How to Have a Successful Author Event (Part 1)

Josie Leavitt - October 1, 2009

Author events are the backbone of my store. While every event may not be as well attended as I’d like, every year my top 50 bestselling books are from in-store events. What follows is a preliminary top 10 list of what needs to happen to make an event a success.

1. Confirm with the author, and/or publicist a week before the event. This might sound elemental, but twice this year we’ve had whoopsies with authors either getting the date wrong, or forgetting about the event because it was booked six months earlier. This works both ways, unfortunately; we forgot a stock signing that was to occur the same day we left town for our only week-long vacation of the year. Trust us, you do NOT want this to happen at your bookstore. So publicists, it’s a good idea to check in with your scheduled stops a week or two ahead. This kills two birds with one stone: confirming the event and double-checking that the store has all the books they need with enough advance time to spare. Bookselling isn’t rocket science, but it is filled with minutiae and orders coming in and customers needing a hundred things a day, etc., so things do slip through the cracks occasionally.

2. Try to have a day of the week for your events. For us it’s kids’ events on Saturday mornings and adult events on Thursday nights. This lets folks know that these are days they want to keep open. Few book groups in town meet on Thursdays now, because it always conflicts with our adult events.

3. Make sure to send press releases well in advance of the event. Newspapers need at least three weeks, more often six, to actually do something with a press release. Be respectful of their deadlines and they’ll be much more likely to run your release. Don’t forget to do calendar listings with all papers. Sometimes this is a separate department from the press release folks. Don’t assume a press release will get a calendar listing automatically.

4. Don’t know how to write a press release? Learn. They’re not hard and most releases should only be a page, so it’s not rocket science. Often the publisher will have materials ready for you to tweak to your situation, so it’s really not hard.

5. The minute we book an event, the first thing I do is ask the author, publicist or whomever I booked the event with, to send me a high-resolution author photo and book cover, as well as any press materials they might have. Once I have the materials, I pass them off to Elizabeth who updates the website. As soon as the confirmation is emailed, add the event to your website. This kind of speed pleases the publishers and makes you look more professional. 

6. Make a flyer of your monthly events. We do several different sizes: some for the display window, the rest 8½ x 11 for customers to take away. And, if we’ve got time, we’ll make a calendar strip that can get tucked in every bag with purchase. Our flyers are full-color. This makes a difference, and if you plan ahead, you can get co-op for it, so it pays for itself.

7. Set-up an in-store display several weeks before the event. We have a great display table right as you walk in and we have all of our monthly author event books on display, with shelftalkers in them announcing the date of the event. Also let people know they can get a book signed without attending the event. 

8. Talk up the event to customers who are buying books by that author. Also, chat it up with folks who are buying similar books. Never underestimate the power of one person saying to another, "Hey, this really interesting author is going to be here on Thursday…"

9. Don’t forget to order the books in time! This might sound silly, but there have been times when even the best bookseller gets jammed up and either forgets to order or gets the order in too late and the books arrive the day of the event. Make friends with the other indies in your area. It’s really great to be able to send out an alarm of, "Help, I need books!" and have folks come to your aid. I always order more than I’ll likely sell because it looks nice for the author to see a lot of books, and they’re returnable. Don’t forget to order the author’s backlist titles. They sell well and it makes you look like a very confident bookseller by having it. 

10. Treat the author with respect. Don’t leave them alone in the event space to greet customers themselves. Make sure you have enough staff on hand so someone can be with the author. Have something for the author to drink (I always ask the publicist when the event gets booked if the author has a beverage preference). Also, a gift at the end of the event is not only polite but the right thing to do. 

This is the beginning of a longer list of author event tips. Keep watching as we add more to it. And please feel free to add your ideas to this list. I’m always looking for tips on having smoother events.

21 thoughts on “How to Have a Successful Author Event (Part 1)

  1. Ann Payne

    Great post – thanks for the information. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the author can do to make things more successful, both before and during the event. Thanks!

  2. T

    What a great events primer — thanks Josie! you covered so many things. Re: author gifts…from a tour last week we were offered a chance to pick any book from the store, as well as given small mementos specific/local to the town.


    Elizabeth and Josie do such a great job organizing events. My Arugula tea party there was one of my first events and they made everything so easy and fun. I had started out the day a little nervous, but ended up having a great time and thanks to everyone at the Flying Pig I have gotten over my fear of appearing in public!

  4. NHSenzai

    What a wonderful article giving tips from the Booksellers perspective – Please do another one on how an Author can best work with the bookseller and tips on having a successful event.

