It’s been a full summer of book launches, signings and sales for this author culminating in a long weekend of talks and vending. It was exhausting, yet profitable, a reminder that even something as pleasurable as writing can succeed only with the application of hard work––well directed hard work, which brings me to my thoughts.
All of my events this year were successful, relatively speaking. The marker of success for me is meeting expectations. These expectations are developed from my previous experience with events, and certain factors that influence them. They are: the nature of the crowd, the venue, indoors or out, the weather, the aim or theme of the event, the organization, and advertising. Each is influenced by the next. Here is what I mean.
1. The nature of the crowd drawn to the event is influenced first by the aim or theme, then the venue, in order of importance. For example, I launched my latest novel Zaca at Zaca Mesa Winery this summer in the very shadow of Zaca Mountain. There is an obvious theme. The novel is oriented locally and the winery/tasting room was excited about hosting us. But the venue shaped the nature of the crowd; people came there first and foremost to taste wines, not to read books. I met my expectations, but only later in the day after wine was consumed and financial defenses relaxed. By contrast, my last event was Los Alamos Old Days, a two-day town celebration, selling at a booth on the main drag. My book was Images of America Los Alamos Valley, a pictorial history of the town and valley. People came specifically to celebrate the heritage of the town, to learn more about it. I had the perfect product for the venue and occasion, and exceeded my hopes for sales.
2. The organization of an event can greatly influence your success. Was there sufficient advertising, including disclosure of the fact that books would be sold and signed? That, of course, affects the nature of the crowd. Were the arrangement and distribution of vending booths or tables well thought out, to maximize visibility and approachability for each vendor? Was there sufficient signage, enough tables and space, room for the flow of the crowd? A truly experienced and skillful organizer can make a huge difference.
3. Venues for book launches, sales, and signings need not be restricted to bookstores. There are few enough of them these days. Any retail outlet can serve as a venue. There is a tendency to overlook a wide variety of possibilities, most retailers are delighted to host a special event such as a signing or launch. I have known of successful signings at restaurants, hardware stores, museums, even a store specializing in the occult. If you can align your book subject, so much the better. As I mentioned earlier, understand that the crowd will be specific to the venue, and plan your campaign accordingly. You and the venue form a partnership; the retailer expects you to draw customers, you hope to interest their regulars.
4. Advertising is a mixed bag. It is clear that an ad about your book all alone in a newspaper will attract little interest and do little to increase your sales, unless you can afford a full page. However, an advertisement by your selected venue, whether retail store or special event that includes you and your book is generally more successful. It suggests a special atmosphere in a familiar place. Best of all is an article about you and your book written prior to an upcoming event. Journalists often need filler, but it must be news. Events are news. If you can interest a newspaper in doing a piece about you prior to your signing or launch, you have established a partnership with both the venue and the newspaper. And reporters have a tendency to return to the well when short of material.
5. My final word on this subject is control. When I am a small cog in a big wheel, wielding little or no influence, I seldom succeed. I find myself participating in joint signings organized by other groups or authors less and less. When I organize my own event, I can control contingencies to a large extent. I approach the venue myself, work out a mutually agreeable plan, share the publicity, establish my theme based upon the anticipated nature of the crowd, create a physical set up according to my needs, invite all my friends. If I believe including other authors will be advantageous, I invite those particularly suited to the venue.
There are no rules governing the number of times you launch your book. There are no venues that are off limits. When you control your own destiny, you can fit the pieces together to make it work. Create a plan, be flexible, and most important, have fun.