Imagine the scene. You’ve organized an event to promote your book. When you arrive, people are already lining up to get in and the place is packed. So many people can’t get in that you have to schedule a second presentation for later that week. And you run out of books to sell.
It’s happened to me, and it can happen to you next time you start promoting your book with a well-planned event. I’ve been organizing book events for years without realizing that’s what I did–from a Banned Books Read-Out on the steps of the New York Public Library, to a travel workshop on free vacations, to a performance with a storyteller and music that toured for a year. Events draw attention to the book without being boring. A good event will attract book-lovers and readers, bring media attention, and sell copies.
Forget the opening of a Hollywood movie in a thousand-seat theater with film stars and shiny limousines; for those, hire a professional company and get out your checkbook. I’m talking about book events that you can put it together yourself, where the timing, the promotion, the topic, and the program all combine to give the occasion a buzz. I like to keep costs to a minimum, usually under $300, and involve volunteer helpers.
An event–defined in the dictionary as “a happening or occurrence, especially when important”–needs four essential steps for success.
No matter what your book is about, you can showcase it in an event thatdcV5s just right for its message.
Analyze the elements in your book that might lend themselves to some kind of public occasion–a workshop, a seminar, a competition for awards, an outdoor activity, a costume party, a performance. Imagine that the book you want to promote isn’t yours. Take a step back and pretend a friend sent it to you and that you have to dream up an event to get attention for the topic. Have a brainstorming session with friends to see what they come up with.
Let’s say you have a spy novel set in Jamaica… how about an evening of reggae music where you read the description of a reggae party from the book? For a guide to fly-fishing, invite an expert to offer fly-fishing lessons and give away a few flies. A book about parents and children understanding each other is the ideal topic for a big picnic event where families can play games together. If the book is about foreign travel, you could set up a panel of four people to talk about places they’ve visited and show beautiful slides.
Think about significant details in the book that lend themselves to an active promotional event. Imagine you’re a film producer or a TV news station and see how you can structure a visually captivating presentation that will catch the attention of the media. Let your mind relax and just scribble down thoughts and ideas.
It’s all in the details. Once you have the idea for the event, and an image of the actual event taking place, it is time to organize.
Write down what you would like as the final, complete event. Look at it again, and decide what you can afford. Draw up a working budget and estimate as carefully as you can (just as you do for publishing a book), what it’s going to cost to prepare, hold, and promote the event as widely as possible. Will you need props, costumes, a room, a permit, media kits, flyers, food, drink, balloons? Think through every detail of the day, picturing the final event as if you were an athlete preparing for a competition.
The date is important. Choose one as far ahead as you can comfortably work, and at least three months in advance. Avoid a holiday, Super Bowl Sunday, or Election Day; these are all tough times to get people or media to attend. During the week is usually better than weekends. Mornings are better for TV news coverage and evenings for getting an audience.
Don’t forget the importance of the special dates–such as Women’s History Month, Solstice Days, Rat-Catchers Day, and thousands more–that are listed in Chase’s Annual Events directory. If your book is a biography, choose the subject’s birth or death date, or some significant date in that person’s life, such as the 50th year since her first poem was published or the day she came to America.
As for place, you can hold an event anywhere as long as it’s suitable for what you’re doing, has lots of parking, is easy to find, and has electricity and access for TV cameras, computers, and any equipment. A heated indoor ice skating rink is fine for a book on winter sports, but I wouldn’t hold an event out on a frozen lake. Local libraries often have rooms available for residents. Town parks with shelters can be rented. Check out community centers, recreation centers, or a friend’s house. And don’t hesitate to try unusual places if they fit–an airport for a book on flying, an aquarium for a book on fish.
Promotion will be a full-time job. Make lists of everyone who should know about the event–friends, neighbors, family, radio stations, TV stations, local daily and weekly newspapers, publications related to your topic, online newsletters.
Lists are the basis of promoting successful events. I live by lists that let me check things off, cross things out, and add things in.