  5. shelftalker elizabeth

    Authors, if you don’t have a household name yet, anything you can do to help bring attention to your event is great. For instance, if you have design skills, think about offering to make a flyer for the store to post and send them a pdf so they can print out multiple copies; find out if the store will send postcards to a relevant mailing list if you create them. (Since that will cost the store money, ask your publicist if they can offer the bookstore co-op for that. They’ll know what that means if you don’t.) Ask your publicist to send a press release to the local papers and media in the area; you never know who needs a good feature article and might interview you ahead of time. Any kind of exposure will help bring people in. We’ve also noticed that crafts and hands-on activities work really well to get people in the store. Our Hello, Cupcake event had something like 75 people show up; of course that was partly because the book is so fantastic, but it was also because the authors brought all kinds of goodies and demonstrated their techniques, then opened the demo tables for attendees to test their decorating skills. Any opportunity to add something fun to an event — a tea party (hi, Sarah!), a fun craft, a treasure hunt, live drawing with kids in the audience — makes parents and grandparents about 600% more likely to make an effort to get their kids to an event.

  6. shelftalker elizabeth

    Oh, and bring food. If booksellers advertise ahead of time that there will be treats, the event will draw more people. It’s surprising how effective food can be. Pizza is a good draw for teens, but they also need lots of reminders about the time of an event. I’m seriously considering texting our teen regulars. One more thing: if you can set up school or library visits in the area, that can be very effective for newer authors to get the word out about their books.

  7. Kody

    Oh god. I would rather see a number of books you can reasonably expect to sell, than have you order a bunch only to return them. Returns delay my royalties, you realize.

  8. Parker Peevyhouse

    Interesting to hear this from a bookseller’s POV; authors are talking about this same topic on I never thought about doing a press release, but really that’s something the author OR the bookstore could do, and I like the idea someone mentioned here about the author taking on the task of designing fliers. After all, the author is more likely to have art on hand related to her book. Thanks for sharing these tips.

  9. Linda Clare

    Thanks for the advice. I agree, giving authors an inside look from a seller’s perspective makes a big difference. I had a nonfic book with a “spa” theme. My daughter happened to work for Bath & Body, we raffled off a gift basket of spa products. We brought in over 50 to the signing, and I am a relative unknown. My debut novel, just out, might take more thought for a tie-in but food sounds doable. Again, thanks!

  10. paul in davis, ca

    Many publishers now have high-res book covers and author photos at their websites that you can snag or download for promo materials. I was a bit surprised that there was no mention of garnering coop to help to pay for stuff. Future column?

  11. Julianne Daggett

    I agree, a helpful post for authors and what we can do during a signing to help the store owners or make a smoother signing and book talk would be great. Also, what sort of promotinal materials we should bring and what we should expect the store to have would be great. I know the last one varies with the store, but it would be great to know what to generally expect from the store side to coordinate with the publisher and myself. I’m one of the M’s in the CLAMP all girl manga (comics) team and this will be CLAMP’s first booktour; some tips on booktouring from booksellers and fellow authors will be great. Also, tips from authors who have worked in groups on tours and stores that have held group booktours. [Ed. here: Julianne, always love your comments and participation, but you’re right, can’t use PW for promo.]

  12. Carol Chittenden

    Very helpful gimeline. Authors, please check with the store about food. The cost of carpet cleaning and sticky little hands is very high. Sometimes we can do it — but sometimes not. Today I returned from the trade show to find that the local author STILL had a line past the counter over 2 hours after the signing began. We sold 190 copies (and I had only ordered 100 because he urged me to — lucky he had more in his car!). We had done our usual publicity — but he and his large family had really beaten the drum on facebook, etc., etc. I can’t do that for an author: I don’t know who their extended family and childhood friends are even if I DID have time to yak, tweet, blog and burp. I can only pay the rent, order the books, and all that other good stuff Josie and Elizabeth suggest (though not as well as they do it).

  13. Deborah Sloan

    Watch out Flying Pig! If you weren’t already besieged with requests for events, you will be now. So smart, so thoughtful, and so right on. Thank you for spelling out how much goes into an event (it shows how much work you booksellers do to make an author feel comfortable, wanted, and make for a successful time) and why, when done well, it works!

  14. M. v. Lemon

    Great advice from both perspectives. I recently wrote my first children’s book called Champions Of The Garden Games, and am currently looking for anywhere, like schools, libraries, or bookstores to do a reading. What would be a good pitch for me to use to help me generate a little attention and get a few reading that will help me succeed?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *