Make the Most of your Indie Bookstore Event

It’s important to realize that the speaking/reading/signing engagement is the tip of an iceberg, promotionally. Whether you have dozens of people lined up for you, or you fight off the despair that creeps in when the seats are empty, your event should yield more publicity and generate more sales than what hits the register while you’re there. How is this possible? By maximizing the likelihood that the bookstore staff will like you, remember you, and hand-sell your book to their patrons long after you’re gone. Sure, step one in this plan is to write a great book, but there are a number of steps you should take after that. GIVEAWAY: Nathan is excited to give away a free copy of his latest novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: vrundell won.)
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I am a newer author, but I am not new to publicity and marketing. So, when it came time to promote my debut novel, The Suburban Strange (2012), I drew from my previous experience to strategize my events at independent bookstores. If you do it right, an indie bookstore event will pay dividends for much longer than the few hours you spend there.

It’s important to realize that the speaking/reading/signing engagement is the tip of an iceberg, promotionally. Whether you have dozens of people lined up for you, or you fight off the despair that creeps in when the seats are empty, your event should yield more publicity and generate more sales than what hits the register while you’re there. How is this possible? By maximizing the likelihood that the bookstore staff will like you, remember you, and hand-sell your book to their patrons long after you’re gone. Sure, step one in this plan is to write a great book, but there are a number of steps you should take after that.

GIVEAWAY: Nathan is excited to give away a free copy of his latest novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: vrundell won.)

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51izu+uwrTL._SY300_

Column by Nathan Kotecki, whose debut young adult novel,
THE SUBURBAN STRANGE, was published by Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt in October 2012. The sequel, PULL DOWN THE NIGHT,
was just published (Oct. 8 2013). Find out what's going on in Nathan's
cluttered mind at thesuburbanstrange.com. Find him on Twitter.

Step two:Treat each bookstore event like a job interview. Confirm both one week and one day in advance, and be brief but charming. Show up half an hour early. Take care to dress like a nicer-than-average version of your author persona – whatever that looks like. Be gracious and pleasant with everyone inside the door – everyone. Thank the staff before you leave – all of them. Write a thank you note that mentions specific details about the event and mail it the very next day. Why do all this? Because it distinguishes you from all the undependable, unkempt, silent or surly, ungrateful authors out there, and that can only work in your favor.

(Adapt your book into a movie script -- here's how.)

Step three: Increase your chances of giving a great event. If you get nervous about events, arriving half an hour early serves the additional purpose of giving you time to settle into the store environment so it feels less like a stage. Chat with the staff (as long as they’re not busy) about business, what they’re reading, anything – those initial conversations increase the number of supportive people around you, which can only helps when it’s time for you to present. Even if you never drink water, take the bottle; you never know when dry-mouth will hit, and the water gives you something to do with your hands while you’re taking questions. And if the turnout winds up being small, personalize your presentation: Come down from the podium and sit in a circle with those six people.

Step four: Give a great event. Always start your presentation by thanking the bookstore and your contact (this is so easy to forget!) Then give an overview of the flow of your presentation. Don’t read for more than a combined ten minutes (unless you’ve specifically been asked to), or people’s attention will wander. If you don’t feel as though you’re speaking a little too slow and a little too loud, you’re probably speaking too fast and too soft. Don’t be afraid to use a little self-deprecation and humor. When you’re signing, ask your patrons about themselves.

Step five: Be a customer as well as an author. At some point while you’re there, ask your primary contact or someone else on the staff to recommend a book in your genre, and purchase it. (I do this every time I visit an indie bookstore, whether I’m doing an event that day or not.) There is no better way to endear yourself to a small business than by putting money in their register. And it gives you the chance to shift away from the guest/host dynamic and connect with the staff as a reading enthusiast, which is much more fun and frequently more comfortable for the staff.

The concept here is exceeding expectations. Many indie bookstores do author events weekly, and based on all the previous events, the staff has a preconceived notion of how yours is going to go, and what you will be like when you show up. Anything you can do to pleasantly surprise them will only work in your favor.

(Chapter 1 cliches and overused beginnings -- see them all here.)

If you do your job well, you will leave the bookstore with the staff remembering you as a really nice person who was both professional and personable, and who took a real interest in them and the success of their business. That will not be subterfuge, because you genuinely will have been and done all those things. I have no statistical proof of this, but if you do these things, I’d bet you’ll increase the likelihood that a week from now when someone goes into that store and asks for a recommendation in your genre, the staff will think of you, and perhaps say, “Have you read this one? The author was here last week and he was such a nice guy…”

GIVEAWAY: Nathan is excited to give away a free copy of his latest novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: vrundell won.)

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