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Organizing Author Readings

Posted on December 17, 2011 by Billzilla

Being a fledgling author, I had often pondered what it would be like to participate in a public reading of one’s own work. I recently had the chance to find out. I agreed to assist in the promotion of Haunted: 11 Tales Of Ghostly Horror (FR Press, 2011), particularly since, as a contributor to the anthology, I have a personal stake in how well the book sells. Knowing that readings could help us immensely by generating interest and word-of-mouth advertising, I cast about town looking for likely venues.

It turns out that bookstores are good choices for readings, as one might expect. Also good, and perhaps not as obvious a choice in our Internet-driven culture, are public library branches. Always looking for ways to generate foot traffic, libraries are a great venue for hosting readings. Coffee shops are another venue with potential, though this last is one avenue we haven’t had time to pursue yet.

A word about attendance: Most writers will tell you of the soul-crushing possibility that no one will show up for your reading/autographing. I discovered I had a decent chance of avoiding this unfortunate occurrence with some extra planning and due diligence. Using social networking – Facebook, Twitter and countless other sites – to help promote your event is essential. You’ll be reaching your friends and relatives this way, which is helpful to add a friendly face or two to your audience. Also important: press releases sent to local media. While television and radio stations may seem an unlikely fit for such announcements, occasionally snippets or summaries of those press releases will get read on the air during the obligatory “what’s going on around town?” segments. In that same vein, sending press releases to local newspapers helps spread the word too. It’s important not to rely too heavily on only one medium to get the word out.

Our readings worked out well. Our first event – held at a public library branch on the night of Halloween – drew more than 20 people to hear two local authors read their creepy stories. The second event – at local bookstore A Room Of One’s Own – drew fewer people. Because of a small snafu in the publishing process, we did not have books available to sell at the library reading – definitely a missed opportunity. On the other hand, sales at the bookstore were fairly robust, and nearly everyone in the audience at the store walked away with a copy in hand. My understanding is that not all libraries allow sales on-site; check beforehand to confirm. In our case it was not only kosher but encouraged.

L to R: Georgia Beaverson; Monica Valentinelli; Jason Blair; Alex Bledsoe; Bill Bodden.

In our situation, we have four of the eleven authors who are local to the area, as well as the editor and publisher. Even so, organizing such that everyone’s schedules mesh successfully is no mean feat. We had two of the local authors for the library reading; all four of the locals turned out for the reading at the bookstore. Future readings are likely; with luck we’ll be able to organize a brief road trip or two to spread the word farther.

Working with a micro press for publication often gives the writer a great deal more control over their work, but is not without it’s difficulties. For one thing, getting the book into stores means someone is going to have to do a lot of leg work contacting independent bookstores to make it happen. Forget about Barnes and Noble; without a major publishing house behind the effort, they just aren’t interested in taking any chances. Can you special order a book from them to force them to carry it? Possibly. That doesn’t mean they’ll actually have it on shelves, but if you want to pay them in advance for a small press book, I’m sure even a behemoth like B & N will cheerfully try to order a copy in for you.

Participating in a reading was an enjoyable, though sometimes nerve-wracking experience. I would guide anyone considering reading their own work in public to a post by friend and fellow Haunted contributor Alex Bledsoe with helpful tips on the subject. The advice he’s collected in this post is well worth your time to read, even if you don’t have any wish to read to an audience. But if you do, it can turn an ordinary reading into a memorable and successful one.

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