By Tolly Moseley
Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you attended a book signing for an author you had never heard of? Last month? Last year? Last…oh forget about it, it’s not important.
Except, it is. Whenever one of my authors decides to book a string of bookstore signings, and the “signing” part of the event is truly all that they plan, I die a little bit inside. Why? Because it’s boring. Let’s face it: what’s exciting about watching another person – a stranger – write their own name, over and over again, inside countless covers.
When an author, publisher, or publicist arranges a bookstore signing, we publicists can secure tour media, but we can’t guarantee potential buyers will attend. You have to woo them, especially if you’re a first-time author. While many bookstores are more than willing to accommodate some off-the-wall book signing ideas, I want to talk to you about thinking outside the bookstore for your next event. What if you viewed your signing as a full-fledged party? Don’t you get a little bit excited to hear about a party? Here are some ideas for hosting creative events that will turn your book into a cause for celebration.
Before We Begin – A Few (tiny!) Caveats
As you’ve probably guessed, this is definitely a quality-versus-quantity strategy. Planning just one party takes more time and effort than booking a handful of book signings, so bottom line, you’re looking at fewer events. Also, holding an event at a non-bookstore location might require a little more legwork on your part and that of the venue to order books for buyers, whereas regular bookstores are accustomed to stocking their shelves with your title right before the event. And finally, planning a book party is a little like planning a mini-wedding: It’s easy to get carried away and start sweating the details. What if my helpers are late? What if my guests don’t like these hors d’ouevres? What if disaster strikes?
But don’t worry – not only are these concerns manageable, they actually cancel themselves out with measurable upsides. You’ll have fewer events, but each will be magical. You’ll work a little harder to secure the book order logistics, but now you’ll have that knowledge forever on mental file. And finally, have you ever attended a wedding? All of them (well, most of them) turned out marvelously, didn’t they? So will your event.
Feeling good? Great. Let’s plan a party!
When selecting a non-bookstore venue to hold your party, first take a look at your book. One of our authors wrote a guidebook to shopping at a regional, chic antique fair, so she held her event at an upscale home furnishings store. A memoirist client of mine wrote a book about a year she spent in Italy, so she threw her book launch at a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant in her hometown. Here are some other examples of book types paired with unique party locations:
- Cookbook: A farmer’s market
- Historical fiction: On the site where the story takes place (if possible) or theme-appropriate museum
- Faith/spirituality: Church, temple, Zen garden
- Alternative health: A private room inside a Whole Foods Market or other natural foods store.
As you can see, the key here is honing in on the main theme of your book – or even one of its distinctive plot points – and imagining where the people inside your story would hang out. If that doesn’t work, think about your readership: Is it mostly males or females? What age bracket? Where do these folks go for fun? Deductive reasoning like this will help you land on the perfect spot.
As with setting above, entertainment for your book party will largely be dictated by your book’s subject matter. But it doesn’t have to be limited by that, either. Of all the book parties I’ve attended, here are the entertainment elements that the most successful seem to have in common:
- Free-flowing foot traffic (just set out a few chairs to create a cocktail party feel, or lose them entirely)
- A cocktail/wine offering
- An hors d’ouevres or offbeat food item (more on that in a minute)
The last two may be concerning you a little bit: Drinks? Food? How do I pay for that?
You don’t, if you play your cards right. The key is finding local sponsors. If you and your publicist are working hard to get recognition for this event, that’s hundreds, potentially thousands of people who will see your sponsors in the press or on various social media channels. That’s free publicity for those businesses. Here’s what we do:
- Research all our local spirit distilleries and/or wineries, plus a handful of restaurants and/or bakeries,
- Find out who is the marketing director at each,
- Send them a note at least a month and a half before the party, explaining the event and how I’d love to help THEM get some exposure from it. Then I ask, “How can we work together?”
The goal in these situations is always to have them trade product for the free publicity you’re offering. Let me give you an example: A wonderful Austin author, Jennifer Ross, recently published a novel: The Icing on the Cupcake. She and her publicists contacted a local vodka distillery, who offered to serve a “cupcake-themed” vodka cocktail at the party. Not only did that unique detail help secure abundant media for the event, it also garnered lots of attendees – and had people talking about how delicious the drinks were.
Parties like these are a win-win for everybody: Your guests get free drinks, you get more attendees at your event, those people leave talking about how fantastic the vodka was. Isn’t it a beautiful formula?
If you live in a city without regional spirit companies or wineries, you could always try going for a larger fish – believe it or not, I’ve seen Bacardi sponsor book events too – and make a case for your market. Explain to them that you haven’t seen their product in too many stores around town, but with a little word-of-mouth, that could turn around. And what better word-of-mouth than your own party?
The last thing you want to consider for your fabulous book party are those small, special touches. Remember that cupcake party I was telling you about? The author/publicity team invited local Austinites to bring homemade sweets to the event to enter into a cupcake contest, which they held on-site, judged by both restauranteurs and regular guests. Ingenious.
Here are some other cute ideas I’ve seen at book parties:
- Goody bags: Encourage early arrivals by putting together goody bags for the first people at the door. These can range anywhere from 10-50 in number. What to put inside the bags? Follow the same formula as your spirit/wine folks: Research local businesses, find out who the marketing director is and ask if they’d be up for donating product for free publicity. Then, distribute all of your donations among the bags accordingly.
- Prizes: You can hold a contest like the cupcake people above, or simply offer door prizes. One of my authors wrote a book about gardening and got local businesses to donate seed packets, gardening kits, and potted plants to her event. She then gave away tickets at the door, and winners walked away with plantable fun.
- On-site activities: There is an amazing local business here in Austin called The WonderCraft, which is made up of four arts and crafts teachers and an Airstream trailer. Inside the trailer (named “Stella”), they teach craft classes and sell craft kits. An author here in town who wrote a colorful guide on knitting/stitching projects, booked The WonderCraft for her party, and had them design a simple stitching project guests could sit down and make right there.
As you can see, there is truly no end to how whimsical and one-of-a-kind your book party can be. True, it does require an adventurous spirit, but happy people are book-buying people. And they will be happy indeed when they discover your novel approach to ye old book signing.
Tolly Moseley is a publicist with PR By the Book, LLC, www.prbythebook.com. She has 10+ years working in media and publicity, and enjoys helping authors plan events, no matter how whacky. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband.