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You’re excited for your book reading, only to wait…and wait…and wait for attendees. If it’s happened to you, you’re not alone. Other authors will tell you, “We’ve all been there.” But next time, try these tested ideas from published writers to boost attendance.
Connect with your (other) chapters
As American Express used to say, “Membership has its privileges.” Reach out to organizations you belong to and ask them to extend invitations to local members and/or feature the reading in calendars and event communications. Check with your alumni association or its local chapter to see if they will invite other alumni or forward your invitation.
Beth Harpaz, Associated Press travel editor and author, has reached out to high school, college, and graduate school alumni for her book readings by sending a postcard with the book cover printed on one side. The other side presents the event information, her group affiliation, the book subject, and a handwritten message saying “I’d love to meet you.”
“I’ve had a number of people I’d never met come up to me afterwards – and these were places where I didn’t have friends and family – saying they got my card and had brought a friend,” says Harpaz.
Conduct a workshop
You can make the reading and your book even more memorable by giving people additional reasons to attend. Lead a workshop that features an activity that engages readers or provides a first-hand understanding of your topic, theme, or something else related to your book.
Professional writer and author Alisa Bowman has used different strategies depending on the subject. She says, “I’m promoting a book right now called Raising the Transgender Child and am working with a local LGBT center on a talk and signing. For that book, I offer to give an educational talk followed by a Q&A.”
Work with local media
Local media outlets are often looking for good news stories. Send press releases and offer to give interviews for area papers, or write up an interview pitch with a relevant hook and submit it. Contact local radio stations, including at area colleges, and offer to give an interview or ask for a public service announcement.
Sister Lou Ella Hickman had been giving short poetry readings to small groups for over a year before her first bookstore reading and signing. Hickman says, “The [bookstore] owner included me in her monthly newsletter, and I was able to get several announcements on the radio.”
Extend personal invitations to relevant groups
Book and writing clubs have a particular connection to authors. Find and invite groups through libraries, bookstores, Goodreads.com, Meetup.com, ReadersCircle.org, writing centers, and other organizations. Contact area universities, colleges, and schools and invite members of the English, journalism, and any other related departments.
Harpaz has invited university communities by contacting relevant department chairs and offering to speak to classes about subjects such as writing a book or researching local history. She recalls a visit to the University of Maine: “They put me up and some of the women’s studies faculty organized a potluck supper for me. It was a wonderful, warm evening.” Other groups, like historical societies or churches, may also be worth inviting if they relate to your book’s subject.
There may be opportunities to spread the word at places your audience frequents. Ask to promote the reading at stores related to your book, including topic- or age-specific retailers like toy, pet, or baby/kids/teen clothing stores. For the best exposure, Hickman recommends posting information during deal days: “Some shops have once-a-week specials or certain days for certain [sale] items. These days most likely will have higher traffic.” Find places like delis, bakeries, and coffee shops that allow flyers about upcoming events.
Who doesn’t like to win something? Give a door prize or hold a raffle to build excitement and provide another opportunity to highlight your work. While promoting her memoir about saving her marriage, Bowman used her most unusual approach. She raffled off a basket containing $100 worth of goodies donated by a sex toy company. “It really went over well. The woman who won walked away with a huge smile.” Bowman also sold around 40 books at the event.
There is a whole range of additional things you can do to add that extra oomph. Consider hosting at a venue that holds special meaning to your book. Ask if the bookstore will partner with a local charity and donate a portion of your book sales for the hour before and after your reading, generating both goodwill and another partner to help promote your reading. Eileen McGervey, Owner of One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia, sees many successful young adult readings involving authors banding together in panels, interviewing each other, or hosting games like Family Feud with book-based answers.
You can also offer refreshments based on your book’s theme. Cookies can be especially good. McGervey remembers a reading for a book about a snow princess. The author brought snowflake cookies, and attendees tweeted pictures of the cookies, which helped promote the book. McGervey says, “If they’re pretty, cookies make great social media visuals. People don’t think of all the follow-on sales after the event. Those can be big too.”
No matter what happens, Harpaz recommends being mentally prepared: “You’re going to go somewhere, sometime, and there will be two people there. And the show must go on. And then there will be other times when it’s standing room only.”
Even with a no-show event, your presence can make a difference. If no one attends, McGervey recommends using the time to talk with the bookseller about your book. “People are looking for some kind of personal connection with the book. If I can talk about your book, then that will help me sell it.”
Don’t leave it to chance or expect your venue, publisher, or agent to do the work for you. Try one or more of these strategies to increase attendance and give your next book reading the full room it deserves.
Jennifer L. Blanck is a freelance writer. Her writing has appeared most recently in the Christian Science Monitor, Entropy, Toastmaster, Harpers.co.uk, and Wine Enthusiast.
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