So, I’ve completed my first Event as an author, my official launch party, a reading and book-signing for my novel, To Give a Rose. I’m really thrilled by how well it went.
The event was engineered by my friend, Rowland Russell, an experienced impresario who hosts a monthly performance event in Keene, New Hampshire—and generously took on me and my novel as part of the evening lineup for July’s MuseTopia. I asked him because I didn’t know how such an event might work and I needed the help of someone more knowledgeable than I. Also, I trusted him to create a friendly atmosphere for my first trip into the public eye as an author. He did everything I needed him to do and more.
To be clear, I was not worried about standing in front of an audience. I am comfortable on stage and always have been. But I didn’t know how to organize and publicize a public gathering.
The crowd turned out to be small, smaller than I’d hoped, but it included several people who hadn’t heard about my book yet and almost everyone who came either bought a copy or promised to do so later. And I got plenty of compliments on how I presented my material. After a brief intermission, I was succeeded on stage by Aura Shards, a percussion duo who paired a series of ancient instruments—two different kinds of drums and even a didgeridoo—with a new invention, just fifteen years old, that I’d never heard of before, the handpan.
I do not generally respond to music I’m not already familiar with, and I don’t normally pay much attention to music without words, but these guys made themselves an exception. They were fantastic.
Afterwards, we all went to a nearby brewery for drinks. I do not drink alcohol, but they make root beer, too. We sat and talked until the place closed down and then we stood around in the parking lot and talked some more.
Over the past few days, I’ve also started talking to independent bookstores. Rose is now available in both Toadstool Books in Keene, New Hampshire, and in Pizazz, in Southwest Harbor, on Mount Dessert Island, in Maine. More to follow. Support your local bookstore; buy my book.
As you might expect, I also learned a lot from these experiences. Here, for the benefit of my fellow newcomers to authorship, are some recent lessons I’ve picked up:
- Always carry a copy of the book. Discussions with friends, acquaintances, strangers on the bus, and especially bookstore staff go much better if you can give them an example to examine.
- Never miss an opportunity to discuss the book; the stranger you bump into randomly on the street might have a friend who owns a book store in Florida.
- When approaching book store staff, always have two or three clean copies on hand to sell, in case they want to buy immediately. Failure to do so might not be a deal-breaker, but it makes you look like a rookie.
- When approaching a book store (or anyone else who might buy), know how much money you want for the book. If you’re not sure, find a friendly book-store buyer, admit you are a rookie, and negotiate a price. Then use that price as the starting point of future negotiations.
- When approaching a book store, be prepared to explain how they can get more copies of your book later—if you aren’t acting as your own distributor, know the name, address, and contact information of the distributor you are using.
- Decide whether you accept personal checks, credit cards, Pay Pal, Bitcoin, or any other method of payment BEFORE attempting to make a sale. Know where you want checks sent and whom they should be payable to (if you’re traveling, say, on an extended book tour, this can get complicated, since you might not want checks piling up in an unattended mailbox).
- While on the steep part of the learning curve, TAKE NOTES.
- When you make a sale, write down how many copies you sold, to whom, and for how much. You might have different sale prices for different buyers, so counting the number of books missing from your pile and multiplying isn’t good enough.
- When preparing for an event organized by someone else, make sure to ask the organizer how many attendees he or she expects, how many copies you can expect to sell, and whether you should do anything ahead of the event to help publicize it. Note: this is when you decide whether the event is actually worth your while to attend. See #12.
- When preparing for an event organized by someone else, be prepared to give the organizer
- your name
- your brief bio
- your photo
- the name of your book
- a brief synopsis of the book
- a brief excerpt from the book
- where your book is available for sale
- an electronic copy of the cover
- links to your website or your publisher’s website.
- Whether you are the organizer or not, find out ahead of time how long you’ll be on stage, whether the audience is likely to have any special interests or aversions (e.g., whether it’s ok to read excerpts that include sex scenes), and whether you’re expected to use any particular format or focus. For example, are you supposed to be mostly talking about your writing process, with only a little reading, or does the audience expect you to read whole chapters to them?
- Keep track of your expenses as well as your book-related income. This is important, not just for tax purposes, but you have to make sure you’re making money, not losing it. Expenses may include:
- What the publisher charges you for books you sell
- Shipping costs when you order books
- Gas money, bus fare, etc. to get to your event
- Food and lodging, if your event is out of town
- Event-related expenses, such as refreshments or printing flyers (sometimes the venue takes care of these costs, but not always)
- Celebratory meals, drinks, and other indulgences because you just published a book and have cash in your wallet for once.
- When selling books at an event, be prepared to make proper change. Also, bring a pen that works and does not bleed through paper.
- Practice your reading and your talk at least twice and do it aloud. This way you know how much time your presentation takes and you won’t stumble over your words. Silent reading doesn’t count as practice.
- Book-mark your excerpts and if you intend to read more than one, number the book-marks, so you can turn quickly to the correct one.
I was lucky to already know a few tricks as well. Like I said, I’ve had experience with public speaking. For those who haven’t, here are some tips:
- 1. Don’t apologize or put yourself down to your audience (e.g., “sorry, this is my first time on stage and I’m not very good”). Even if you really aren’t very good yet, let the audience figure that out for themselves—don’t tell them about shortcomings they might not have noticed!
- Re-read #1. Remember, putting down yourself (or your book) isn’t charmingly self-deprecating or cute, it’s just awkward-looking and self-centered. This isn’t about you, it’s about your book, which needs your support if it’s to get anywhere.
- If you haven’t been on stage before, sign up for an open-mike reading somewhere first—it’s hard to predict whether you’ll have stage-fright or not, and it’s better to know ahead of time so you can work out coping strategies. If you’ll be speaking into a microphone, be sure to get comfortable with hearing your voice from a speaker—most people dislike hearing themselves, and it can trigger stage-fright.
- If you do get nervous on stage, pretend you aren’t. Fake it till you make it. You’ll feel better, soon.
- You will be anxious, even if you don’t normally get stage fright itself, because this time you’re presenting your book, your baby, to the public. Be prepared for your body to react strangely—in my case, I all but stopped sleeping for a few days. Psychosomatic illness the night before an event is not uncommon, either. The key is to not worry about your anxiety. Take care of yourself as well as you can and just ride the wave of bodily weirdness. It passes.
It’s also worth saying that you only have to do a thing for the first time once. Thanks to everyone who made this first event of mine a good one!