Question: What are the best ways to present a book at a reading or book club?
In-person events continue to be one of the most effective ways authors can reach readers because readers love meeting authors face-to-face. These events give authors the opportunity to discuss and share their work, interact with fans, and create meaningful, long-lasting connections. And, of course, sell more books!
If you are considering adding events such as book signings, speaking engagements, or book club visits to your marketing strategy, here are six steps you can follow to ensure you have a successful event:
1. Know your audience and event format
The length, venue, and expected attendance can all greatly affect an event plan, as can the age and interests of the attendees. For example, a discussion with a small group at a local library or book club meeting is much less formal than a presentation in a ballroom at a large conference. And, the energy level of a presentation to school children is vastly different from one given to a professional organization.
Make sure you have a good contact for the event that can answer any questions and help guide you on the details and expectations. You’ll want to try and get at least 20 minutes of time for your presentation, but no more than an hour. You’ll also want to understand if the event is private and limited to select invitees only, or if it is open to the public.
2. Understand live reading best practices
If the event format allows for a live reading from your book, we recommend keeping it short – 6 to 10 minutes max. This is typically around one-thousand words or less. For fiction and memoir authors, you’ll want to focus on a faster-paced, compelling scene that doesn’t require too much explanation or backstory. The more conflict in the scene, the more gripping the excerpt will be for your audience.
Nonfiction authors should find a passage that demonstrates your expertise on the book’s topics, or solutions you present in the book. If you’re sharing a book of poetry, choose only a few of your favorite poems to read.
Be sure to read loudly and clearly, using your voice to express the tone and emotion of the scene or content, and your eyes to connect with your audience. If you bury your head in your book and speak in a monotone voice, you will quickly lose the interest of your listeners.
Whether you do your reading at the start of your presentation or after some initial discussion is up to you. Just consider what will flow best, keep the audience engaged, and entice them to buy your book.
3. Make the event interactive
As you’re planning the event schedule, it’s important to research how other authors best utilize the time they are given. Attend author events in your area to observe how attendees respond and take note of what you like and what you would improve.
When invited to speak at an event, it’s your job as the guest presenter to entertain, enlighten, excite, or engage. You can do this by including an interactive portion in your presentation. Ideas to engage the audience include conducting a question and answer session, having someone interview you, or creating a pre-planned discussion guide. If you’re up for a more unique approach, do something that ties to your book’s setting, themes, or characters. Maybe you do a cooking demonstration, dress-up as the villain, or host a game.
For children’s presentations, especially, authors must keep the content fun and entertaining, while also sneaking in some educational takeaways. No matter the audience or venue, your goal should be to create a memorable experience.
4. Plan ahead and practice, practice, practice
Once you know how much time you have for your presentation, create an outline of what you plan to do. Audiences may not know you, so are you going to start with a quick introduction of yourself and your book before doing a reading? How much time will you have for questions or for something interactive?
You’ll also want to understand what type of equipment is being provided to you. Will there be a podium and a microphone? What about a small table to display your book? If you plan to show visuals such as a PowerPoint presentation, will there be a projection screen and laptop hook-up provided? What about a wireless mouse to advance the slides? For some events, you might need to bring your own equipment.
Leading up to the event, it’s important to plan out and practice what you’re going to say during the speaking portions of the presentation. It’s a good idea to also write out answers to commonly asked questions such as, “What inspired your to write this book?” or “How long did it take to write it?” You can practice in front of friends or family that will provide honest feedback, or set up your phone or camera to record yourself on video. Whatever you do, don’t leave the planning and preparation to the last minute! You want to appear professional and ready.
5. Promote the event if you can
After the time and date are set, start building awareness for the event if open to the public. You can use your online presence such as a website and social media pages to promote, or announce the upcoming event in the email newsletter sent to your fans. The POEM Method of Book Marketing is an effective approach when wanting to maximize your promotional efforts.
If you’re speaking at a closed or private event, try to have someone take photos or video footage of you while presenting so that you can use these examples to build your speaking credibility and resume. The more events you do, the more opportunities will come your way.
6. Have book copies readily available
While you don’t want your presentation to feel like a big sales pitch, you definitely want to make it as easy as possible for attendees to purchase a copy of your book. If you’re allowed to bring physical copies to sell, make sure you estimate how many are needed based on the expected attendance. Also consider accepting credit card payments to maximize your sales potential. You can have a mobile card reader on hand to accept credit and debit cards, or be prepared to accept electronic payments through platforms like Venmo, PayPal, and Apple Pay.
In-person events provide a great opportunity to offer signed copies, a special discount, or free swag to your fans. If you’re presenting to a book club that has already purchased copies of your book, offer to sign the physical books, send bookplates, or email a link for a free digital download as a thank-you.
In addition to selling books, be sure to have a way for attendees to sign up for your email newsletter. You can have a physical sign-up sheet available, a tablet with an electronic sign-up, or a takeaway such as a bookmark or postcard with instructions on how to sign up online.
How to do a virtual speaking engagement or book club event
Online events have increased in popularity over the last couple of years. They are a great way to connect with readers around the world, and there are many free video conferencing platforms authors can use. Some of the more popular include Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype. Here are some tips for making sure your online event is a success:
• Be in a quiet, private environment
• Be on time and connect early
• Dress appropriately – wear what you would wear for an in-person meeting; no wild patterns/colors or loud jewelry
• Use a simple, tidy background/backdrop – blank wall, organized bookshelf, etc.
• Test out your camera positioning and audio – use the built-in camera and microphone on your tablet or laptop
• Turn off all phone ringers and notifications
• Close out of all apps and computer programs that aren’t needed
• Hydrate – keep water handy
• Look at your camera to make eye contact during the presentation
• Sit up straight and remain alert/engaged
No matter the type of event, it’s important to be authentic and in the moment. Public speaking and appearances are amazing opportunities to form personal connections and further spread your messages. Always be sure to thank event organizers for including you and attendees for participating.