In recent years at BEA, a really fun and kind of crazy event takes place: Author Speed Dating, in which tables of booksellers and librarians are visited by up to 20 authors, one at a time, for three minutes each. The authors deliver a pitch for their upcoming novel or nonfiction or picture book, and we take notes (and take home advance reading copies of these books), and then the gong sounds and the author moves to the next table for a repeat performance. This is an exhausting but giddy marathon for the authors; happily, they are fueled by excitement and the desire to serve their work and their publishers well. Often, these are debut folks, trying to introduce themselves to 200 strangers and give a sense of who they are and how their book stands out from the crowd — in just three minutes. Can you imagine having to deliver the pitch for your upcoming novel or nonfiction or picture book 20 times in a row, especially if you’ve never done it before?! It gets a little silly by the last few sessions, and I imagine the authors collapse in a collective heap afterward.
Sometimes the three minutes fly by; every once in a while, they drag. During the event, I noticed a few things that might be helpful for both authors and booksellers.
- Do introduce yourself with your full name. We’re seeing a lot of people, and we want to remember you.
- Do bring your book with you to each table. You want us to be looking at that cover (and the interior art, if applicable) the entire time you’re talking about it. This helps anchor it (and you, connected to that book) in our brains.
- Go easy on the hard sell; telling booksellers how many books your events will “definitely” move undercuts your purpose and is more of a turn-off than an enticer. Focus on the story.
- Do share a fun tidbit or two about the making of the book; everyone loves those behind-the-scenes glimpses, and they help us remember you and your book.
- Be confident! Your book (and you) deserve to be at the table. Your publisher wouldn’t be highlighting you at this event unless the house was excited about your book. Know that we are delighted to meet you and hear about your upcoming work.
- Remind yourself around Table 10 that this crazy — and, we hope, fun — nightmare will eventually end. Just close your eyes and think of England. Oh, wait, I mean, open your eyes and pretend you’re introducing your baby to a room full of potential godparents eager to meet her.
- Sometimes the author (or publicist) will ask the table to introduce ourselves. Do use your full name, your store name, and your store’s location. That’s more helpful to them than a friendly, “Hi, I’m Lucy.”
- Do try to have a question at the ready in case an author flags. By the 15th table, an author might need a little help.
- Look engaged. Nothing is harder than talking to a blank wall, so let your face show that you appreciate the author’s effort.
- Don’t take up time soliciting events for your store. A bookseller friend at another table was annoyed by someone who monopolized much of the authors’ precious three minutes trying to arrange store visits. Since each author is accompanied by a PR person from the publishing house, just write a note to the publicist on the back of your business card and hand it over as they head off to the next table.
- For the love of all things holy, please don’t text at the table while the author is talking. (Note-taking is fine; just remember to look up now and then to re-engage with that hardworking author.)
Kudos to the brave souls who engage in Author Speed Dating! And thanks so much to Shannon O’Connor at the Association of Booksellers for Children and the fine folks at the Children’s Book Council for arranging such a fun event.