During tough economic times, some bookstores go out of business and others cut back on the number of events they schedule. Historically, signings and readings have always been ways for authors to get the word out about their new books, but what's a writer to do if it's difficult to find venues?|
Lately, people have returned in droves to their local libraries. Branches all over my area report skyrocketing usage, and while in the past it was often difficult to get patrons to come to library shindigs, this doesn't seem to be the case so much. For the time being, libraries in your region may be another place you can access for book promotions.
But even "big-time" authors don't necessarily have an easy time getting into libraries, which are selective, and which also have a wide variety of patrons to serve. In addition, libraries don't have a lot of money (sometimes none) for advertising and promotions. They often have robust newsletters, but little else to trumpet their events. If an author wants to make an appearance but might not pull in a crowd, it's disappointing for the library and a waste of the limited slots they have. They're competing against many well-publicized events. In many parts of the country, there are dozens - even over a hundred - events per week to choose from. (The Minneapolis Sunday paper listed 75 art and cultural events last week alone.)
So what can authors do - particularly those from the mid-list or small press realms?
Authors tend to think in terms of: "How do I get word out about my books and me." When it comes to libraries, that's the absolute wrong question to ask.
From the PR world, though, we can find hope and inspiration. One of the basic tenets that every author (or publicist) simply must ask is this:
"What can I offer the library and its patrons that will be so irresistible that people will show up? What can *I* do for them?"
Design a Program
Instead of thinking in terms of a signing or reading or a general author talk, it's time to get creative. Offer something tangible that will entice the library to want to bring you in . . . and perhaps even pay you an honorarium. What are your areas of expertise, both from your writing and in other realms? Use them and present something readers will come out to hear about.
In addition to any number of craft/technique-related Workshops or Presentations, you can dream up many topics that may entice readers to come listen to you. For instance, here are ideas off the top of my head for easy-to-research presentations any mystery writer could research and present:
For that last one, team up with a local police officer from the Canine Unit, and bring them to the library to help present. Both kids and adults would eat it up.
- Agatha Christie, The "Traditional" Mystery, and Her Legacy in the Cozies of Today
- Murder Weapons: Methods and Modes of Mayhem
- Famous Unsolved Murder Cases (and highlight the famous ones from that library's local area)
- Animating the Dead: How Forensic Artists Recreate John & Jane Does
- Books Into Film and The Novelization of TV and Movies
- Police Methods of Detection and Arrest
- Police Dogs: What Makes Them Run to Catch Crooks
Tie Your Presentation to an Event or Time of Year
Another angle to plumb arises out of the times of the year and events during that time. For instance, February is National Black History Month. Do a presentation on the history of black novelists from your genre - perhaps expanding it to include all people of color and their growing contributions to the world of writing.
October is National Coming Out Month and June is GLBT Pride. There are many YA books these days about GLBT kids and their issues as well as many works of crime fiction spotlighting GLBT topics and gay and lesbian characters (particularly sidekicks). Libraries, particularly in larger cities, beg for programs in this realm.
Local Events are often ripe to piggyback on. Say you wrote a gothic thriller set in colonial times. In South Carolina, they have a festival on the site of Fort Cornwallis, including a battle to represent the siege of Fort Cornwallis in Augusta, Georgia. Get in on that whole celebration by working up a related topic.
Louisiana has Craw-Dad Festivals, and Cajun/Zydeco Dance Fairs, and Blues and Jazz Fests, and more. Do a Google search, and track down some angle that relates to your book. Same goes for Washington, D.C. All that history there! All those government functions and politicians! Does something in your thriller relate? Maybe you can piggyback on the U.S. Mint and do a whole presentation on famous counterfeiters and thieves and how they were foiled. (Or not.)
Or maybe your mystery has a more Western angle. Every year in Northfield, Minnesota, they hold one of the largest celebrations in the state: The Defeat of Jesse James Festival. Even if you don't have a Western angle in your book, there are other ways to connect. How about a program on "From Jesse James' Guns to Columbine: The History of Guns Used By Criminals." Then make a Powerpoint presentation with a bunch of pictures of different weapons (there are a million sites and books on this), and develop a few wisely chosen stories about the criminals who've wielded the guns and how they got caught.
Maybe you've written a literary novel in the tradition of Virginia Woolf. Whip up a compelling presentation complete with pictures of the author and her home, and talk about her legacy. Perhaps you can make it part of the bigger picture about women in Twentieth Century Arts & Letters. In 2009, the National Women's History Project's theme is Women Taking the Lead to Save our Planet. Perhaps you can tailor a talk to fit into that topic.
Start brainstorming, and you may be pleasantly surprised to discover how many tangents you can take that relate to your work and would make excellent presentation topics.
