So you're promoting a book. Congratulations.
Now, what do you do when a bookstore manager has handed you some unhappy, fluorescently-lit little nook with a confusing and untidy background as a stage for your author event? Some folks asked for specifics on what to do.
Below is our 10 step guide to overcoming this obstacle.
Typically, you won't find out what your author's stage looks like until you arrive ten minutes before the event. 99% of the time the stage is a visual disaster. It's as if bookstore managers have never attended an event themselves. Cramped quarters, bad lighting, terrible seats... it seems designed for discomfort and little else.
So as manager of the event, take matters into your own hands. A tidy environment is a life changing thing. So first of all, insist on a tidy, uncluttered area. Consider renting comfortable chairs, too.
Do visit our previous post on what NOT to do. In it we discuss why coverage of the event is more important than the event itself. Remember, it's a book promotion event. It's not a project management meeting.
Seriously: prepare the set as if it were a film set or professional photo opp for the author, keeping in mind that celebrities on the red carpet are photographed in certain places and at certain angles FOR A REASON. Allow the author the same opportunity.
How to set up an author appearance
Follow this 10 step guide:
- Remember that the point of a book promotional event is to get good pictures of the author (and the venue) so the images will be shared on Facebook and other media. If you do not think that is the entire point of the event, then you need to hire a new promotional team. See previous post, which explains why the point of a book reading is to get good photos and have them shared on Facebook.
- Prepare days or even weeks in advance by surveying the scene. Go to the venue. Work with the bookstore / gallery manager to address lighting & backgrounds and other details. Don't worry, you will be better at it each time.
- Consider bringing your own lighting for the nook or podium where they will be placed while reading. Example: a $50 floor lamp from Staples (with flexible heads) can do wonders, similar to a spotlight. Better, borrow a spotlight from a photographer. Rent one. Whatever, get one.
- Insist that inspiring but unobtrusive music is played while the audience filters in. Try something ambient. Without flute. Please.)
- Ask if you can, set up a photo area, where attendees can have their picture taken with the author. This would be after the Q&A, maybe during the signing process. Let all attendees use the area, as both model and photographer. See, this way you control somewhat how the photos are taken. Make sure the lighting and angles in the photo area are such that everyone looks their best in the photos. (Stand by to help folks use their iPhones to best effect during this phase of the event. If you don't have basic iPhone photo skills, hire someone who does: a local high schooler if nothing else. iPhone photos are basic, essential stuff in publicity / social media today. Example: try using the Chrome filter, and always, always hold the camera up high when taking pictures of people, it makes everyone look thinner and it hides excess under-chin baggage, along with other benefits.)
- House lights go down while author reads or while presentations are made.
- Lights stay down during Q&A, people are more apt to speak up in low light.
- The music / lights come back up after the Q&A.
- Arrive an hour and a half early to the event itself. Don't show up ten minutes prior and expect the set to be dressed, the music queued and the floor manager to be prepped, even if it was promised. Just plan to do it yourself. Be realistic.
- Video of the event is another subject, but with similar principles. Flattering lighting, pre-planned good camera angles, etc. To all this you must add "top quality audio." Spend money on microphones. It's well established that a viewing audience will forgive bad video quality, but will not forgive bad sound. Think about it, hollow, cheap audio is worse than, or just as bad as, lighting that makes you look like a ghoul.
- Again: encourage your client to engage the services of a stylist. Even if that stylist is a niece or granddaughter with some contemporary flair. Note: with hair and makeup, less is more, but some is better than none. A good piece of advice is: spend two hours on hair, makeup and wardrobe -- with the goal of making it look like you spent no time at all. Hey, I'm just an observer, I don't make the rules. This is what works!
It's time to raise the curtain
In the days when book readings began, there would be a curtain raised and theatrical lighting and so forth. These tricks (costume, hair & makeup, designated photo area, placed extras, etc.) are not new. They are of course used at the Academy Awards and at every event in the known universe... except, it seems, for authors at book readings / workshops.
This is not fair to authors.
If authors have to get out and mingle and read and promote their own work, make it worth their while. Bookstore managers, come on! Let's not pretend it's 1891 and that all that matters is that you have a bookstore. Mark Twain is not coming to town. Folks are waiting at home to read on Facebook whether or not the book is any good and whether your bookstore is a place they want to visit. So help them answer, "Yes." They need to see the pictures. And the pictures need to look good.
The good news: if you wrote a book, it's easy to stand out if your promotional person is the only one paying attention to this stuff! You'll be the only one shared on social media and in regular media. So hire a promotional manager who pays attention to this stuff.
Did you ever notice that no one, ever, posts pictures of book readings on Facebook? And rarely in newspapers or on CNN?
That can change.