While you are busy building your social media presence as an author and marketing your book online, it can be very easy to forget just how important face to face contact and word of mouth recommendations can be. Publishers and authors found the covid lockdowns particularly challenging as marketing was so tightly restricted to online campaigns, and the challenge now throughout the industry is to re-establish real-world opportunities. Readers and book buyers love meeting authors, listening to them talk about their work, and going home with a signed copy. Get out into the world and connect on a face to face basis and you will become a real person to your followers and readers, not just a name on a cover, and they will remember you. Perhaps the greatest marketing tool you have is you!
There are lots of places where authors and readers can meet, and ways to make the event more enjoyable, more memorable, and ultimately more profitable.
Bookshops are probably the most obvious setting for an author to make an appearance or to launch a new book. For big-name authors, prominent window displays, early opening on launch day, huge press involvement or exclusive editions may be the norm, but you are a new author and will have to work harder to make any kind of splash.
Events are time consuming for staff, so the shop will need to be convinced that you being there will prove popular and the event has the potential to result in sales. How big an audience can you expect to drum up? Will they need to stay open later than usual? How many copies should they order in and what if they don’t sell? It is in the interests of bookshop owners and managers to draw the crowds. The bigger the audience, the more sales are likely to result. You will need to put a compelling case and follow it through, and much of the advertising and any expenses incurred in terms of giveaways or refreshments will inevitably be down to you or your publisher.
We have all seen the typical media coverage of an author (often a celebrity or famous author, to be fair) sitting at a table piled high with copies of their book, and chatting to a line of eager buyers as they sign each one. But, just as likely, is the lone author, pen held hopefully in hand, more or less being ignored, as they sit and wait for someone – anyone – to come over and talk to them. Your aim is to be the former, not the latter, so how will you let people know you are going to be there and draw them in?
Giving a talk, interview and/or reading from your book is the perfect precursor to signing and selling, and making that talk as fascinating and lively as you can is essential. Consider working in conjunction with other writers in a shared event, as this can add variety and enable the evening to last for longer, and is therefore likely to make it more enjoyable and more effective.
Free tea and coffee, or a glass of wine, and a few nibbles, if the budget allows, will bring customers in and keep them there, making the whole event feel like a social occasion and creating more of a ‘buzz’. You can always invite friends and family to swell the numbers and give the illusion of a much bigger and busier turnout too!
If the book is newly published, its theme is topical, or there is a local connection, and the event is well advertised in advance (eg through your own social media channels, a poster in the window, and a feature in the local press) then you are more likely to attract interest. And the best part in sales terms is that, unlike online events and promotions, nobody has to seek out the book later or go through a clicking, ordering and delivery process. Decisions and purchases are made right there, before your audience departs, each of them hopefully with a signed book in hand.
It is always worth building a reciprocal relationship with local bookshops. You can visit easily and often, without costly travel arrangements, and they can promote you as a local author and can ensure that your books are always in stock.
Many libraries hold regular reader events, inviting authors to give talks or lead workshops. Unlike bookshops, their objective is not to sell copies but to encourage their customers to engage with the reading experience and borrow books. Yet, most librarians are only too happy to allow you to bring along and sell your own books after a talk. While you chat and sign, their customers are staying longer and will probably browse the shelves and borrow other books while on the premises. So long as you are not left out of pocket, draw on your access to discounted author copies and consider offering them at less than shop price so your buyers feel they have not only met an author but have come away rewarded with a good deal.
Meeting readers will help you to build a longstanding relationship with them, so they are more likely to choose your book and future ones, not only in libraries but when buying too. And remember that books borrowed from libraries rather than bought still earn an income for writers, through the Public Lending Rights system.
Authors have been known to give talks, set up book stalls and launch new titles in all manner of places. Cafes, garden centres, craft fairs, garden fetes and county shows, gift shops, stately homes… Look out for opportunities, where you can talk to readers and sell books, but also offer something of benefit to the owner or organiser by enhancing their event or what they have to offer to their customers.
One author who writes about World War Two tearooms held her event in just such a retro tearoom near the sea, with waitresses wearing pinnies and serving old-style fish paste sandwiches and bowls of traditional trifle. One whose book took place on the waterways took a stall and sold copies at a canal festival. Another held her cake themed novel launch in a garden, with all the plants and flowerpots made of cake. Extravagant yes, but definitely memorable!
Okay, so you are not exactly meeting readers face to face, but bag yourself a radio interview and you will certainly be giving them the chance to learn more about you and, particularly if there is a phone-in section, ask questions too. Radio offers a great opportunity to reach a wider audience, and interviews are often conducted down a phone line so there is no need to visit the studios. Local stations are always keen to talk to local celebrities, and the interview should give you the opportunity to become one, even if only in a minor way!
To engage your audience at any meet-the-author event and keep them there until the end, you could run a small competition or hold a raffle for a free copy of the book. Give either every attendee, or only those who buy a copy, a little souvenir that will remind them of you and your book. Bookmarks or pens bearing the book cover image and your website address or twitter handle are fairly cheap to produce in bulk and make ideal gifts that will bring your book to mind every time they are used, and show readers how to stay in touch and where to find out more about you. Authors have been known to brand packets of mints, sweets or tissues, but once the contents are used the wrappers are thrown away, so their impact will not be so ongoing. One author, whose book involved children’s ‘cats cradle’ type string games wrapped all her giveaway bundles up in string.
Cake toppers are popular these days too. There are many companies that can transfer your book cover image in full colour onto an icing topping for a cake that you can cut and share after your talk, or make tiny versions to sit on top of cupcakes. Not only are these fun to receive but readers may well take photos of them to show to friends or share on their own social media platforms. An image often has a far greater impact and is remembered for longer than getting your message across in words.
It is even possible now to have a QR code printed on your bookmarks or other merchandise, so users can show it to their phone and instantly link to your website, Amazon page or anything else you want them to see. All the opportunities are out there for the taking. Be imaginative, be bold, and be successful!