Sidenote: LCD projectors that use Powerpoint or other presentation programs have come down in price. If you wanted to do presentations as a way to help hawk your books, there's no better way to put up a classy, color-filled show, and it could be worth $700 to invest in your own projector. Or a bunch of area authors could go in on it together. Sometimes libraries have access to LCD projectors, and it's worth your while to ask. Even if they don't own one, they may have an arrangement to borrow them from a nearby school or college. Such a tool gives you all kinds of ways to present data and images, and it's also a wonderful help for the presenter in terms of notes.
Blatant Self-Promotion (BSP)
Along the way in your talk, you have opportunities to slip in your BSP: "And here is a shot of the type of gun my sleuth, Sally Mae Shooter, uses. She likes to carry a .32 Beretta in her purse because it's small and also fits perfectly under the elastic waistband of her pantyhose. My debut novel about Sally Mae was called Packing More Than Pantyhose, and since then, there are four more books in the series including Don't Bust My Beretta, which is for sale over there after I'm done with my presentation. But more on that later. Check out this next firearm, used by the FBI officers who captured Al Capone...blah, blah, blah..."
You get the idea. The point is to create something to offer - something a little different and definitely interesting - and bring a lot of knowledge, energy, visuals, and even informational handouts (which oftentimes the library will agree to duplicate for you to save you the expense). This is the perfect place to use all that research you did while writing your book: the 100 pages of notes you took on the John F. Kennedy assassination or great romances throughout the ages or ways to pick locks or how a newspaper office works or what a turn-of-the-century logging or mining camp looked like or . . . the topics go on and on.
And the wonderful thing about this is once you've worked up a presentation, you can do it again and again and again, becoming a subject area expert who might even get a reputation and start getting calls to present for pay.
I recently received an email newsletter from "Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade" (www.shelf-awareness.com), which is edited by John Mutter. He included a piece about Collette Morgan, owner of Wild Rumpus Books here in Minneapolis. The store holds a range of events in several categories: animal, science, music, artistic, and random. "The sky's the limit with authorless events," Morgan said. "You can do whatever you want. Most events that we do are for our own entertainment. Many appeal to kids and adults at the same time."
I have to admit that it's hard to compete with the wild ideas this store comes up with, but some of them would be great ideas for authors if they could figure out ways to co-opt their books into the topic or activity. What store or library could resist some of these? Here is a sampling of a few items on their much longer list, along with Ms. Morgan's comments:
As you can see, many of these are funny, and humor is highly prized, especially nowadays when it seems all the news in politics and the economy is grim. If you're not up to a get-in-touch-with-your-inner-dimwit event, how about a get-in-touch-with-your-inner-comedian? Or get-in-touch-with-your-inner-writer?
- Mounted police come to the store with "full-war regalia" and talk about the training horses go through.
- Raptor Center. "We invite them to bring stuff in." One caveat concerning store pets, Morgan stressed: "Put the little furries away or you will have a totally different kind of event."
- A beekeeping workshop, featuring a beekeeper with hive and smoker. Another caveat: "It's not a good idea if the store has a smoke detector."
- A sheep shearer.
- Live turkeys on Thanksgiving, which is "the No. 1 way to turn kids into vegetarians."
- A rodeo queen with a horse and fake calf head for roping.
- Chemists from universities and high schools. "We like to blow stuff up."
- A demonstration of cryogenics by 3M scientists. "They threw a frozen tennis ball onto the floor that broke into millions of pieces."
- A mummified Barbie workshop.
- Musical instrument repair, which involves taking apart instruments.
- Creature from the Black Lagoon, which involves "scientists, microscopes, lake water and the fecal count of swimming water. It's gross but fascinating."
- A zombie prom for Halloween, which called for a "dig-up-a-deadbeat" date.
- Bagpipe demonstrations. "Every kid secretly wants to learn bagpipes at a certain point. They're very loud, so warn the neighbors. It becomes a truly community event."
- A your-junk-is-my-treasure swap meet, which can include things from the store's lost and found.
- A get-in-touch-with-your-inner-dimwit event.
Offer A Program They Can't Refuse
If you give libraries something to fascinate their patrons, they'll want you. Again and again. To get started, work with a library close by - the one YOU frequent. Develop a good reputation with them, then ask them to be a reference for you when you step outside your own library system to one a little farther beyond your personal ring. You can keep on expanding gradually. There are scores of library systems within half a day's drive all over most of the U.S. Take advantage of that.
Be clever. Be creative. Have fun. And never stop talking about books. Librarians love them, too.
© 2008 Lori L. Lake
From her untitled book about novel writing, a work in progress.
Not for distribution or copying without the express permission of the author. Lori can be reached at Lori@LoriLLake.com and welcomes questions and comments.