For the media, prepare news releases, information pages, photographs, Q&A pages, author bio and picture, and media packets. Of course, you’ll have copies of the book, additional covers, and bookmarks or postcards too.
For a successful event, involve as many people as possible.
The more people you involve, the more people will be interested in attending. The best thing about holding an event with a large choir–if you can find one–is that their family and friends provide a ready-made audience.
I’m a great believer in committees. Just three or four good friends can do a lot. A committee can be you, your husband, your grown daughter and her best friend who happens to work in television. When there’s a great deal to do, you have to ask for help to make things happen.
The worst thing to do is avoid tasks you don’t like–they may be critical to success. You hate writing news releases, so ask a friend who’s in the business to write one for you in exchange for something you do for him. If calling the media is not your thing, enlist someone who loves to talk on the phone. Make sure you look good on that day, and ask a fashion-savvy friend to advise you on what to wear and how to style your hair. If you hate selling, get someone else to look after book sales.
And always tell everyone you talk to about the event–the letter carrier, the grocery clerk, your dentist–and urge them to come with friends and family.
At first, everyone says they’ll do whatever you ask them.
Oh, they’re only too thrilled to help you promote your book on cheesecake or childbirth or China or chess. But it’s going to be up to you to e-mail them every couple of days and check that things are moving along. Or to call to see if they did everything on their list. Or to meet them to talk through things that don’t seem to be happening. Or to send them a card or note in the mail thanking them for what they did do. You’re at the center of a wheel, and you have to make sure all the spokes are moving in the same direction. Otherwise things could get completely off kilter and collapse.
When everything’s in place, every last detail is planned, and you feel confident that what’s supposed to happen will happen, go and enjoy the event along with everyone else.
I have to confess that things can go wrong. In Boston, promoting a friend’s play, I arranged for an actress in costume to address legislators in the State House about votes for women, using a scene from her script. Unfortunately there was a big train crash that day, so we got no coverage. Once I organized a travel workshop in a large room but didn’t know beforehand that they were holding auditions for barbershop quartets next door; we heard every note. And there was the kite-flying festival when there was no wind. Some events are just better than others.
It’s always tempting to moan that your book just doesn’t lend itself to an event, and it’s impossible to do anything. But remember, there’s always a way to promote a book–you just haven’t thought of the right way yet.
The event that most impressed me centered on The Ultimate Duct Tape Book (Pfeifer-Hamilton). A decision was made to promote the title by showing the many ways you could use duct tape (i.e., mending tents, fixing torn clothes, wrapping gifts, patching broken arms). They gave demonstrations in stores that were so successful that a video was made. The video shows two average guys in jeans doing everything–yes, everything–with duct tape. It’s very simple, and absolutely hilarious. And they sold lotsof books.
Just to get your creative juices flowing, here are a few ideas for book events that are easy to organize.
- Your book is about activities for parents and children. Pick Frisbees, and arrange an event at a local park where you give free lessons, have competitions and refreshments, and sell your books wrapped up with a Frisbee.
- Your book is about hurricanes. Ask the newscaster for a local TV station to give a seminar, a Hurricane Hullabaloo, and have someone else hand out the pages from the book related to hurricanes.
- Your book is about making birthday cakes. Find five people whose birthday is on the day of your event and have them each make a cake from a recipe in your book. Cut up the cakes afterwards and serve the dessert with champagne. Pass out a copy of the recipes.
- Your book is about a pet parrot (or any animal). Have a Parrot Party where everyone brings their parrot, have a couple of judges, and give prizes to the most handsome, the biggest, the smallest, the fattest. Give certificates to all attendees with information about your book.
- It’s a book about snowshoeing or running. Offer free classes at sports stores that sell snowshoes, and set up a series of one a week during the winter at different stores.
Evelyn Kaye, the founder of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association, publishes award-winning travel guides and travel biographies (see
www.travelbooks123.com). The author of 20 books and President of Blue Panda Publications, Kaye has worked as a newspaper reporter and magazine writer and she lives in Boulder, Colorado.