What I learned from a ‘meet the author’ event

A ‘meet the author event’ is great way to market your book to a wider public. When I participated in my first meet-the-author event, I gained new readers, I sold my book and I met so many potential clients.

A colleague had alerted me to the event. I applied and was accepted. The online booking form was a cinch – a short book summary, a short bio and a front cover photo. The library supplied us with images for social media and a list of what to bring. Easy!

On a cold Saturday, the sort of freezing weather that Melbourne excels at, it took place in an outer suburb over thirty kilometres from my home. That meant an early Saturday morning start. I am barely functional at that time of the week, let alone resembling bright and intelligent. Nevertheless, it was worth the trip.

The Mill Park Library, part of the Yarra Plenty Regional Library, is a state-of-the-art building, a vibrant, living entity used by the community. It was filled all day with happy literary culture vultures. Local food suppliers set up vans outside; the Indian curry one was the most popular, just the thing when the wind is whooshing straight off Antarctica.

 Mill Park Library

The lady who shared my table kept saying, ‘I’ve never done this before’. Neither had I, so it got me thinking. Had I prepared adequately for this event? What did I do well? What could I have done better? In one of the few quiet moments (there were very few!), here is what I jotted down.

What to bring

Your books, obviously. You will need enough to make two piles, as a display of five books really doesn’t cut it. Instead of stacking them in a pile, be more creative; fan them out. Choose one to be your display copy, fold a bunch of central pages in towards the binding, and sit it up with the cover facing the public on top of one of the piles. Doing this was a point of differentiation from the other book displays. (It also meant that it didn’t fall over!)

If they are not supplied, bring a fold-up seat and table in case there’s not enough display space when you get there. Have a cloth to cover it in your book or brand colours. I use a red bedsheet, which is ideal for all table sizes. (Try op shops or reject shops for a cheap one.)

You must have business cards – heaps of them. Some people don’t like to be rushed, they want to investigate you first, so make sure you already have a website and social media sites and that their details are printed clearly on your cards. Please, please, please ensure your business cards look and feel professional!

 Books fanned out, buiness card, permanent smile...ready to go!

Do you have a newsletter, content management system (CMS) or a contact list? It’s worth setting one up before the event. (MailChimp and Hubspot provide free online templates and systems.) Have a sign-on sheet for the public to sign on to your newsletter, blogs or however you market yourself.

Because you want people to buy your book, offer a variety of payment options. Have a sizeable cash float with plenty of suitable change. For instance, my book sells for $25; I therefore had a stack of $5, $10 and $20 notes. Some will want to pay by credit card. I have a Paypal machine linked to a phone app; your bank may be able to supply an EFTPOS machine. The machines cost money, but so does losing out on sales because you can’t take cards on the day. For those who don’t have funds at the event but want to take a copy, supply a book order sign-on sheet with columns for their name, address, phone numbers and credit card details. Don’t let anyone walk away with a free book! (But give if you choose to.)

Bring a pen, and make sure it works. Yes, they will want you to sign your book.

Display brochures and bookmarks about your current and previous books. For those of you who have self-published, display marketing material from your graphic designer, illustrator and publisher. They will appreciate it and may give you a cut price on your next transaction with them. Some authors had a laminated A3-sized sheet illustrated with their book cover that they glued to the wall behind them; my six-foot banner advertising my editing services attracted more attention.

Be imaginative with your marketing material. One young poet at the event hadn’t published her poetry yet but no tangible copies on the table didn’t faze her. She brought along her poems typed inside photo frames and had cookies made with her logo on them. (Her stall was crowded all day – wonder why…) Others had dishes of lollies. I hadn’t thought of this as a marketing ploy but, when you think about it, a dish of free sweets attracts people, invites them into your author space, and sets up conversations that may lead to sales.

This tip is one of the most important of all: bring a permanent smile. When I looked around the room at the event, there were many authors sitting down, not making eye contact, hunched and huddled behind their tables (it was a cold day, after all). Dour authors don’t sell. Be prepared to feel tired, confused, distracted, even grumpy at the event, but always, always smile. It will attract people to you and your book.

Rehearse, practise and deliver a thirty-second speech about your book. Thirty seconds, no longer! Why? Customers will approach your table to ask you: ‘What’s your book about?’ They don’t want a big sell, they just want to know whether they are interested in its topic. Being able to tell them with enthusiasm, with precision and without rambling is a courtesy. Also, if you are confident, you will sound authoritative. Author-itative! That’s not just a bad pun; you are the best person in the world to talk about your book because you are the only one with the authority.

What to collect

Don’t just sit behind your table all day. Use this as a networking opportunity on steroids. Go round every other table – being seen to be active makes you more prominent and appear engaging. Talk to your fellow authors (most of them are not your competition) and collect their business cards. Ask permission to add them to your email/newsletter list. I’ve never known anyone to refuse.

If you are an author, you should like reading. You may have not heard or read these authors but their book may be a fantastic reading experience. (You also get clues on their style, their interests, and other things that may be handy for you next book.) For instance, I like a good detective novel. Another author and I clicked as she had written a detective-romance book set in my city – that ticked three boxes for me. She was also offering a discount on her other book which I may consider buying at a later date. So get out your wallet and buy. Buying someone else’s book shows generosity, and they may (should?) even buy yours.

 An empty stall – because I'm networking!

While I was chatting to the other authors, I asked them about their writing and publishing journeys. Had they been happy with the publishing process? How long did it take them to get from manuscript to market? Are they writing another book? Some were in writers groups, a key target market for my business. Others were happy to take my card and promote my editing workshops and services to their publishers and fellow authors. I collected a stack of useful contacts and information in just four hours.

Why do it

I hope by now you see the incredible opportunity a stall at an author day can provide for promoting your authorial reputation and your book. An author display event is free marketing. Who doesn’t like free opportunities to promote? You get to sell your books without the usual bookstore markdown. Not many, perhaps, but more than enough to cover your incidentals on the day.

You will meet other authors, adding to your community and sharing as part of theirs. As I mentioned earlier, by chatting to every other author in the room (there were at least another thirty at my event), I picked up loads of useful information and impressions about publishing and was even invited to guest blog and deliver editing courses for writers’ groups.

And at the end of the day, I had thirty new contacts on my lead generation list and a new story for my social media sites – and this blog!

Look up library and bookstore websites for Author Days. Fill in the suggestion book in your local library, asking them to organise an Author Day. Run one yourself. I highly recommend it!

Need more marketing ideas for your book? Want to know where your readers are hanging out? Contact me today to explore these channels.

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