Several librarians have asked me for tips on how to get a good turnout at their author talks. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on the author to turn out guests–unless you’re hosting Stephanie Meyer or J.K. Rowling, in which case you’re probably more worried about the fire marshal than turn-out. Anyway, I’ve presented at more than 300 libraries, bookstores, and schools now, so I’ve seen what works. These tips are geared toward libraries, although bookstores could use them, too. Schools don’t have turnout problems, of course.
1) Make it into an event!
You’re competing with television, computer games, skydiving, and bungee jumping for your patrons’ time. An author reading his book is booooring by comparison. So make it a big event. Invite a local martial arts studio to do a demo in conjunction with my talk. Most of them will visit their local library for free if you allow them to pass out flyers and promote their business. Plus, they bring kids and parents to their demos–a built-in audience! You can also promote the taekwondo demo I do: at most events I bring a concrete block, break it with my bare hands, and sign the pieces to give away to the audience. Here’s a video from the ASHFALL launch party of my demo:
2) Put a sign in the library’s front yard. Here’s the best one I’ve yet seen:
Yes, it’s huge and intrusive. That’s why it works. This was one of the best-attended library shows I’ve had yet.
3) Do a contest as a tie in. Invite students at local schools to submit artwork based on ASHFALL or science-fair-style projects. Display the work at the library, and award prizes at the end of my talk. (This idea snurched from the Marshall Public Library, where it worked amazingly well.)
4) Contact your local newspapers. Small-town newspapers will sometimes post an author interview in advance of the event–I’m always available for these via phone, Skype, or email. They’ll also often show up to cover the event. Even large newspapers will usually at least list the event.
5) Get books at least a month ahead of time. Put a display on the counter and offer them for sale and/or checkout. People who’ve read and liked the book will come and drag their friends along.
6) Put flyers up. The best spot is on the front door of the library. Color pictures help.
7) Put the event on your website. Stuff gets buried in the events calendar–it’s better to put it on the front page–the one everyone sees when they arrive at your site.
8) Make sure all your staff knows about the event. Ask them to talk it up to patrons as they check out. You can also stuff bags with a bookmark or flyer.
9) Invite local schools, reading groups, day cares, etc. to bring a group of students to the event. I can handle as many as the room seats. While my books are for ages 14+, my presentation is interesting enough to hold younger kids’ attention, too.
10) Hold the event on the same night your regular book clubs and teen advisory groups meet so they can all attend in lieu of the regular meeting.
So, those are a few ideas that have worked well–did I miss any good tips? If so, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. and let me know. Thanks!