Author Events - Working together to sell your work
Author Events - Working together to sell books
by Joyce Faulkner
I had an important eureka this evening while chatting with one of our board members. Much of the work that we do now ... especially the stories told by our veterans ... will be considered "primary materials" for historians and researchers in the future. We must get these stories, perspectives, testimonies recorded in some fashion. That is one of our key goals as an organization. Another one is to encourage those who have been traumatized by war or other events to use writing to help them as they journey toward comfort and peace. A third is to help those of you who have written books find new audiences.
It's an element of this third goal that I want to talk about now. How do we work together as an organization to find new audiences for our collective work? Over time, we'll be presenting many ideas, but right now I want to discuss the lowly book signing.
When you think of such an event, you might visualize yourself standing in front of a large audience much as Truman Capote did when he read excerpts of his true crime "novel" - In Cold Blood. The world has come to see you and hear about your new baby -- and you bask in their love. They weep. They laugh. They rise to their feet and give you a round of applause that lasts two weeks. You begin to sell and sign your book. Your fans queue up and the line spills out the door and up the parking garage ramp. Ahhhh.
Okay, so back to reality. I've had good book signings where I've sold a lot of books (for me)...and I've had events where I did a good imitation of the lonely Maytag repairman. The truth is -- even though it's gratifying to dream about being swamped by fans -- I do much better when working with a larger group. When it's done well, everyone benefits -- maybe not equally, but certainly better as a whole.
"Wait a minute," you say. "You are suggesting that I should help the other authors sell their books -- even if it means I sell less of my own? How is that fair? It's a dog eat dog world, afterall. I worked hard on this project and I spent a bundle on it. I need to make something for my trouble."
Yes, I know it's your baby and you are eager to show it off -- but every else has a baby too.
"Customers will only buy so much," you say, "and if they buy from the poet sitting to the left of me, they are not as likely to buy from me. And that good-looking woman lounging to the right of me is drawing the wrong crowd. They have come to buy a Romance, not a World War II Historical Fiction!"
Actually, if you work together, customers will buy more than you think they would. How can that be? Here's how it works if you are a member of MWSA and you know the who will be appearing with you.
- Plan your event together.
- Decide if you are going to do a reading or speak to the audience or if you are just going to sell and sign books.
- Make sure that everyone has plenty of change, a way to take credit cards (if you are not in a store that handles that for you), and that everyone has several pens. Bring hand sanitizer!
- Each person is responsible for sending out a media release and for personally inviting their audiences. Go to the local sites like Craigslist and post about your event. Start weeks and/or months before the event contacting newspaper editors, radio and television hosts, bookstores, libraries, museums, military facilities, veterans organizations in the city you plan to visit.
- If you are signing as MWSA authors, contact MWSAPresident@gmail.com and request a media release for the group.
- Ask to use the MWSA banner.
- Decide if you are going to bring your MWSA medals or other awards or just put seals on your books. If you have maps or photographs or other materials to show your customers, tell your colleagues so they can decide if they want to bring something like that or not.
- Buy a book from each of your fellow-authors. If you can do it ahead of time, read them. If not scan them and understand what they are about. (It doesn't matter if you don't like Romance or if you only write children's books. Learn about your author/partner...and expect them to do the same for you.)
- Get to the venue a little early to set up.
- Use this time to chat with your fellow authors and ask them a little more about their books.
- Set up your books and prepare for the event.
- During the event:
- STICK TO YOUR PLAN for the program. If you agree to speak twenty minutes, speak twenty minutes. Don't hog the microphone.
- Treat your coauthor's with respect throughout the event.
- When it's your turn to speak, be sure to mention your fellow authors in a supportive way. You should know what they are about now that you've seen and read their work.
- If you are responsible for introducing the next speaker after you, give that person an enthusiastic and informative welcome. Sometimes, how well an audience accepts and appreciates a speaker is based on how much they know about that author.
- When another author is introduced, lead the applause. Show that you appreciate his or her status to the audience.
- If you are waiting for your turn, don't carry on a conversation behind the speaker...or do anything to steal his or her thunder.
- During the signing, never stand in front of another author's table, blocking customer's access to him or her.
- When your audience comes to meet you -- or after you have spoken with a potential customer (WHETHER THAT CUSTOMER HAS PURCHASED ANYTHING FROM YOU OR NOT), introduce the authors next to you. Something like, "Let me introduce my colleague, Father Ron Camarda. Father Camarda's book is A Tear in the Desert about his service in Iraq during the Battle for Fallujah. Sitting next to Father Camarda is Marcia Sargent. Her book, Wing Wife: How to be Married to a Marine Fighter Pilot, is one of the best memoirs I've read this season. Both Marcia and Father Camarda's book have won awards at MWSA. Next to Marcia is Jack London. Jack is the MWSA 2012 Author of the Year. Jack writes historical and literary fiction. You will love his series of books about World War II called The French Letters." Chances are, Father Ron, Marcia, and Jack are going to be willing to do the same thing for you. If the customer buys nothing, you are no worse off that you were. If he buys from anyone it's a win. Sometimes in situations like that, someone who was interested in your children's book might want to buy Jack's book for her mother and Marcia's book for her sister and Father Ron's for her stepson. It's worth a try.
- If there is a lull in the activity, go to the front of the venue and encourage passers by to come in and meet the authors. If this is a strategy that works and one of the other authors takes the lead, be sure to take your turn.
- After the event, clean up your area and pack up your materials quickly. Don't make everyone wait for you.
- If things don't go the way you hoped, don't complain or blame someone else. Don't simmer with anger if someone fell down on their commitment to the group. Think about what else you could have done to make it work better and then share that with MWSA as a whole and with your fellow book signers.
- Share resources, contacts, and other future opportunities with your fellow authors.
These suggestions are practical and effective, but they are based on who we are trying to be at MWSA. When Bill McDonald founded Military Writers Society of America, he didn't design it as a professional writer's group only. He saw it as a place to encourage healing, a place where people with similar interests could network, where excellence could be recognized and where those who were just starting could find information and encouragement. We work hard to educate the public about history from the perspective of the military and their families.
Our core principles emphasize respect and dignity. We are proud of each other and proud of what we are trying to achieve as an organization. We don't "slam" the military and we don't "flame" each other. We want the best for our country. We may disagree from time to time -- but disagreement must be productive, not disheartening. As Carolyn Schriber posted on our Facebook group. "You don't shine by putting out someone else's light." If we fall down on these ideals, we will use these principles as a candle to help us find our way again.
Launch of Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors in Branson 2007 includes six of the survivors and MWSA member Lloyd King and his late wife Paula King. Working together to get the story out.