To help you get the best results from your own book launches and book promotion events, it’s a good idea to attend as many as you can of other authors’ public appearances. Even those working in a completely different genre from yours will be able to give you ideas of effective ways to present and promote your book. You may also pick up tips on what not to do!
Finding Author Events Near You
Attending author events need not be costly or difficult. Although some literary festival ticket prices can be pricey, there are plenty of free talks if you know where to look. Your local bookshop and public library are great places to start. Special interest groups in your community, such as history societies or hobby groups, also often invite writers in to speak to their members, because they are assumed to be experts in their field.
I’ve been to some super local book promotion events and learned a lot from some brilliant writers whom otherwise I’d never have met:
Sarah Duncan, Romantic Novelist
Best-selling romantic novelist and creative writing teacher Sarah Duncan gave an inspiring talk in Chipping Sodbury Public Library, just as I was starting to research my book promotion handbook for authors, Sell Your Books! Having met her in person gave me the introduction I needed to contact her later in the process for further information. I’d only read one of her books before the event, but I quickly worked my way through the rest of them as a result of her talk. Don’t forget, good book talks sell books!
John Hegley, Poet
The outwardly anarchic, inwardly genius performance poet John Hegley gave two talks at another nearby public library in Yate. One was for adults, the other was a children’s poetry workshop, and I attended the first one by myself, the second with my nine-year-old daughter. At each event, the poet unwittingly provided me with a masterclass in how to work a room – he had us all enthralled. Although his performance is supremely assured, I wonder whether there’s less confidence inside, because he hadn’t brought a single copy of any of his books to sign or sell. The closest he came to being commercial was to sell photocopied signed copies of his latest poem in typescript, with all the money going to charity. (He gave copies to the children for free.) Touched by his generosity and modesty, I probably ended up buying more of his books online the minute I got home than I would have done from a stall at his talk. (Or maybe that was his strategy!)
Artemis Cooper, Biographer of Patrick Leigh Fermor
The most recent local author event I attended was by Artemis Cooper about her new biography of travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. This was organised by the nearby Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, whose proprietor has an uncanny knack for booking talks by writers just before their books are chosen by BBC Radio 4 to be Book Of The Week, as this one was last autumn. This was a more unusual venue – what’s known as the “Three-In-One” parish church in Horsley, Gloucestershire – not named after the Holy Trinity as I first assumed, but after its triple role as village church, village school hall and bookable public venue, hence the religious setting in the photos.
From Artemis Cooper, I gained a reminder of the power of personal warmth and charm at what can be impersonal events. She was kind, courteous, respectful to all who attended, making us each feel that she was there only for us. Not surprisingly, she sold many signed copies of her books to just about every member of the audience, a lot of them even before she had given her talk. Actually, starting to sell books before the talk was a very smart idea: it gave people two opportunities and more time to be sold to! The timing was also ideal for making multiple sales per guest: it was in the run-up to Christmas, so people were snapping up signed copies to give as gifts.
One aspect of her talk that surprised me was that she read it, word for word, from a script. Even a top authority on a subject like her is not always confident about talking off the top of their head. It is a particularly tricky thing to do if you’re restricted to a specific length of time, as she was (she had a train to catch back to London). I’ve seen Michael Palin several times at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, speaking brilliantly off the cuff about his latest book, but each time he’s overrun and had to talk very fast for the last ten minutes in order to reach his conclusion! Even for the most practised authors, it’s a tricky art.
Another great joy of Artemis Cooper’s talk was to watch her mastery of the mechanics of book signing. She has beautiful handwriting and uses a carefully chosen pen to provide the necessary flourish. I had to take my nine-year-old daughter with me to the event, for lack of a babysitter, and I’d come with a bag of things to keep her amused during the talk. In the event, she spent the whole hour sitting practicising her handwriting, so inspired was she by watching Artemis Cooper at work! She also appreciated the excellent cake and fancy squash provided by the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop – themselves past masters in the art of winning the hearts and minds of the book-buying public!
I’ll add more examples on this theme in the New Year, including the tale of one children’s author’s public appearance involving the unlikely components of an Oxfam shop and a town crier, and the imminent visit of bestselling author M C Beaton of Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin fame to our wonderful library at Yate. Never underestimate your local library!
What have YOU learned from other authors’ book talks? Do feel free to share your experience via the Comments section below!
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