Better Than Bookstore Signings: Party On
by Tolly Moseley
Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you attended a book signing for an author you had never heard of? Last month? Last year? Last . . . oh, forget about it; it’s not important.
Except, it is. Whenever someone decides to book a string of bookstore signings, and the “signing” part of the event is truly all that they plan, I die a little bit inside. Why? Because it’s boring. Let’s face it: what’s exciting about watching another person—a stranger—write their own name, over and over again, inside countless covers?
When a publisher, an author, or a publicist arranges a bookstore signing, we publicists can secure tour media, but we can’t guarantee potential buyers will attend. So how about thinking outside the bookstore for your events? What if you viewed each signing as a full-fledged party? Don’t you get a little bit excited to hear about a party?
Here are some ideas for hosting events that can turn a book into a cause for celebration.
A Few (Tiny) Caveats
As you’ve probably guessed, this is definitely a quality-versus-quantity strategy. Planning just one party takes more time and effort than scheduling a handful of book signings, so, bottom line, you’re looking at fewer events.
Also, holding an event at a nonbook-store location might require a little more legwork on your part, and that of the venue, to get books on hand for buyers, whereas regular bookstores are accustomed to stocking their shelves with a title right before its event.
And finally, planning a book party is a little like planning a mini-wedding: It’s easy to get carried away and start sweating the details. What if my helpers are late? What if my guests don’t like these hors d’oeuvres? What if disaster strikes?
But don’t worry—these concerns are manageable, and the measurable upsides compensate for any additional stress they entail. You’ll have fewer events, but each will be magical. You’ll work a little harder on book-order logistics the first time, but then you’ll have the new knowledge forever in your mental files.
When selecting a nonbook-store venue for your party, first take a look at your book. One of our authors wrote a guidebook about shopping at a regional, chic antique fair, so she held her event at an upscale home furnishings store. A memoirist who wrote a book about a year she spent in Italy threw her book-launch party at a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant in her hometown.
Here are some other examples of book types paired with party locations:
• cookbook: a farmer’s market
• historical fiction: the site where the story takes place (if possible) or a
• faith/spirituality: a church, temple, Zen garden
• alternative health: a private room inside a Whole Foods Market or other
natural foods store
As you can see, the key here is honing in on the main theme of a book—or even one of its distinctive plot points or subsidiary themes, and imagining where the people inside the story would hang out. If that doesn’t work, think about your readership: Is it mostly males or females? What age bracket? Where do these folks go for fun? Deductive reasoning like this will help you land on a productive spot.
Like the setting, the entertainment for your book party will largely be dictated by the book’s subject matter. But it doesn’t have to be limited by that. Here are the entertainment elements that the most successful book parties seem to have in common:
• free-flowing foot traffic (set out just a few chairs to create a cocktail party feel, or
lose them entirely)
• a cocktail/wine offering
• unusual hors d’oeuvres or some other offbeat food item (more on that in a minute).
The last two may be worrying you a little bit. Drinks? Food? How do I pay for that? You don’t, if you play your cards right. The key is finding local sponsors. If you or you and your publicist are working hard to get recognition for this event, you may attract hundreds—even potentially thousands—of people who will see your sponsors in the press and/or on various social media channels. That’s free publicity for those businesses.
Here’s what we do to find them:
• Research all our local spirit distilleries and/or wineries, plus a handful of restaurants
• Find out who is the marketing director at each.
• Send the marketing director a note at least a month and a half before the party,
explaining the event and how we’d love to help them get some exposure from it.
Finally, we ask: “How can we work together?”
The goal in these situations is always to have the business trade product for the free publicity you’re offering. Let me give you an example: A wonderful Austin author, Jennifer Ross, recently published a novel called The Icing on the Cupcake. She and her publicists contacted a local vodka distillery, which offered to serve a “cupcake-themed” vodka cocktail at the party. Not only did that unique detail help secure abundant media for the event, it also drew lots of attendees—and had people talking about how delicious the drinks were.
Parties like these are a win-win for everybody: Your guests get free drinks; you get more attendees at your event; those people leave talking about how fantastic the drinks and/or the food was. Isn’t it a beautiful formula?
If you live in a city without regional spirit companies or wineries, you can always try going for a larger fish—believe it or not, I’ve seen Bacardi sponsor book events—and make a case for your market. Explain to the big fish that you haven’t seen its product in too many stores around town, but with a little word of mouth, that could turn around. And what better word-of-mouth catalyst than your own party?
Small, special touches can make a big difference. Remember that cupcake party I was telling you about? The author/publicity team invited everybody to bring homemade sweets to the event to enter in a cupcake contest, held at the party site and judged by both restaurateurs and regular guests. Ingenious.
Here are some other clever ideas:
Goody bags. Encourage early arrivals by putting together goody bags for the first 10—50 people who show up. What to put inside the bags? Follow the same formula as with your spirits/wine folks: Research local businesses, find out who the marketing directors are, and ask if they’d be up for donating products for free publicity. Then distribute all your donations among the bags.
Prizes. You can hold a contest like the one for cupcakes, or simply offer door prizes. One author who wrote a book about gardening got local businesses to donate seed packets, gardening kits, and potted plants to her event. She then gave away tickets at the door, and winners walked away with plantable fun.
On-site activities. An amazing local business here in Austin called The WonderCraft is made up of four arts and crafts teachers and an Airstream trailer. Inside the trailer (named “Stella”), the teachers conduct craft classes and sell craft kits. An author here in town who wrote a colorful guide on knitting/stitching projects booked The WonderCraft for her party, and had the proprietors design a simple stitching project guests could sit down and make right there.
As you can see, there is no end to how special and one-of-a-kind your book party can be. True, it does require an adventurous spirit, but these parties can make people happy, and happy people are book-buying people.
Tolly Moseley is a publicist with PR By the Book, LLC. She reports that she has worked in media and publicity for more than 10 years, that a version of this article appeared in the San Francisco Book Review, and that she enjoys helping authors and publishers plan events, no matter how wacky. To learn more, visit prbythebook.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.