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The Art of the Book Event: 9 Tips

It was nearing 8:00 PM on a New York City summer evening and a group of friends and colleagues had gathered at a popular book event to hear a much beloved author read from her latest. We were hugging, kissing and smiling despite the 90-degree weather. We were excited for our friend. We were excited to be among writers and good books.

Fast forward an hour and a half.

The air was stagnant. People were schvitzing. My friend’s teenage daughter rolled her eyes and whispered, “Not again, Mom.” The woman next to me suddenly clutched my arm and muttered some obscenities, abruptly forcing me out of my coma.  My Diet Coke was long gone. I hadn’t an email left to answer, but it didn’t matter, because my phone had lost life.

What was happening?

The first author was still reading.

…and reading…

…And reading…

There was beautiful writing in there—really, truly—but it didn’t matter, because the author had lost us within the first few minutes. She spoke slowly without inflection. She didn’t pause or make eye contact. She never looked up (which might have been a good thing in this circumstance). And she read what seemed to be a very large portion of her book, not a well-timed passage.

This author was in desperate need of my kind.

All of us—the survivors of The Worst Reading Ever—bring up the occasion each time we see one another at book events. As I gear up for a robust spring and summer season of new, marvelous books, I think a lot about the art of a signing because I learned a whole lot from that night:

1. Script it. Your book event is more than just reading that awesome passage from pages 2—4. Weave in takeaways, tidbits about characters, what you were thinking as you wrote, and/or points you’re addressing.

2. Practice it. Remember when you were in school and you had to give a speech or a presentation, you practiced it in front of Mom and Dad, right? Do that again. Your tone, pacing, expression all matter.

3. Look up. Behold the group of eager readers hanging on to your every word. Soak that in. That’s the good stuff.

4. Make eye contact. I like my clients to do book events because I want readers to see their personalities. I want readers to fall in love with them as much as I have. In building and maintaining a relationship, we need eye contact, yes? Yes.

5. Be comfortable.. Be you. Don’t pick your book event to wear something wildly uncomfortable or to try a new hairstyle. Bookstores are small; if you fidget, good chance everyone else will too.

6. Partner up… Many authors are sharing events these days to pack a bigger crowd in the bookstore, to introduce new readers to their work, and to make a more exciting book event. Award-winning author Lisa Barr [1] is currently planning multi-city book events for THE UNBREAKABLES out in June. She’s found partnering up to be “more fun, less stressful.”

Recently, I was at a Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books with Zibby Owens [2] Valentine’s Day event with John Kenney [3], author of Love Poems for Married People and Helen Ellis [4], author of the forthcoming Southern Lady Code. It was one of the funniest events I have ever been too—a truly memorable morning that left you feeling good the rest of the day. Naturally, I think Zibby is a genius for bringing them together. I asked her how it happened. She said she just had an instinct that they would be a great match, since they’re both authors she loves hearing from in the same amusing, funny way.

7. …but think carefully about who you partner with. Obviously, consider genre, but beyond that be with someone who is going to bring out a better you. Be with someone you can WOW with.

Lisa really wanted to work with the great Amy Poeppel [5], author of Limelight, for her New York City signing. Amy is brilliant, clever, beautiful and so funny she’ll make you pee your pants. But she’s also well-prepared, articulate, prompt, and won’t ever steal anyone’s limelight.

8. Be considerate when you’re sharing the spotlight. Manners. If you steal someone’s limelight, readers will remember.

9. Have fun. Bestselling author Randy Susan Meyers [6] says, “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Humor is important. The readers want to like you, don’t give them the reason not to.”

At Mysterious Bookshop last summer for the launch of M.J. Rose’s [7] Tiffany Blues, Randy asked M.J. what the worst thing was she ever read about herself from a reader. While I can’t recall what she said, I do remember M.J.’s big smile and how much the audience laughed.

What are some of the more memorable events you’ve been to, and who are the authors that wowed you?

About Ann Marie Nieves [8]

Ann-Marie Nieves [9] (she/her) is the founder of Get Red PR, and an award-winning communicator with experience across a broad range of industries in both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business sectors. She has experience within all communications platforms including public relations, advertising, marketing, copywriting, website development, community relations, and social media.