An Author Event…Done Right
Last night I attended Christopher Moore’s packed-house event at Wordsmiths. Like anybody in the industry, I’ve attended an event or three, but this one was a standout. Uh, literally. There were people standing in the vestibule of the store and spilling out onto the square. The only people who got to sit had the foresight to come in and stake out a section of floor an hour or two in advance. As I was standing there listening (because there was noplace left from which a person could see the man; Tim Frederick of Baby Got Books was kind enough to let me briefly stick my head in front of him so I could *glimpse* Christopher Moore Authorguy) it occurred to me that there are a great many things Mr. Moore does *right*, and that it might be worth sharing them here.
Moore doesn’t give readings. Well, technically, he did read some stuff, but it was a little humorous essay he wrote in one of the hotel rooms he’s occupied lately. Mostly he just talks; it’s more like watching a stand-up comic than attending an author event, because as one would expect of Christopher Moore, it’s all very funny. And he hands out swag (GREAT swag: Christopher Moore FOOL promotional hats) to people who get the quiz questions right. (Did I not mention the quiz? It’s a Books by Chris Moore trivia quiz.) And he takes questions and gives entertaining answers. I stood (stood! at the end of a long day) for an HOUR and never wondered how long I’d been standing, even though I couldn’t see much of anything.
Now, I’m not suggesting all you authors start putting together your standup routines before your book tours. Unless you’re a humorist, it probably wouldn’t go all that well. (“Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”) But I do think it’s worthwhile to think about what your fans, yes all three of those diehards who will show up at your next bookstore event, would enjoy.
Each author is a one-of-a-kind with his own particular strengths and weaknesses. Each work attracts a particular set of fans. What do you do well? If you give a good reading, by all means do one at your event. (But don’t read too long. Five minutes is almost always plenty, and you are probably not the exception to that rule.) If you don’t, well, you probably need to work on that–but you might also think about what value you bring to your fans that might be shared in a bookstore event setting. (And please, if there really are only three fans there, get down off the stage and just talk to them. You look silly up there in that situation.) Most importantly, PREPARE. You’re putting on a show; try to make it a good one. Practicing your show in advance wouldn’t hurt–not least because, when things don’t go the way you expect, you’ll be comfortable enough to gracefully depart from your mental script.
Fans come to author events, more often than not at the end of a long day full of their own responsibilities, to feel a sense of connection with the author, to experience something special. Oh, and they probably want to get their books signed. But a significant percentage of event attendees are *potential* fans who have wandered in by mistake or been dragged to the event by someone else. They probably won’t buy the book that night; but if you show them an enjoyable time, they may later. In either case, the last thing they want is to see you stand there with your face in your own book, mumbling through page after page of prose for which they lack sufficient context to care (I don’t care how great the passage on page 142 is. No one who hasn’t already read the book will get it.) and then wait passively for them to ask you to sign their book. It is your job to do more.
Entertain if you can. Hand out swag if you can get some. But whatever you do, bring the people at your events something special, something they won’t get anywhere else: a sense of connection with you.