases, is terribly soporific.
Have you noticed that very few authors read their own audio books? The publishers are not dumb. You can write, but chances are you can’t read. I don’t need you to read to me. Don’t read. Talk to your audience and tell them about why you had to tell the story that is your book. Tell us what you ate for breakfast – whatever. If someone has traveled in the rain or snow or come in from a beautiful day to sit in an uncomfortable chair for an hour (and it should never be more than that!) it is because they are interested in YOU. Don’t disappoint them.
Pretend you’re a standup comic and work out a routine. Even if it’s not funny. Or imagine you are a motivational speaker and getting paid $10,000 for this event. (Hey, this may lead to something!) Or just be your quiet self but tell us your story. We will then want to read your book. And then you can read us a passage or two, if you must.
Just be natural. Don’t come with a script – but know your lines so it flows. And if you’re doing lots of venues in the area or are appearing at the same place, even years later, don’t tell the same story. Your groupies are there and have heard it – tell them a new one.
Here’s my suggested program: following the brief but charming introduction your host makes for you, greet your audience – calling out any local connections, the one’s you love, etc. and perhaps, their significance to you and/or your book. Connecting like this make everyone feel a little cozier – most of all you. These are your peeps after all so taking these minutes to reach out – it will relax you enough to enjoy this time. And then, so will your audience.
Now, tell us a good anecdote or two to draw us closer to you and your work. Okay, you can read a brief passage to illustrate some point you just mentioned. Now stop reading. Stop. I said stop… and tell us something else. Talk to us. Make us laugh and cry. You do it in your book, you can do it here. Readers want to know more about you or they would not have shown up. You know what I mean. Why do you think your picture and a blurb are on the back jacket of the cover? Who are you? It’s sometimes what readers look at even before the blurb. Flesh out that blurb.
This should fill about 20-30 minutes. We really love you now and want to know more and now feel okay asking. So ask for questions. You’ll panic because no one raises their hand right away. Wait a few seconds but don’t make it awkward. People are shy and no one wants to be first. So ask your own question to the audience – that will give someone courage to raise their hand. Sometimes if authors have a friend or relative in attendance, they’ll plant a question – a good idea. You’ve just got to get the ball rolling, that’s all.
You’ve now been at this for about 45 to 50 minutes. Unless you’ve got a really scintillating discussion going, stop. Thank everyone for coming and tell them you’ll be happy to sign books for them. Enjoy this one-on-one with your readers but don’t linger too long with any one of them – share contact info if you must catch up or ask them to wait and join you for a drink later, but don’t keep others waiting. You want everyone to buy your book and people are busy. You are a salesperson here to sell your book: sell it! Help keep books and bookstores alive by doing it right. We’ll all live happily ever after.
Oh yeah, this was advice to myself, wasn’t it?
Maybe you disagree. Do you want to hear authors read their books?