Improve Your Own Book Promotion Events By Attending Other Authors’ Launches

Debbie Young with author Sarah Lefanu

With writer Sarah Lefanu (right) at my own book launch last October

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

Sarah Duncan, best-selling romantic novelist

(Photo: from her website)

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 in action

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

Artemis Cooper, biographer of travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, at a booksigning event in Gloucestershire

Artemis Cooper at her recent book talk in Gloucestershire (photo by me!)

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.

Artemis Cooper giving her book talk

Careful use of slides provided atmosphere without distracting from her speech (photo by me)

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.

My daughter's handwriting, inspired by Artemis Cooper's signature

What my daughter gained from Artemis Cooper’s book talk: a new respect for beautiful handwriting!

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!

Make sure you don’t miss a single book promotion tip in 2013 by following this blog (for free!) by email – just press the “Follow” button and do what it tells you to. And for more information about by handbook of essential book promotion advice, click Sell Your Books!

How To Build A Great Relationship With Your Local Bookshop

“Whixall Nursery have asked for a signed copy of my book for their raffle, and want me to pick the winner because I’m a ‘local celebrity’ – how cool is that?!”

Joanne Phillips, self-published author of best-selling novel, Can’t Live Without 

There’s no doubt about it: people get excited when they know there’s an author living in their midst!

It might therefore seem reasonable for any new indie or self-published author to expect his or her local bookshop to be eager to promote their new books. Which new author hasn’t pictured in their mind’s eye a big pile of copies, prominently displayed in their local bookshop’s window beneath a big “LOCAL AUTHOR!” sign?

White Mountain by Sophie E Tallis in the local bookshop windo9w

Indie author Sophie E Tallis’s fantasy novel is in good company in the window of her local book retailer – The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

With local celebrity status, it’s tempting to rush in with your book hot off the press – or even before it’s been printed – in high hope of snapping up a book-signing session and an order. These things CAN be achieved – but sadly they’re not every local author’s automatic right. You’ll stand a much greater chance of such success if you first take a step back to consider your proposition from the retailer’s point viewpoint.

When I was researching  my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, I went to interview my local independent bookshop proprietor to extract his views at first-hand.

Hereward Corbett, proprietor of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, opened his own high street stores after a long career with the top book retail chains. He was very pleased that I was giving him the opportunity to put the retailer’s viewpoint to self-published and indie authors who are, by definition, not represented by mainstream publishers and their visiting salesmen.

Paula Lofting's book on display in the window of The Bookshop, East Grinstead

Historical novelist Paula Lofting is delighted with the support she’s received from John Pye of The Bookshop, East Grinstead

Booksellers need to make sound financial decisions in order to stay in business,” he told me. “For booksellers, publishers are great filters: they are the bookseller’s quality control mechanism and we trust their judgement. We don’t have that assurance when a self-published author comes in. Publishers also make very good use of our time: I’ve just had one of their reps give me a 10-second pitch for each of 100 of their new books. That’s very convenient.”

This is not to say he is unsupportive of the indie sector – far from it, as demonstrated by the  picture above.

I’d also stress that no bookseller will blindly follow publishers’ recommendations. Living and breathing books, they gain huge first-hand knowledge of what will and won’t sell in their particular shop. Hereward has a well-deserved reputation as a shrewd and dependable talent-spotter. He has an extraordinary habit of arranging for talks in his shop by authors who, only after he has booked them, are chosen for BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week.(I’m off to see Artemis Cooper talk to his customers about her biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor next week.) He claims to have no inside knowledge from the BBC – just a genuine instinct for his local marketplace. Doubt  these booksellers’ judgement at your peril!

By the way, Hereward also remarked, when I presented him with a copy of my finished book to thank him for his help, that Sell Your Books! should be compulsory reading for all independent and self-published authors. A discerning bookseller? I rest my case!

Robert R Russell's books on bookshop table

Christian writer Robert R Russell finds The Right Way to get his books displayed…

Ink and Folly Bookshop

…in this fabulously named local bookstore

 You’ll find further insight into the bookseller’s viewpoint in Sell Your Books!, my book promotion handbook – see Chapter 8, entitled “Shop!” Getting the Retailer’s Attention.

