Becky Hearne is a former bookshop Events Coordinator, and has run book launches, talks, school events and unusual book-related fun, such as literary speed dating. She now does freelance editorial and PR work for various publishers and authors, including Carnegie-longlisted author Nicola Morgan. She’s on Twitter: @bookshop_becky.
1. I’ll start with the obvious: being nice matters.
Events are a lot of work for booksellers, and much of that time will be unpaid. Often, the bookseller will have liaised with some of (or all of) the following: your publicist, your agent, your publishers’ rep, a wholesaler, librarians, teachers, head teachers, parents, the venue staff, and local newspapers/media. And, of course, you. Bookshops make money from events, but not that much when you consider the time put in. If booksellers like you, they will hand-sell your book; if they don’t, it’ll go in the returns box the morning after.
2. Selling yourself will sell your book
An event audience is literally a sitting market: if they think you haven’t prepared, or you are bored, they won’t like you, and won’t buy your book. If you hate giving talks, ask for a Q&A format and above all, practise any readings, because that’s when listeners drift off. Audiences love anecdotes and thoughtful answers. I once organised an event with a well-known chef who was very nervous, but he held the audience mesmerised because he gave us the insider gossip from famous kitchens, and seemed genuinely happy to be there. Never be afraid to use the phrase ‘and you can buy my book over there.’
3. You’re an ambassador for the industry
Generally, book buyers consider books expensive; I find it astonishing how many authors will happily agree. Argh! How do they not see that they are undermining their own industry? Only a few point out how many people have to get paid in the process (including themselves!). The best answer I’ve heard was from children’s author Joe Craig, who drew a pie chart showing roughly what percentage everyone gets, but also wrote down what they had to pay for. You would not believe what proportion of the general public thinks that authors are rich, publishers exist to overcharge readers, and bookselling is a fun job for slackers. In my opinion, most books are amazing value for money, and I would love to hear authors say so.
4. Don’t rely just on your publisher and bookshops to publicise events
Obviously, the bookshops and your publicist will do their best to make sure you have a large, enthusiastic audience. But you should make a real effort to update your website and social media as often as possible. If 10 extra people come along, and 5 buy a book, it’s worth it.
5. Sometimes it will all go wrong, and often that’ll be no one’s fault
Occasionally, despite everyone trying their best, no one will turn up, because of terrible weather/wonderful weather/a full moon. Or, people will come and not buy a book (as a rough guide, booksellers usually prepare for about a 50% take up, but this can be optimistic). Remain calm and gracious; chat to the bookseller about what’s selling in your genre or what they think of your cover. In short, remember tip #1.