Last week, I talked a little about what it’s like going to author/reader events as a reader, along with some tips for making the most of the experience. This week, I want to talk about it from the other side of the table.
What are events like from an author’s point of view?
First, I have to recommend this really excellent post by Delilah Dawson. She does a great job of talking about why you may find authors difficult to interact with at events. (That’s my nice way of saying it; Delilah lays it on the line.)
Each of us has a different plan for our schedule and for how many events we attend. Last year, for instance, my year began in early February, and with the exception of April, when I was home, I was at a con about every other weekend until the end of May, and then again in August and September. It was a lot; in fact, it was almost too much. I was exhausted to the point of tear by May.
This year, as I said last week, I’m a little more spread out from February to mid-August. (Click here for an exact schedule.) I’m hoping it will be less stress on me and more fun for everyone.
Let’s talk about events: the author POV.
Preparation for a con begins months, sometimes even a year, ahead of time. We determine if this event will be a good fit for us, and we commit to a table. We may volunteer to donate swag, books for a charity giveaway, sponsor a party or some other element of the weekend and offer to sit on panels (if they’re available).
And then we promote. We share with our readers where we’re going to be. We offer incentives to come see us. We participate in the reader/author groups (one per event) and we put banners on our pages and we cheerlead–a lot.
As the time comes for the author event, we have to plan our swag offerings, how many books to bring, what else we want on our table, whether or not to bring a banner and any other piece of plan-ahead minutia. We check the agenda to see what kind of clothes to wear. We check the weather to see whether we need a coat. We check the hotel to see if it has a pool.
The closer it gets, the more excited we become. Writing can be a lonely business, and some of us get positively giddy at the thought of hanging with our favorite author buddies! The idea of chatting with people who speak our peculiar and particular language. . .it’s fabulous. We plan meet-ups and hang-outs, because from this vantage point, the weekend seems full of opportunity, and sitting at home, our energy levels are high.
For a lot of us, though, once we arrive at the venue, things can change. The stresses of travel, getting checked in to a hotel and to the event, finding where we’re supposed to be, hauling alllll our stuff to our rooms. . .well, it’s tiring. And when we see crowds of people doing the same thing, we may just want to crawl into that beautiful hotel bed and hide.
Some of us, some of won’t. Some of us will be at every party, and some of us will convince ourselves that the parties and other meet-ups are for other authors, not people like us. But we’ll show up at every place where we’re specifically committed: panels, signings, meet and greets, blogger events. . .because we’ve said we’d be there. Even if we’re fatigued beyond the telling, we’ll slap on a smile and go.
For those authors who are dipping their toes into the event pool this year–and for those who feel they’re still figuring it all out–here are some tips I’ve picked up from my own experience and from some of my friends. Take it for what it’s worth.
–Don’t over commit yourself. Ten events in ten different cities may seem like a good and workable plan now, as you sit at your desk, but unless you’re twenty-two, have a personal staff and a private plane, it’ll do you in. Plan the events that are reasonable, with enough recovery time in-between.
–If you commit to an event, do promote it. The planners can only do so much, and it behooves everyone to get involved in publicity. Share all the info, push ticket sales, encourage your readers to come. If you can, give away some tickets. Tell readers why they’ll enjoy it.
–Be participatory and responsive in the months leading up to the event. I’ve been next to authors who’ve sniffily said they were too good to join the author-only groups for an event. Guess what? Those authors missed out on vital information that would’ve made the day more successful. You’re only hurting yourself and the event by not jumping in.
–Don’t spam the event reader groups. It’s fine to introduce yourself and share info about your books, but maybe once or twice in the months leading up to the event. You don’t want to turn people off before they’ve met you.
–Get to know other authors. Often, in the author-only groups, you’ll find you have things in common with other attending authors. It’s cool to make friends ahead of time. You might even want to make plans to meet that person once you get there, especially if you don’t know anyone else.
–Ask questions–but limit them to the event. It’s fine to ask how many books to bring, where’s the best spot to get a margarita in the host city, or who could take delivery of your books before the weekend. It’s great to post for a roommate, a ride from the airport or ask who wants to meet for dinner one night. It’s not okay to ask other authors to critique your books, offer a review sentence or help you choose a cover.
