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Tips for running a bookshop event

Sheila O’Reilly is the Events Manager Village Bookshop in Dulwich Village. She is a bookseller with over 18 years’ experience of running bookshops and author event. Passionate about running hugely successful events that customers enjoy she also loves reading well written stories. Here she shares her top tips for running bookshop events. 

When BookMachine asked me to write a few tips on running a successful bookshop event, I thought oh that’s easy. Once I sat down to put pen to paper, or rather typed out my thoughts I found it was a lot tricky then I had first envisaged.

And that’s a bit like events, they sound great, easy to do, wonderful fun and lots of books get sold. But is that always the case? Aren’t they a lot harder to pull off successfully.

Publicists & Publishers

  • Ask the booksellers well in advance if they’d like to host the event. Give the bookshop a lot of time to promote the event as well as the book. Often the book will become a bestseller in the bookshop in the weeks running up due to the high prominence it gets with front of house displays.
  • Discuss the best time to host an event and let the bookshop decide. If the venue is in an area with lots of schools don’t ask them to hold the event outside of term time.
  • Be clear about the key objective for the event. For example, do you need the 100 copies sold to be processed through Bookscan that very evening. Or are you looking to have book sales but more importantly raise the profile of the author. Or are you looking to get the author experienced in events.
  • If you think a panel will work best it is fantastic when the publicist approaches with the concept & authors already in place. Panels are very popular providing variety for the audience. Two authors + an interviewer works really well for an audience, more than two authors sometimes result in a disjointed conversation, diluted book sales and are trickier to manage.
  • If you are taking your author outside of the M25 think about doing a mini tour with local independents. For example, South Wales, the North East of England or Scotland. Independent bookshops often do not compete for their audiences and with the right plan you could sell out in three or four towns in a small area.

Check out the bookshop map provided by the Booksellers Association for ideas: https://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

If a bookshop asks you for an event with a author, be honest with them. Remember it’s the start of a beautiful relationship with the bookseller so be straight from the beginning. If the author is not right for them, or their pitch did not work tell them. There’ll be tears but the best booksellers will take it on the chin, regroup and be back to ask again.

Editors can play their part as well. It is always lovely to get a note from an editor with a proof copy saying, “I think you’ll love this book” and with the publicist information so that if the bookseller likes the book they know where to go to ask for an event.

Keep in touch with the bookshop to ask if they need any help or ideas for selling tickets.

Tell them if the author is not so confident of events and may need support on the night.
The author has their part to play, the best authors weave into their conversations that the book is for sale and make the book sound appealing to the customers who have never heard of them.

Keep in touch after the event and tell the bookshop how you felt the event went.

Bookshops/Booksellers

  • Ask for an event for any author you believe your customers might like to hear talk. The worst outcome is a no.
  • When you agree the event with the publicist confirm via email and aim to agree every detail including the ticket price, the structure and timings.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no if the author is not right, or the timing do not work in the bookshop schedule or you didn’t like the book. Prepare a running order for the event and circulate it to everyone involved at least three weeks in advance. This will ensure there are no surprises.
  • Draw up your marketing campaign for the event including telling all local media about the event and setting up displays in the bookshop. Share this information with the publicist as its shows them you are going everything to make the event a success.
  • Order the stock well in advance, do not leave it until the week before, it allows for no contingency.
  • Keep the publicist informed about ticket sales and if the ticket sales are not going as you’d all like talk it through. Often the publicist team can help ticket sales or understand that you are going everything and the event is not going to be as packed as everyone first thought.
  • You should have read the book and be prepared to have a couple of questions ready to get the Q&A going.
  • Make sure during your introduction you mention books are for sale and at the end make it clear there is a book signing and books are for sale.
  • Provide beverages and food for the publisher, author and their team.
  • Have a gift for the author.
  • Write and thank everyone the following day.

Everyone should remember that the event should be fun and enjoyable particularly for customers who after all are the key people on the night.

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