Finding Readers: How to Get More Than a Hundred People to Attend Your Book Launch Event

Stevan Allred addresses the crowd during the Q and A session on Sept. 12 at Powell's City of Books in downtown Portland, Oregon

Stevan Allred addresses the crowd during the Q and A session on Sept. 12 at Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland, Oregon.

I met a local author right after the launch of Stevan Allred’s A Simplified Map of the Real World and he asked, “How did you get that many people to come to a reading?”

We attracted an estimated 160 to 180 attendees–two staffers gave two different numbers–but 180 has a better ring doesn’t it? Maybe I should split the difference and call it 170… In any case, it was an overflow, joyous, exuberant crowd that asked great questions, waited patiently for seats or stood in the back, and stuck around for the long autograph line.

How did they get there? I don’t have a magic answer, but today I’m excited to share some of my strategies in the hopes that they’ll help you get more attendees at your next book event.

1) Become an active member of the local literary community.

Stevan Allred, my author, has spent nearly twenty years teaching writers at the Pinewood Table with Joanna Rose. He has been published in numerous literary magazines, but A Simplified Map of the Real World is his debut book. Some of his students, including Yuvi Zalkow and Scott Sparling, published books before him. All the goodwill Stevan has sprinkled around the Portland metro area turned into a great, glorious outpouring of support and love.

Obviously, in choosing his manuscript, I knew about Stevan’s tireless efforts to help others craft their stories, and I knew a lot of people would be excited to celebrate his debut. That’s one of the reasons my press doesn’t accept previously published manuscripts; who will buy the book if the author’s fan base has already purchased and read their own copies? It’s hard to build fresh momentum after something has been released once.

What you can do: Start being part of your local literary community now, even if you don’t have a finished book or any plans for publication. Attend authors readings, especially at places you might like to read someday. Applaud wildly for others’ achievements. Follow your favorite writers–especially local ones–on social media. Leave reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and Library Thing. Chime in on author blogs. Meet fellow writers through classes and writing groups in your community; online groups are great, but for getting people to attend events locally, meeting people in person has an obvious advantage. Teach classes, if you have the knowledge base and want to grow your personal literary authority. Connect, and connect some more, and if you’re brave, connect those people to each other in turn, so your community grows. Many writers are shy, but I’ve found we are all fiercely loyal to our fellow writers, especially if they have thrown some genuine kindness our way. It’s a huge resource to have other writers wanting you to succeed as much as you do, especially local writers who will brave the wind and rain to come listen to you speak, but in order to earn that, you have to start by supporting them.

2) Invite your friends, family, neighbors, and hairdresser.

My press publishes Oregon writers, and I’ve spent the past year and a half growing that sense of community by organizing local readings, asking for submissions of novels and short stories, and being present on social media to share good news about our achievements and other writers’ readings and new publications. A lot of those wonderful Forest Avenue Press supporters came out on Sept. 12 to hear Stevan, as well as many members of my personal community–friends, neighbors, former coworkers, and family, many of whom have been listening to the latest challenges or triumphs (and advising me) for the past nine months.

Also, I make sure not to invite everyone to everything, so I don’t overwhelm my network. I am spreading the word about our Oct. 14 reading at Annie Bloom’s right now, two weeks before the date, and focusing on people who live in Southwest Portland, since they’re ultra local and might like a reason to get out of the house on a Monday night.

What you can do: If you have a publisher, ask questions about promotion and see what resources their organization can bring to your launch, especially if it’s being held in another city where you don’t have much of a network. If you’re self-publishing, once you’ve connected with local writers, it’s time to tell everyone else in your world about your book launch event. Hand out postcards or bookmarks or business cards if the topic comes up. Give extra materials to your best friends and family so they can share them with their friends. Don’t forget to tell your neighbors! Anyone in your circle, even if they’re not big readers or don’t like the genre you write in, will be happy to watch you succeed–and they might bring a friend or two to hear you speak. Just today, I told a woman at my dentist’s office about a reading that’s coming up in her neighborhood, handing over one of our postcards to show her the cover and book description. While I’m not sure she’ll attend, she said the book sounded really good and that she wants to buy it for her Kindle.

You don’t want to bombard people, especially if they don’t generally read your kind of writing; goodwill and community only go so far. But if the conversation comes around to your latest endeavor, don’ t be shy about handing over a postcard and saying hey, I have this thing coming up. You might be surprised at who actually takes you up on the invitation.

