Preparing for the Dinner Party: Your Job as an Author

(Getting a Seat at the Table: Book Signing Basics Part Two)

You’ve received your invitation to the party and you’re getting a seat at the table. You’re excited, eager even, and you can’t wait for the day to arrive. The actual book signing seems so far away: six months, a year, even two years in some cases. You mark your calendar, add yourself to the social media groups associated with that event, and then move on to the next item on your To Do List. Stop. Don’t move on too fast to that next item; there’s still work to do; quite a bit, actually.

In last week’s post, we discussed what you should expect from the event host, but all of the work is not on them. I know that surprises some. The thought is, “I’ve paid my table fee. That should guarantee me readers who will purchase my books.” What it guarantees you is a table, nothing else.

At a conference I attended recently, I heard a phrase that has stuck with me and has changed the way I view these events. The speaker said, “You need to take 100% responsibility for your career.” That means your success at a book signing rests entirely in your hands, not the hands of the event host. While they should be doing their part to advertise the event and get readers through the doors, you need to be working even harder on achieving the same results. Paying your admission fee does not relinquish you from the responsibility of attracting readers to your table.

No one likes to go to a party where they don’t know anyone. We feel awkward and uncomfortable as people pass us by to shake hands and exchange laughs with the people they do know. The goal here is to make sure people are going to the event because they want to see YOU. So, what are some of the things you need to do to prepare for this dinner party? Besides packing your bags, that is?

The first and easiest is to keep promoting the event. Share it with your friends, on your Facebook and Twitter, and make sure it’s posted on your website. List it in your newsletter and add it to your public calendar of events. And keep sharing it. Once isn’t enough. Twice isn’t enough. Share it until people say, “We know, we know,” and then share it some more.   

Here’s where you get help from your event host. Most of the events I have participated in have created Facebook groups or have banners on their websites listing, not only the information, but also the authors in attendance. You need to share these on your site, in your newsletters, and even use them as your banner picture on your social media sites. Whenever people click on your profile, they will see the banners and be reminded that you’ll be in their area and when they can see you. One thing to remember is that as the event coordinator updates the banner, you’ll need to update yours. There is a page on my website called News & Events and I have a section for upcoming events where I list where and when I will be appearing at an event. Those who follow me can easily see my itinerary and stay in touch.

Quite often, the event hosts create Facebook groups for those who will be attending the event, whether as an author, reader, or blogger. Make sure you are in this group and that you are active, and by active, I don’t mean promoting yourself nonstop in the group. Share your books and links, but also participate in other posts. People, especially readers, need to see you interacting, commenting, and sharing other people’s posts. If you never interact, then people don’t know who you are and, therefore, won’t know to stop at your table.

This was made very real to me in New Orleans last year. We had been interacting in the group, posting, sharing, and just cutting up. By the time we arrived at the event, we walked in to register and received some of the biggest hugs by people we had never met face-to-face. They knew us and they did so because of our positive interaction with them. Please note the keyword, positive. Don’t allow yourself to be known because you’re annoying or a very needy person. That will work against you, not for you. Perhaps you truly aren’t that outgoing of a person and find this difficult to accomplish. You’re going to have to force yourself, because giving readers a chance to see and know you is your best, most effective marketing tool.  A case in point, there was another author who attended this event, signing up about the same time as I did, who no one knew because this author did not participate in the group. Even the hosts had no idea who this person was and that’s a shame, because they were the ones who could have helped the author the most. Remember, for people to know who you are, you have to get yourself in front of them and allow them to get to know you. You need to do the work of building a relationship between you and the readers and that cannot be done unless you join in the interaction.

Those are simple steps that require a small amount of time as well as energy and can be done from most smartphones nowadays, so it’s not like you even have to spend hours strapped to your laptop. However, there are other things we’re discovering that can get you in front of readers to inform them that you’ll be appearing in their area. Now, while none of these are a guarantee, they are tools that you can use to increase your exposure.

One of the things we’ve started doing is asking people their general location when they sign up for my newsletter, such as states or zip codes. This allows us to put them in specialized lists that we can send an email to as the time gets closer for us to be in their city. People in North Carolina don’t necessarily need to know that we’ll be appearing in Jacksonville, but those readers surrounding that area might appreciate a special email invitation asking them to come out and see us.

We’ve also started a campaign that focuses on the libraries surrounding the area we’ll be visiting. We send them flyers advertising my books and interact with the library director as much as possible, even asking them to post an announcement about the event. While the event host should be hitting up the libraries, it doesn’t hurt for you to double the efforts. The librarian may be more eager to assist you because you’re an author. We even offer to do special signings for them and I’ve donated my books to their library as well. Anything that helps get my name in their circle of thinking is a step in the right direction.

Goodreads is another avenue you should explore. There are several book club groups on there and with a little research, you can find the ones with people in the event’s radius. Offer to donate one of your books to the group for them to enjoy and review, and then interact with them, not just about yourself, but about other authors they enjoy. Now you have a small group of people who know you who just might be eager to come out and meet the author they’ve been corresponding with and whose book they’ve been reading.

Twitter, Instagram, and now even Facebook use hashtags and so should you. Hashtag the name of the city as well as the name of the event when talking about it, such as #Jacksonville. People use these hashtags to search for news or events in those areas and when they do, they’re going to come across your status update and tweet, so make sure it’s catchy enough to grab their attention and hold it for a bit. Odds are that once they read it, they’ll check out your profile and, hopefully, follow you. Now, they’ll see your other updates about the event and, with luck, add your event to their list of things to do.

When you’re trying to get people to purchase your book or sign up for your newsletter, you’re casting a wide net, so general updates and tweets work well. However, when you want people to see you at a specific event, you need to put aside the net and pick up a fishing pole, targeting a specific area for the best results. This will be a constant task until the day of the event, so don’t just do it once and stop. Repetition is the key to getting people to take action. People need to see or hear something seven to ten times before they will remember it, so no, once isn’t enough.

So, now that you have people joining you at the party, what’s next? Party favors! Seriously, think ahead for some sort of swag that you can put into people’s hands. Sometimes, event hosts ask for special, exclusive swag that they can use to put into giveaway bags or for special events. Be ready to have something on hand to send them as it guarantees that readers will receive something of yours that they will be taking home with them.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on swag, but it needs to look professional and of decent quality. Do your research and ask around for what people are doing or where they are getting things like bookmarks, koozies, or book cards. Some of the sites we use are, Vista Print, Build A Sign, or Bannerbuzz. There are even people, which you can find on Facebook with a little research, who specialize in creating unique swag just for you. SEA Creations is an artist who has been a great asset for us in creating handmade bookmarks, key chains, and even wine charms. Don’t just print something off your computer. You want the swag to appeal to the eye and call to people, making them pick it up and not throw it away as soon as they get out of your eyesight. Plan ahead and don’t be caught unawares, rushing out the door to come up with something on the fly. The goal, as we’ll look at in another posting, is to get something into the reader’s hands, so take your time here and do it right.

 Writing is quite a bit of work and not all of it is sitting down at a keyboard tapping out word after word of great prose. Preparing for this dinner party, the book signing, is part of that effort and you need to invest time, energy and money into it in order to succeed. Don’t shirk your responsibilities here. It could be the faux paus that ruins the engagement for you.


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