Today’s guest blog is by Jennifer Barnes, of small publisher Raw Dog Screaming Press (RDSP). She organizes social media and events, and today she’s come by to share her experience organizing a madcap day in which RDSP took over Pittsburgh, doing a reading/signing each hour for five hours, at five different locations. Even if you aren’t a publisher, you may find some of these hints useful in organizing events with your writing group or other writer friends. Enjoy!
Over the years RDSP has done all kinds of events from gigantic book fairs like BEA to readings in a decommissioned lunatic asylum. It takes a lot of planning to get the most out of events and you can learn from each one. We recently did something we hadn’t done before which was a 5 author bookstore tour of Pittsburgh. It was a bit hectic but lots of fun and a great experience. I think a one-city tour is something that could be duplicated by others to good effect so I thought I’d share some tips.
First I’ll give a brief description of how it worked. Five reading/signings were set up at different bookstores, each was scheduled for an hour and they were back-to-back beginning at 1pm and going through 6pm. Each store hosted one of the participating authors so every author got a chance to do a short reading and answer audience questions. You can see the photos we took from the event here.
One thing that worked well was that most of the authors hopped to each location and were on hand to sign their books. This meant a lot of cross-exposure between authors. I noticed that at each location there were people who clearly came for the featured author; but at the same time they often became interested in one of the other authors.
It was also helpful for someone to briefly introduce all the authors at each stop. Often the featured author who would introduce the others. Having multiple authors is the key to drawing in a larger audience.
We had several attendees who hopped with us to each location. This gave the whole event a party-like atmosphere. We were lucky because our event was planned by a local (thanks Diane Turnshek!) and was sponsored by an organization that supports Science Fiction (PARSEC) in Pittsburgh. These connections were important for getting locals to attend. The authors were from nearby but none lived in the city itself.
Another thing that worked well was that all of the stores were very different from each other. One was a University bookstore, one a co-op, another primarily dealt in magazines. We also hopped to a mall store and a traditional used bookshop. This gave us exposure to all sorts of shopping venues.
It’s important to be flexible with your sales arrangements to accommodate each venue. We had two stores that ordered in advance; one paid upfront, one was invoiced. The co-op let us sell our own books while the mall store required signed paperwork.
Though the stores were very different they were all in fairly close proximity. Even so, it was a little hectic trying to get to each store in time. The author who is being hosted should be prepared to leave the previous event well in advance to be sure to be on time.
This kind of event is best suited for a mid-sized city with a lot of bookstores, like Pittsburgh. However, I could see it working well with spots like coffee shops and bars if your city doesn’t have enough stores in close proximity. If the distance and travel time between the locations is too great that could cause problems. We did have a few people getting lost between stops. It’s not necessary to have 5 stops though, a 3- or 4-stop author tour might actually work better.
Perhaps the most important tip I can give about bookstore events is to think of them as advertising not sales events. When/if you sell copies that is just the icing on the cake. What you are really doing is advertising your book. You get to do that in three ways: First, when you promote the event you obviously mention that you’ll be signing and reading. It gives you a chance to mention your books without begging people to buy them. Next, if possible arrange with the stores in advance to have some kind of book display and signage advertising the event. The even itself is an advertisement because as you travel to each location you get to describe your book to whoever attends. And finally, you should do a post-event wrap up for every event you attend. Share pictures (you must take LOTS of pictures) on social media, blog about your experience, publicly thank the stores who supported you. These are all ways to advertise your book without actually mentioning it. Compare this kind of advertising to a print ad and you’ll see you get way more bang for your buck. What you’ve invested is mostly time and gas money with the potential to make very strong personal connections with a few people as well as impress a larger number online. Print ads cost hundreds of dollars but never result in a personal connection, only appear once and are easily forgotten.
A note about turnout: hope for the best but expect the worst. It’s hard to get people to come out of their houses. Things like scheduling conflicts and weather are unpredictable and can prevent people from showing up. This is not a fail and happens to famous authors too! Try to make sure you have at least one close friend or family member that’s guaranteed to show, enjoy spending time with the other authors and have fun. If the turnout is low you don’t need to mention it in your post-event press. People will see how much fun you had and vow to make it to your next event.
Jennifer Barnes is managing editor of Raw Dog Screaming Press which is currently celebrating its 10th year publishing “fiction that foams at the mouth.”