3) Find established writers to blurb your book.

We received incredibly generous blurbs by Northwest authors–authors that people in Portland, who might attend the event, would be especially excited about: Tom Spanbauer, Brian Doyle, Scott Nadelson, Joanna Rose, Scott Sparling, Yuvi Zalkow, Jon Bell, Matt Love, and Polly Dugan, who has a linked short story collection slated for release this spring.

Although we probably went overboard, having many blurbs was another way to connect more local writers to my press community, Stevan’s community, and the result enhanced the overall reputation of A Simplified Map of the Real World in an organic, far-reaching way–even before it was published! Which in turn contributed to attendance at our big splashy launch. And also grew the reputation of my press.

What you can do: This is especially important if you’re self-publishing. Don’t rush. You’ll regret the immediate satisfaction later when you realize all the opportunities you missed. Give yourself three months’ lead time to circulate the manuscript for blurbs, and then add those blurbs to your cover and your Amazon page. To find authors who might blurb your book, go to your local bookstore or library and browse to find titles similar to yours. Think about the authors you met in step #1, but also think about which authors’ audiences will like your book. I will likely write a whole blog post about blurbing at some point, because it’s a misunderstood art, and I’m still learning too. This is another spot where self-published authors might have different experiences than a small press author, in terms of asking someone to take the time to read their book, comment on it, and publicly, through that comment, be an advocate. By asking for a blurb, you’re asking for hours of someone else’s time, so it should be done with graciousness and good judgment.

4) Contact the media.

I sent advance copies of A Simplified Map of the Real World back in May to all the local newspapers to promote our Sept. 12 launch. All of them ran calendar listings or short blurbs about the event, inviting people outside our communities to attend. I have to say, as a huge print devotee, I was disappointed that none of those advance copies turned into reviews, but I also understand that book pages in papers around the nation have been decreasing rapidly due to a lack of advertising and the focus on online venues. (Our daily paper, The Oregonian, as of today, is no longer doing daily delivery.) I will continue to hope for reviews related to a future event while being realistic, and while sending out more calendar listings to get those future events coverage.

In addition to the newspaper work, I set Stevan up with two radio appearances, both of them 30-minute segments, that ran the week before the reading and mentioned the date and time more than once. Hearing Stevan’s made-for-radio voice on major local networks likely brought in extra attendees.

What you can do: Research. Who interviews authors on TV and radio in your community?  What radio stations and TV news programs do you like? Reach out to them in advance with the idea of coverage running before the event. Again, this probably needs its own blog post. Are there any literary organizations in your town that might want to publicize something a local author is doing? Identify your local papers–and pay special attention to the weeklies and even the monthlies. Find out who covers arts or books, and write personalized letters, introducing yourself and your book (or your author’s book in my case). Send advance copies, then follow up closer to the launch with an email.Community journalism is going strong even while dailies are struggling; we’ve gotten our best coverage from small papers, but only pitch if your book is relevant to that particular community.

What you can do:

5) Put together fun and engaging pre-publicity.

Starting about two months before the launch, we began revealing blurbs and other tidbits on our website and on other social media, growing excitement about the upcoming event. Two weeks out, we began publicizing our first reviews and interviews, which were timed to start then in order to bring people to our event.

I met Stevan Allred and Gigi Little, our graphic designer, at Powell's to celebrate before the official launch reading.

I met Stevan Allred and Gigi Little, our graphic designer, at Powell’s to celebrate before the official launch reading.

The week of the launch, with Stevan’s name on the marquee at Powell’s, the team met downtown for a fun, goofy photo shoot. The results are ebullient and way more fun than running yet another picture of the cover art, as beautiful as our cover is! We took extra pictures to use later. Be sure to go to local bookstores that have your books and photograph them on the shelf, then post those to your website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, or whatever social media you like. Bookstores will appreciate the shout-out, and it’s a fun way to celebrate your book’s arrival in the world.

I promoted all the pre-event publicity, including photos of the editorial team and Stevan posing at Powell’s, on our Forest Avenue Press website, hopefully building excitement in the two weeks prior to the launch.

What you can do: Make a calendar. Try to schedule coverage (articles, reviews, interviews, blog appearances) starting two weeks out from your launch date, and make sure to publicize the date, time, location, and street address of the event regularly during those two weeks. It’s best if your book is available online at that point, and in local stores, so you can get the most from your publicity, but remember a big priority is filling those chairs at the launch so the bookstore is impressed and excited about you.