Next time I cover the subject of bookshops will be with a special post about Waterstones. Follow the Off The Shelf Book Promotions blog to make sure you don’t miss it. (“Follow” button is in the sidebar to the right of this post.)

Footnote: Joanne Phillips, a very effective self-promoter, has done all the right things to establish a great relationship with her local bookshop! For more about her own experiences, follow her blog.

Photo credits: With thanks to Sophie E Tallis for the photo of her fantasy novel, White Mountain , to Paula Lofting for the photo of her historical novel Sons of The Wolf and to Robert R Russell for his photos relating to his autobiography The Right Way 

Why You Should Sell The Author As Well As The Book

As an author, are you shy of promoting yourself alongside your book? Don’t be – it’s a really useful trick to help you sell more books. 

BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place at the ...

What’s the connection between BBC Broadcasting House and a book of poems on my bedside table? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night, looking forward to an extra hour’s reading due to the end of British summer time, I was checking out the books by my bedside when I reached a surprising conclusion.  I had chosen nearly all of these books not because I liked their subject matter or genre, but because something about the author appealed to me. Here are a few examples:

  • Open Window is a book of poetry by the late Joyce Williams. Chatting at my recent book launch to her husband, I discovered that she used to write stories for the children’s radio programme Listen With Mother. Just hearing the programme’s title brought back treasured memories of my childhood. In that pre-digital age, toddlers’ radio airtime was limited to just 15 minutes on BBC Radio 4. At 1.45pm every afternoon, the programme began with the magic words “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” The theme music, the Berceuse from Faure’s Dolly Suite, must have been balm to fractious children and exhausted mothers everywhere. I’m sure that even now the opening bars have the power to lower my blood pressure.  (The television equivalent, Watch With Mother, came later in the afternoon, featuring delights such as The Woodentops, Rag, Tag and Bobtail and Andy Pandy. I cried every Tuesday because it would be a whole week until I’d see Andy Pandy’s sidekick, Teddy. No Sky+ or video recorders in those days!) Listen With Mother wove an entrancing spell of words, and I wanted to see if Joyce William’s poems would have the same effect.
  • White Mountain by Sophie E Tallis was a book I’d discovered via the Facebook page of my local independent bookstore, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. They highlighted it because it was written by a local schoolteacher. It’s a fantasy novel, a genre I usually avoid, but who could fail to be take an interest in a book written by a near neighbour?
  • A Limey In the Court of Uncle Sam by Ken Wise is a novel that follows the career of an air force officer – something that’s alien to me, but finding out that the author had moved with his family to the USA as a teenager intrigued me because I’d have a similar experience at a slightly younger age. (I went, with my family, to live in California for a year at the age of eight.) I vividly remember taking offence when the local ice-cream vendor who visited our apartment complex referred to me as a limey, and so Ken Wise and I had a bond.

If I hadn’t known these authors’ back stories, I might easily have passed all three books by. But feeling I had something in common with each author, I made the effort to acquire their books.

Boxed set of novels by James Herriot

Sharing his back story made James Herriot a household name (even though it was his pen-name)

It therefore makes me sad when authors decline to share interesting autobiographical details when they’re promoting their books. Such facts often add  authority and conviction to a novel – would James Herriot have sold so many books if he didn’t actually been a vet?

But they can also be strangely alluring even if irrelevant to the book’s content. Are you intrigued by the notion of a GP who writes time travel fantasy novels, for example? Or a top romantic novelist who has a City and Guilds in Bricklaying? I know I am.

I accept that not all authors want to live their lives in the public eye, but even if you’re hiding behind a pen name, this tip could still be invaluable to you. So take a moment to consider what lies in your back story and decide if you have something worth sharing that could help you sell your books. I’m sure you’ll find something useful if you really try.

To find out the identity of the time travelling GP and bricklaying romantic, read my new book promotion handbook for authors, Sell Your Books!