Insight from a bookseller who has seen these things go very badly.
Congrats on Your Book
So you’ve written a novel, better yet you’ve found a modest publisher who can get it into stores. Sure it might not have priority placement on the front table, but it’s available to customers who think to order it.
Seems like life is on the upswing, but before you forget your humble roots you might want to do something to bring yourself back down to earth, something to let the air out of your ego before it gets too inflated. Why not host an author event? Why that’s just the kind of degrading experience you need to kick your heart in the balls, but how to prepare for one in a way that guarantees maximum humiliation?
I have just the strategy.
Don’t Send Out Invitations
In fact disinvite family, friends, and anyone from your writing workshop. No room for well-wishers here. This shindig is exclusive for fans, the real ones, the ones who made your site their homepage and are always refreshing the calendar tab to see what you’ve got going on.
Don’t worry about localizing your promotion. Don’t bother finding fiction loving Facebook groups near the event. Don’t reach out to Podcasters and never ever do radio. Have you learned nothing from The Buggles’s hit song Video Killed the Radio Star?
Let the Staff Handle Everything
Assume every bookstore has an incredible social media reach and that there’s some hip young influencer whose sole job it is to drum up interest for the event. Maybe your publisher put it on a calendar somewhere. Maybe you could have passed that information onto your followers, but that’s not really what your twitter account is for. It’s for writerly one-liners superimposed over clouds. (If your twitter feed doesn’t look like a series of Hallmark cards, you’re doing it wrong.)
If you did post a Facebook event it’s safe to assume everyone who said they’re coming will be there. Don’t get started until that headcount matches.
If you arrive and there isn’t a line out the door let the staff know to drum up interest. That’s what they’re there for.
Don’t Bring Your Own Signs
This is why every bookstore has a copy shop hidden in the back, so they can print out quality signage for your event on the cheap: vinyl posters, big banners, and stands, they’ve got it none. Instead they’ll give you an artisanal 8 by 10 print with inkjet lines through your portrait.
Sit The Entire Time
You’re an author now. You’ll never have to work another day in your life, right? Don’t greet the customers. You’re not on the store’s payroll. No need for you to try to charm people. Why reduce yourself to hand selling when you could sit behind a table and build a wall of books? Just assume that by virtue of a genuine bonafide author being there people will want something signed.
Pro tip: bring an extra Sharpie for signing cleavage and buttocks, and if anyone announces they’re going to get your signature tattooed on their flesh forever demand a cut.
Let Your Press Clippings do the Talking
Your book got a write up in the local cultural events paper. Assume all the local millennials have a subscription to it. If anyone asks what your book is about make them read the blurb on the back. You’re a published author, pitching is beneath you now.
Bring Your Own Books
Assume you’ll be selling your own copies of your magnum opus and netting %100 of the profit. I mean, how else are you going to get paid? Bring a fanny pack full of change and a credit card reader for your phone.
If the booksellers around you say something hostile like “Actually, we can sell the copies we have at the front counter.”
Just wave them away. “You go do that.”
Don’t worry about budgeting for gas or meals just expect an immediate return on your investment.
Assume you’ll have a wedding ceremony’s worth of seats ready for you and that everyone will be interested in a recitation from your sacred tome of wonder.
These days everyone is so cultured they’ll sit in on any reading without knowing a thing about the author. It’s for this reason that you never see a philosopher wearing less than three gold chains and every street poet has diamond braces. They’re all just rolling in it.
Nothing in Life Is Free
Give nothing away. Assume people would rather just buy a $30 hardcover sight unseen than read a free sample chapter. Assume that people won’t take a button or a sticker, even if it has a clever design. This isn’t about building a relationship with readers. It’s about snatching, grabbing, and giving them the old Batman goodbye.
Become Visibly Irate
Now this is the most important thing you can do when setting out to humiliate yourself at your own author event. I cannot stress this enough.
Set this expectation with yourself: no matter how niche your genre is the quality of your work will draw readers like moths to flames. When it comes to the fiction market it’s safe to assume that the cream always rises to the top and that every reader you get will become a lifelong evangelist of your brilliance, a convert, a missionary preaching the gospel of you.
Then comment aloud at the poor quality of the turn out. Throw in a few audible sighs for good measure. Make sure potential buyers hear it. Make sure the staff hears it, and most importantly make sure the event planner hears it. Also sees it. You’ve got to wear that resentment. Bite your lip. Sneer.
Now this can’t be just a few off the cuff comments. You need to make your meltdown memorable. You need to have a full on existential crisis, a monologue that starts with the line, “What the fuck am I doing with my life?”
Really chew the scenery. Flip some tables. Throw those middle fingers up.
Congratulations! You’ve ruined your author event.