Create a Facebook events page well in advance, or better yet, if you’re self-publishing, have a friend create the page and start the invitations. It feels more community based that way, I think. Various Forest Avenue Press folks have volunteered to set up pages for our events, and I love them for that, because then it’s not all coming from me, and we have a better shot of reaching their friends, not just my own community. Use your email signature line to promote the latest good news–not always buy my book, buy my book, but highlighting a bookstore that just agreed to carry it, or mentioning an upcoming event or a new blurb.

Questions? Comments? Other thoughts?

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Books, Fiction, Finding Readers, Publishing, small press, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Finding Readers: How to Get More Than a Hundred People to Attend Your Book Launch Event

  1. You clearly know this business and it was fascinating reading. Sorry to have missed Stevan’s launch and reading!

    • Oh thanks, Cynthia! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support. The launch was great and more readings are coming up, so maybe you can make it to one sometime. I’m really excited about Nov. 7 at Broadway Books with Natalie Serber, who also lives in Portland and wrote a wonderful linked story collection titled Shout Her Lovely Name.

      • So welcome. I am interested in hearing what she offers partly due to working on a similar project. Thanks for the tip; I will be there!

        • Oh excellent, Cynthia! I look forward to seeing you, and I adore Natalie’s book, so hopefully that will be fun and fruitful for you. It should be a wonderful evening, and it’s always great to head to a local bookstore for an evening out.

          • Hard to stay away from them! See you folks there.

            • Looking forward to it. Have we met in person yet? I feel like we haven’t, so that will be an extra treat!

            • Not in person. I submitted my novel excerpt to Forest Avenue Press in Feb. 2013. We have just communicated a bit here and are Facebook “friends”. I have met (or been edited by) a few folks you most likely know around town and Jennifer S. at VoiceCatcher knows me as I had work in three issues. But I don’t get out much to circulate! I need to go to more readings, that’s fur sure.

            • I remember that for sure, Cynthia, but last year at Wordstock I was so muddled by seeing so many people that I couldn’t place my neighbor! I just wanted to check that we hadn’t met before saying looking forward to meeting you! You should come to Wordstock this weekend, speaking of which! I have a booth and I’d be happy to introduce you around.

            • Thanks! I plan on coming Sunday so will look for your booth.
              Ahh, the “fur” got in instead of “for”. Pesky “u”. Maybe I could riff on that typo and see what happens…(Hey, there’s a blog post–all the typos and what they might turn into.)

  2. jmmcdowell says:

    Wow, Laura, thank you for the fabulous advice! Someday I hope to be incorporating it for my own books, but currently I’m working at being supportive and helpful for my fellow writers who are embarking on that publishing path. And that is fun and rewarding in and of itself, no matter what comes of my own writing endeavors.

    I’m about two-thirds of the way through Stevan’s book, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. What a great book to have as your press’s debut work. Once I’ve finished, you can bet there will be a very positive review post on my blog!

    • You are one of the most supportive bloggers out there, jm, and I’m so thrilled to know you. And all this goodness will come back to you, hopefully tenfold, when you are ready to publish your own work. And I am so thrilled you’re enjoying the book! Yay!

  3. janbaross says:

    Hi Thanks for putting this out. It’s good info for folks like me promoting my book. Best to you. See ya soon. JB

    • Thanks, Jan! I could go into great detail about each piece, but focusing on getting people to an event seemed important in the wake of our launch. It’s always wonderful to get booked for an event, but that’s just the beginning. You did an amazing job, from what I hear, about attracting an overflow crowd for your reading at Annie Bloom’s!

  4. Memoir in progress says:

    Reblogged this on Kellywawa's Blog and commented:
    This is a great how-to for writers! Thanks Laura. I started my blog at the same time I started my unpublished memoir 3 years ago to document my writing and experiences writing the manuscript.

  5. Memoir in progress says:

    Thanks Laura. This is a great how-to for authors. I started my blog at the same time I started writing my manuscript 3 years ago to document my writings and research. Even though I didn’t have to do this and I may eventually tear down the blog it helped me market my project and writings to friends, family and the general public. Any pr is good pr in my book!

  6. Nisha says:

    Great advice Laura! I will definitely keep these in mind when/if my first book gets published 😉

  7. rosecityreader says:

    Great advice! I’m going to book mark this one for when authors talk to me about how to promote their books.

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