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Event Planning Guide For Booksellers

by Dianne Ochiltree, author of Ten Monkey Jamboree, etc.

  1. MAKE A DATE THAT MINIMIZES COMPETITION
    Often your author won't be "local," so he or she is relying on you to know whether the second Saturday in May at two o'clock is also the appointed hour for a hometown parade, or the school play, or anything else that would keep targeted audience members away from your store. Always check school and community calendars for potential conflicts before setting your event date.

  2. GET THE WORD OUT!
    In real estate, the key to success is "location, location, location." For book events, it's "promotion, promotion, promotion." Press releases to local media, notices put in bookstore newsletters, fliers distributed to local schools and libraries, listings in community calendars, advertising in newspapers, etc., are all good ways to start promoting your author event.

  3. TARGET YOUR AUDIENCE...THEN RECRUIT IT
    For example, many bookstores have a built-in audience for children's authors in their weekly story hours. But what about inviting a local women's group for a presentation by an author of a book about local history? Or invite a scout troop for a nature or science author? Or partner with area schools to plan a program with a published poet who can promote his or her book while giving aspiring student writers a few pointers? Reaching out directly to civic and school groups whenever an incoming author's work dovetails with group interests can't guarantee an audience, of course. But it does boost the chances of a crowd showing up for your event. Make sure you are familiar with your author's work before you get going on this, though: One writer told me about the day he arrived at a store to talk about his young adult novel with a room full of preschoolers!

  4. GIVE THEM A SIGN . . . OR TWO OR THREE!
    Put signage in the front window or on the front door and by your cash register. Make sure you've got all the details in bold, easy-to-read print: author name (spelled correctly), date, time, etc. If you have a good publicity photo of your author, and a nice color reproduction of the book(s) being promoted, incorporate these into your signage as well. A stack of the author's books, displayed in your front window or by the front door, or on a table by the check-out counter, is a great addition to your store signage. Together, they might prompt some pre-orders of signed books from regular customers who can't attend the event itself but would love to have the books for gifts, or for themselves.

  5. ORDER BOOKS IN TIME FOR THE EVENT
    Not having books happens more often than you'd imagine, and it's never a happy occurrence for either author or bookseller. Delays in shipping or book availability can come up for all sorts of reasons. Give yourself "wiggle room" when ordering books in order to assure that they will be there on the day your author is in your store. And if they come in a few days early, you've got them in those handy display stacks ready for presales and to promote interest in your upcoming event.

  6. IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
    Unless your featured author is Madonna or Jay Leno, you will need to offer something else to bring people into the store for a signing. So why not build a store event around your author's appearance? Offer contests, raffles, or giveaways that tie in to your author's books. Ask your author to do a presentation on "breaking into publishing" (or any other topic that would appeal to his or her readership) in conjunction with the signing. Designate your author as a special guest at a celebration of literacy or any other theme that relates to your author's publications. Many bookstores organize "teacher nights" with special discounts offered along with the chance to have a book signed by a special author.

  7. POSITION YOUR GUEST FOR SUCCESS
    Make sure your author is seated front and center at a table that allows plenty of room for signing. A table by the check-out counter works well if it doesn't block traffic flow. Avoid placing authors behind bookshelves or potted plants, or in corners, even if it means temporarily rearranging a few things. And if you have more than one author signing at a time, make sure there is plenty of elbow room for everyone.

  8. BE THE HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST
    Before the event, make sure you've given good driving directions to your store, and instructions on where to park, or information about mass transit routes. Designate a staff person as the official host or hostess for your author, providing bottled water, coffee or tea, pens, post-it notes and anything else needed. If you've booked an author to appear over the lunch or dinner hour, it's a gracious touch to treat them to a carry-in sandwich or salad. After all, you hope they're too busy signing books to take a break!

  9. WORD OF MOUTH CAN BE THE BEST ADVERTISING
    During your event, ask check-out staff to mention to customers approaching the cash register that an author is in the store today, and available to sign books, should they want them for gifts or themselves. If your store is large enough to have a public address system, make periodic announcements to customers about the opportunity to have a book signed by the author that day.

  10. SIGN THEM OUT
    Ask your guest author to autograph a number of books before leaving your store. Keep them on display by the cash register or front table for a few days after your event, with eye-catching "autographed copy" stickers on them. Who knows? There may have been some customers who weren't able to get to the store for the event but would still love to purchase a copy.

  11. © 2007 Dianne Ochiltree