Every author knows they should be out there promoting their book. Some prefer the Internet, but a little face-to-face with potential readers is priceless. But where can we get speaking gigs, and how? Sit back, relax, and read about some of my favorite and most successful locales.
1.) Local Writing Clubs
This seems pretty obvious to me, but I’m surprised at the number of authors who resist, thinking they can’t sell a lot of books to their “competition.” Actually, I’ve sold more books at writer’s clubs than any other venue! The truth is, writers love books. We’re addicted to them. We live and breathe and devour them sometimes at the expensive of eating real food. Honestly, if you don’t love books, why are you writing them? Every writing group I’ve ever been to has been very supportive of each other. When competition does takes place, it’s in the form of contests meant to help improve each other’s skills. The added plus about speaking at these groups is that you can make useful connections and get the latest information about craft, publishing, and marketing trends.
Speaking and reading excerpts at Tulsa NightWriters
2.) Public Schools
Huh? You may be thinking. I’m not a children’s author! So? Nearly every school has a creative writing class of some kind, and high school kids read adult fiction anyway. If not, a library or media studies class could work, or even English classes. If you have a connection with a particular school, say you graduated from there or your children/grand children attend, or your book takes place in or near that town, that’s a perfect place to start and grow your reputation. First, I contact the head of the English department before school starts in August/September, or even the day after school ends in May/June to discuss the following year. In my experience, the principal is often too busy and usually directs you to the English department anyway. I start by asking if they want to include the book as part of their curriculum for the year, and if so, give them a list of discussion questions to go with it. A week or two before my presentation, I bring flyers or book marks for kids to bring home to their parents, and donate ONE copy of the book to the school library.
3.) Home school groups/small private schools
People often overlook these, thinking they’re too small or not worth the time. But the truth is, home school is more flexible than public school, and teachers are more free to set their own curriculum. Some authors actually sell MORE books to home school groups, because the students purchase them to read for class, versus you simply coming to talk about the book, and a few interested book worms purchasing copies. Also, private schools tend to be more specialized. For example, if you write Christian books, a Christian private school may be more likely to let you come speak than a public school, and offer you more occasion to promote your book. A school of arts might be more willing to invite a guest artist.
4. Colleges- Especially your Alma Mater!
For those who don’t speak Ancient Language, “Alma Mater” is Latin for “Nursing Mother” and means the university you graduated from. It’s not unusual for colleges to welcome local authors, especially graduates, to come speak in their creative writing departments. Contact the head of the creative writing department and pitch yourself as a
professional. Have copies of your book on hand to sign and sell, and be sure the bookstore has copies when possible. You might have to do your first gig at your own university free, but when word gets around, don’t be ashamed to ask for guest speaking fees, especially if you have to go out of your way to get there. Simply ask the university, “What is in your budget for guest artists and speakers?” Earlier in the semester they will generally have more money. Be sure to contact them way in advance.
5.) Library/Local clubs
Not just book clubs: hobby clubs, movie clubs, civic clubs, knitting clubs, game clubs, kiwanis clubs, rotary clubs, churches, youth groups, anything that
would appeal to your target audience. These groups are always looking for speakers and the best place to find them is online or by calling your city chamber of commerce. I was a missionary in Japan for two years, so I gave a picture presentation to my local library’s anime club, and also talked about how Japan influenced my book. They couldn’t pay my anything, but I did sell a lot of books, and it was fun! I’ve also spoken at the Elk’s Lodge, Japanese clubs, International clubs, community clubs, and tons of churches.
6.) Book Store Events
Emphasis on events. Many beginning authors know the frustration of planning a book signing, printing the posters, sending out invites and press releases,
only to have few people show up. But most book stores have annual or seasonal events that tend to naturally draw more people who don’t know you to the store. For example, a book store in my area has an event called Dickens on the Boulevard the third Friday and Saturday of every November. They organize a group of local authors to come, dressed in period costume, and sign and gift wrap their books. Also,
many bookstores promote Bring Your Child to a Book Store Day on December 1st each year. Call your local book store and ask if you can come sign books on this day. Also, book signings tend to go better when you have something more than books to offer. A slide show of pictures and music that inspired you, a book trailer running on your laptop, periodic dramatic readings, sweets or treats associated with your story, all of these can help attract people to your book table. (You can tell I often dress in costume for these events, but not always.)
7.) Writer’s/Fan Conferences
I put this one last because I actually haven’t done it yet, though I’m signed up for a few this coming year. “Fan Conferences” doesn’t just refer to fantasy and science fiction conventions. If you hear about a conference on 17th century American history for example, and your book takes place during that time, you might be perfect as a speaker. Any topic you had to research for your published book is automatically a topic you could speak on. As for writers’ conferences, I’ve heard from other writers that you don’t always sell a lot of books, but it does build your “brand name” and reputation as a professional in the field. A bigger bonus than simply selling books is that you usually get your conference discounted or free! That’s a cheap weekend of awesome food, honing your craft, networking, and pitching to publishers and agents at closed houses. Pretty awesome!
Networking with publishers at Heart of America Christian Writers’ Conference
So grab a phone book and start calling! First time published authors can often expect 2 nos for every yes, but personal promotion is not only financially rewarding, but also fun.