How to Entice People to Your Presentations
by Patricia Fry
In a perfect world, once you set up a speaking gig, the host will start advertising the upcoming presentation far and wide. In most cases, however, this is a fantasy. In fact, any publisher or author who hopes to sell more than a few copies of a wonderful book at presentations will need to do a lot to promote speaking engagements and workshops.
Sure, some program chairs, bookstore managers, and conference organizers will do an incredible job of publicizing your event, but most won’t have time to do everything that needs to be done. If you have neglected to promote the event, you could find yourself mighty unhappy when you arrive at the event site and discover that no one has shown up.
Most publishers and authors have learned this lesson: Never count on someone else to promote your presentations. As both a publisher and an author, I’ve seen the results of neglectful promoters. One sticks in my mind. It was a lovely day in a beautiful California city. The book festival had just begun, but where were the visitors? After an hour of watching the occasional straggler walk by and visits from other vendors, along came a bubbly and slightly frazzled young woman carrying an armload of beautifully designed brochures.
As it turned out, she had picked up the materials promoting the book festival from the printer that very morning, and they were only now being distributed to downtown merchants.
Obviously, that was something that should have been done at least a week prior to the event. Someone goofed, and everyone involved paid the price. With minimal news coverage, the festival attracted only a few browsers, and most of them were attracted by signs along the main street half a block away, which had just been put up.
To Increase Attendance
Here are some things you can and should do when planning a speaking engagement.
● Make sure you have a hook. I have to tell you that “Hometown gal writes book” isn’t really news. That’s why I suggest scheduling presentations in conjunction with a recognized event or a holiday related to a book. For example, newspapers are relatively likely to run a piece in February about a talk based on a book called Internet Dating for Beginners at a meeting of relationship counselors on Valentine’s Day. Similarly, media people might not hesitate to run an announcement about a talk related to a humorous novel about fatherhood and fathering during the week of Father’s Day.
● After you have scheduled an event, have a conversation with the host’s staff person in charge of publicity. Exactly what will the host of the event do to publicize it? Discuss what the publicity person generally does to bring in a crowd and how effective that has been in the past. Express a willingness to take up any slack.
● Stay in touch to make sure the publicity person is following through in a timely manner. Well-meaning people sometimes drop the ball, and you want to be able to pick it up in time to salvage your event if this happens.
● Announce the presentation at your Website, and keep the information up to date in the site’s appearances and/or calendar section. I like to keep past appearances listed too, as a résumé of sorts for site visitors, in particular program directors and conference organizers who might be interested in booking me to speak.
● Post the announcement of the event at your blog site several times during the weeks leading up to it.
● Post links to the blog on your Twitter page.
● Include an announcement in your newsletter.
● Prepare a bio for the program publicity person, store manager, or librarian to include in newsletters, bulletins, and press releases.
● Send press releases to local newspapers and other appropriate newsletters and Websites after checking to make sure the organizer didn’t already cover these bases.
● Use all your social media accounts to promote your presentation.
● Send notices and then reminders to people on your email list who live in or near the area where you will be speaking. I prefer receiving personal invitations from friends and colleagues (as opposed to high-tech, professional-looking, graphic-heavy advertisements). Keep it simple, light, and genuine.
● Call key people—perhaps some of your more supportive and influential friends—and try to get commitments to attend.
● Schedule a local radio gig shortly before the event so you can announce your pending appearance on the air. If you don’t have connections, ask your host to help you get booked.
● Post flyers on area bulletin boards and send them to local venues that might post them or otherwise make them available. If your book (and your talk) are on a subject represented by local businesses—say, gardening, pet care, spirituality, acupuncture, herb remedies, or car repair—ask to post notices where they would be appropriate—say, garden centers, pet stores, churches/Christian bookstores, health food stores/spiritual centers, or repair shops and car lots.
● Contact bookstore owners in the area where you will be speaking to let them know there might be requests for your book. Suggest that they order extra copies. (Some authors always try to schedule a bookstore event in a location where they will be speaking at a festival or conference; this needs to be done way in advance.)
● If your presentation will take place at a retail store, create flyers announcing the event, and ask the manager to have clerks tuck a flyer in with each purchase during the two weeks leading up to it.
● Create and provide a poster for your host to display in the event venue’s window or entryway.
● Follow up, follow up, follow up.
Compare and Contrast
I once did a book signing where one person showed up (but at least she bought a book). Another time, 75 people showed up at the same venue; my event was a huge success and I sold dozens of books. What made the difference?
The first time I had done nothing to promote the event, and all the bookstore manager did was send a press release to the local newspaper. Also, the book I was speaking about then was for a fairly small niche audience, and I was not, yet, a high-profile figure in the community.
The second time, five years later, I invited the community to join me in celebrating the publication of The Ojai Valley: An Illustrated History. I arranged to be interviewed and photographed for the local newspaper and announced the event in conjunction with the article it ran. I did a lot of prepublication promotion (resulting in orders for about 200 copies by the time the book was released). I did a huge mailing to customers and others on my own list, including the 100 or so people I had interviewed for the book and their families, people associated with the agencies and associations I used during my research, local librarians, city hall staff, community leaders, friends, and neighbors.
Ally with Other Authors
Here’s another gem that can help you attract larger audiences to future events. Support other authors every chance you get.
Attend signings and other events for authors in your community. Send congratulatory messages to authors of new books and authors who have just won awards. Using contact information from authors’ Websites, offer to review books in your genre or subject area in your own newsletter and blog, relevant organizations’ newsletters, and/or other publications. At the very least, review selected books for Amazon.com and other sites where they are offered for sale.
The authors you help may give you their support just when you need it.
Patricia Fry, the author of more than 30 books, established her own publishing company, Matilija Press, in 1983, and is the executive director of the Small Publishers, Artists, and Writers Network (SPAWN).She has contributed hundreds of articles to periodicals including Writer’s Digest, the Los Angeles Times, and the Artist’s Magazine. This article is derived from her latest title, Talk Up Your Book, published by Allworth Press and available in print, Kindle, and audio at Amazon.com. To learn more: matilijapress.com or patriciafry.com.