Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bookstore Stops 101: Tips for Your Author Event


by Mark Stevens

Between the Facebook “like” buttons, the tweet avalanche, and the endless (here’s another one) blog posts, you sometimes have to wonder whether you are connecting your book with the right audience. Yes, I plunge from the high-dive into social media. I do my best. I try to balance self-promotion with genuine participation. Out here in the virtual village, I’ve met tons of cool readers and sold lots of books.

But when it comes to marketing, there’s one old-school tactic that is my bedrock.

Bookstores. Booksellers. Book people.

I visited 42 stores in 2007 when Antler Dust came out and I’m back on the trail in late 2011 with the sequel, Buried by the Roan. Success rates vary. But here’s how I think about it. You’re a writer. Wouldn’t you want your own built-in agents working for you every day? People who talk to readers all day long?

It’s not about just the event and that particular bookstore stop. It’s about developing a relationship with the store owner (or event manager) and readers, too. (And don’t forget: each event gives you a solid reason to tweet and post.)

A few tips:

  1. Query far ahead. Think months. Work with their schedule. Ask if they do events, but be willing to stand around for a few hours with your titles and your nifty cool promotional material. This is true for the chain stores, too. Each Barnes & Noble outlet has its own flair, its own interest in doing “events.”
  2. Treat each event like it was the only one you were ever going to do. Ask the bookstore owner for reporter and editor names in the community. Send advance copy books to the local media (no matter how small). The long lead time pays off here, too. Call the reporter or editor a couple weeks before the event, remind them you are on the way.
  3. Ask the bookstore if you can send a few flyers. Make the flyers. Send them. Ask the bookstore if the local library might post a flyer if you send one or two. Make them, send them.
  4. Find online community calendars (almost every town has one or two). Upload the details.
  5. Find writers who live in the town—or nearby. (Again, the bookstore owner will know.) See if you can make a connection and ask for that writer’s help in reaching friends and fans. Pull up their Twitter account and follow some of their followers. Once a connection is established, send a direct message with the details and something personal.
  6. Post the signing event on your Facebook page (two weeks out, one week out, “day of” reminder) and tweet it to smithereens. Search your Facebook friends for those who live in the area, create an FB event page, invite them. Find the bookstore’s Twitter handle and follow a bunch of their followers (readers, not the carpet cleaning companies) and then send a direct message once they follow you back. (They will.)
  7. Day of event: Ask for a spot near the front of the store. Stand; don’t sit. Be prepared to answer questions about where the bathroom is located. Engage every reader who comes within range. “Any mystery fans here today?” “Looking for something in particular?” “I’m a writer from XYZ town, let me know if you’ve got a minute and I can tell you about my new title.”
  8. Come prepared. Bring a bottle of water, breath mints (ahem). Bring copies of reviews, bookmarks, business cards. An 11&17 poster on foam core with your cover. Best of all, bring your quick speech. What is your story about in one sentence? Nail it. Rehearse it. Make it genuine. Not a sales pitch. Ask readers what they like. Engage them. Some will think, “I may not like mysteries but I have a friend…”
  9. Send a ‘thank you’ to the store after it’s over and post public ‘thanks’ on FB and Twitter and wherever else your social media heart desires.
  10. Not sure yet? Go to book signings and readings by other writers. Take notes. Keep the things you like, dump the elements you don’t.

Now, if you liked this column, back to the virtual world. Please visit my Facebook page and and you could even ‘like’ my protagonist, Colorado hunting guide Allison Coil. Hey, and thanks. Nice “meeting” you. Follow me and I'll see you in cyberspace: @writerstevens


The son of two librarians, Mark Stevens was raised in Lincoln, Massachusetts. He worked as a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, covering a variety of events and issues from the economy, commercial fishing, the environment, politics, then at The Rocky Mountain News, and for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. He has produced field documentaries across the United States and Latin America. He is the author of the novels ANTLER DUST and BURIED BY THE ROAN and now works in public relations.

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jenny milchman said...

I love this post, Mark--and will definitely be saving it for when I am lucky enough to get to walk into a bookstore and say I have a book!

Mark Stevens said...

I was tentative at first but soon realized: book store people like writers! (Duh.) I did a Barnes & Noble stop in Loveland, CO last Saturday and they immediately asked me back. OK, in part because we sold all the books. Returning there on Dec. 18.

Unknown said...

This is a great post!

As a literary publicist, I have been trying to drum this in my client's head. Debut authors, aren't usually literary rock stars, so prepare to reduce the and get a local presence.

I just did a large book event sponsored by the largest library in our state. However, the attendance was low. Some of my authors friends griped and said they won't do this type of event again. But the truth is until you can move people from place to place then you have to keep doing this. Your presence isn't felt strong enough. Mine isn't felt strong enough. So I loved, loved this post.

Am shooting it out to my networks now.

Melanie Mulhall said...


Great post! I can agree with everything you said from my own experience and I'm going to refer my clients to the post. You have summarized the issues/opportunities beautifully.


Mark Stevens said...

Thanks, Miranda. Much appreciated. One thing that drives me is imagining my books on the shelves WITHOUT me there. Imagine a would-be reader walking around, having hundreds of options just within my genre. What would make them pick it up and head to the counter? Sure, a knock-out review in the NY Times would help and a web-based buzz like all the bees in a thousand hives. Until then, not as much as if I'm there in person to introduce it and chat fiction for a few minutes. I picture each reader who takes my book to the counter as a seed that will sprout in a month or two (after the book has been read) and the word spreads. Can I come to your next library event?

Mark Stevens said...

Thanks a million, Melanie! That's just it: if a bookstore agrees to host you for a few hours, it's an opportunity. Last I checked, those were good things.

Unknown said...

Exactly, Mark.

I live in Atlanta. The Atlanta Journal has featured me twice. I've also been featured in the Decatur Book Festival, which is our largest book event in the southeast. Yet, when I'm at in instore folks will come to my table and tell me they read my review in the paper, but didn't buy the book until they saw me in here today.

There is something about getting kneecap to kneecap with as many people as you can. That reader referred her book club to me. I've done more events and will be at three popular holiday book events this month.

I have clients who are shy. (I'm closet shy.) I know what they're feeling, but it takes a little practice. Start in smaller indie stores, if they are afraid of the chains. Start library, just get the feet wet until they are no longer cold.

Very great article.

Mark Stevens said...

Kneecap to kneecap. Going to steal that one....


Tracey Devlyn said...

Mark, great tips. I'll be in these waters with my debut in April. Individual book signings scare me to death. I haven't the faintest idea about how to engage my local store, even though I'm there every Friday night. It seems so salesmanlike. LOL

I will try to be brave. :)

Mark Stevens said...

Tracey -- You'll be fine! If you are half as easy to like in person as you are in your bio, readers will be forming a long line. Good luck! (And April isn't that far away...start talking to store managers in January!)

Pame Brennan said...

As a new publishing company, we had provided info on the 'How To' for book signings. You have confirmed what we felt were the right things to do. Additionally, Thank you for posting new ideas/considerations in this area!

This can also 'Take a Village'!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Mark. Good, sound advice.
Hope your tour is still going strong. I smile every time I see your books at my local King Soopers. They even moved it to a special endcap last time I was there! Yeah you.

Jodie Renner said...

Great tips, Mark! I'm sending a bunch of my writer clients here to check them out.

Lisa Zhang Wharton said...

THis is a professional looking and informative blog.