–Stay at the venue hotel. The planners have a room block, and they need to fill it. Help out.
–Allow plenty of time to get to the event. Don’t stress yourself and the planners by arriving at the last minute. Have a ride from the airport.
–Plan to participate in as many of the weekend activities as possible. This is for your benefit and for the planners. Don’t disappoint anyone by hiding in your room the whole time.
–At the same time, pace yourself. If you’re like me, signings and meet and greets can be exhausting. Try to give yourself a 30 minute break between these commitments so that you can refresh and recharge.
–Dress professionally. You don’t have to wear a business suit, but jeans and sneakers probably don’t cut it. You can be comfortable and still look put-together. This is your business. Treat it that way.
–Act professionally. Readers might like your wild and crazy personality on line, but in person, you need to keep things toned down. You can be yourself one-on-one, if you know a reader, but on panels, at signings and at meet and greets, limit profanity. I don’t care how dirty your books are; this is business, and no matter what, you will offend someone.
–Don’t get drunk in public. Now, does this sound like a no-brainer? And yet. . .for a lot of us, we combine events with vacations. This is our time away, and we might want to cut loose. Don’t do where you can embarrass yourself and your readers.
–Make the effort to reach out. When you’re at a signing or a meet and greet, look people in the eye, shake their hands and introduce yourself. Ask about them. Make conversation.
–Wear your name tag. I don’t care how well known you are, not everyone will recognize you. At RT last year, I stepped back to let a lady pass me. I didn’t recognize her. I happened to see her name tag and gasped. . .it was Charlaine Harris. As in, Sookie Stackhouse. I love her books, but I wouldn’t have known her if I hadn’t seen her name tag. Wear yours and help everyone out.
–At the signing: have the most copies of your first in series and your most recent release. Those will be your biggest sellers, most likely. Display your books as attractively as you can. I’ve found that a rack of books is intimidating to people, but single books, displayed at the front, draw readers in.
–Have something else at your table that attracts attention. Last year, I began having balloons at my table. It was great for visibility and made me a draw to moms wandering with small children. Candy is also a big hit.
–Hand out something. Whether it’s a swag back, small non-paper swag or goodie bags, having something to give everyone who comes past your table gets you on your feet and interacting with readers. I’ve yet to meet the person who will turn down a goodie bag.
–If you have a newsletter, have a sign up sheet on your table or a tablet where readers can sign up. Great way to build your list.
–Don’t have too much at your table. Your books, some swag and maybe one signature piece. . .you don’t want it to look junky.
–Be engaged. Believe me, I understand how easy it is to sit at your table while people wander past, checking your messages or playing solitaire on your phone. Don’t do it. Smile, catch eyes and engage.
–Not everyone will stop at your table. Don’t take it personally. There are readers who come to see one author only, and they won’t let themselves even meet another new one. Most readers aren’t like that. Don’t sweat those who are.
–When readers do stop, if they don’t know you, tell them why they should read your books. Give them a link to your freebies. Put a paperback in their hands and suggest they read the back. Ask what they like to read, and tell them how your books fit into that. Tell them where they can find you online.
–Get good sleep while you’re away. Don’t stay up too late.
–Eat well. You need your energy, and it turns out peanut M&M’s and chips and dip won’t cut it all weekend.
–Stay hydrated. Bottled water is your friend.
–Have your pain reliever of choice on hand: you may get a headache. Also have mints and hand sanitizer. Just saying.
–If you can do it, have help. Bring an assistant, a friend, or an older kid. They’ll help you unpack, re-pack and haul alllll your stuff back and forth. You’ll need that help.
–Talk to the authors near you. Check out their books. Offer to trade a book for one of theirs. Exchange cards. When a reader comes up and mentions she enjoys the genre the author at the next table writes, introduce them. It’s called being gracious.
–At some point during the weekend, step out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to authors you’ve never met.
–Try to go to panels, even if you’re not on them. It’s classy.
Oh, my goodness, I could keep going. We may need a Part 3. But you get the picture. Remember all those manners your mama taught you? Use them. Be kind, be polite, be classy. Open doors, hold elevators, compliment others. Oh, and take pictures, so you can share the weekend with all your readers who couldn’t be there. When they see what fun they’ve missed, they may make the effort to come to the next event.