How To Promote A Book: Appearances

You've written a book. A bookstore has scheduled a promotion. How should you prepare?

The takeaway: coverage of the event is worth more than the event itself. Like the Oscars: without TV cameras, photographers, commentators, bloggers, newspaper and magazine write-ups, the Oscar ceremony is just a dinner party. But the coverage is gold for the stars.

And so it should be for literary events. Coverage is gold for the authors. So here's the thing...

Set the stage

This post came about because we attended a reading for a respected literary launch at an esteemed bookstore. We left grumpy. See, we'd tried to take pictures of the reading, of the audience, of the bookstore, to help promote the launch on this blog and on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.

It seemed the organizers of the event were opposed to marketing. Did they not want us to photograph the event? Were they hoping no one would snap a photo and share it on Facebook with 1000 people?

Because every photo we took make the event look boring. Imagine if you watched the Oscars and no one dressed up, the lighting was the worst it could be, and there were no "photo spots" for photographers to get a good angle? l

Our several hundred photos were useless. The event looked like the most terribly-lit, boring, I-don't-want-to-go-there event of the season. We never posted a single image or even mentioned the thing again.

Until...  one author contacted us and asked for a picture for use in their own promotion. Fair enough. (Smart author! Yes!) However, we had nothing to share, even with a combined 30 years of Photoshop experience, the images were useless. That's when we realized something must be said about marketing a book reading, or any promotional event like it.

Let's take it backwards. Imagine a photograph of the last book event you attended. You'll have to imagine it because if you bothered to take a photo at all, you didn't keep it, and you definitely didn't post it on Instagram or Facebook for all to see. Because everyone, including the author, looked ugly and uninspired in the photo.

Get things started

Typically, a book event photo looks like a bunch of grey haired people sat in a cramped, badly lit second-grade classroom and they aged a couple of years while they were there. The uncomfortable chairs make the audience sit uncomfortably. Everyone looks old and tired, and this is because of the lighting, not because of the people. No one appears interesting, engaging or engaged. Pictures of the author are equally as withering. The lighting is cruel. There's no music, and you can tell.

Anyone on Facebook would choose to look at a cat video instead.

Remember, there's a lot of competition for attention these days. And those cat videos are well thought out and carefully edited. At this point, pretty much everything on the internet is.

So you have to at least try to be interesting. Viewers can tell when you didn't try.

Put on make-up, light the lights

A million dollar tip for authors: stage these workshops / reading events FOR PHOTOS. To be shared. On Facebook. And in magazines. And in blog posts.

Coverage of the event is the point of the event itself. Consider: this is a modern-day author appearance. This is exciting! Yay! There should be a red carpet, dammit, if you've ever tried to write a book you will agree. Publishing a book is a big deal, and it's awesome.

But remember: this is not an an old time Grange Hall lecture in Victorian times. Please think about that. Everything about this book-reading event must photograph well. Because it's 1980. No wait! It's 2016!

Here's what's needed:

  1. Dramatic and flattering lighting for the author
  2. Dramatic and flattering lighting for the author
  3. Please, dramatic and flattering lighting for the author
  4. An uncluttered, organized, nice-to-look at background behind the presenters / authors
  5. All signage should all be evaluated. Example: did the store manager write the book title in pink chalk on green chalkboard? Just say No! The writing will be illegible in photos, therefore any post on Facebook will not include any data, like the name of the book or author.) (See photo at bottom for example of what not to do.)
  6. Good looking, younger people as extras should be hired, and/or coerced into attending, and should be sat in the audience and told to look eager. Let's not pretend that a hip and attentive looking audience does not matter. If you see a picture of a concert, say, and all you see in the audience are dispassionate, retired people... then you are going to click on that cat video over there. Fast.
  7. The press should be invited.
  8. Special, excellent angles / areas should be set aside for photographers, even for amateur photographers, or jees, especially for amateur photographers. But remember, if the local newspaper can't get a good photograph, i,e, if the author doesn't "look cool," the paper is not going to run much story about the event. They can't -- or they will be fired; they have to sell subscriptions. So provide a press box!
  9. Photos and social media shares should be encouraged. The event manager must tell people attending, specifically, "Yes! We want you to take pictures!"
  10. Remind people in the audience that they may be photographed, as they are in a public place, if they have a problem with this find a seat in back. A lot of times those of us wanting to snap and share pictures feel we're intruding, or not allowed. "Please take pictures and share them on Facebook" is perhaps the most important thing to tell event attendees, and arguably the most important aspect of the event itself.
  11. People who are attending want nothing more than to be associated with this author (or poet), they WANT to promote both the book and the venue on Facebook. So let them!
  12. If it's a workshop or similar private event, you may want to disallow photos, but I recommend instead you allow photos to be taken, say, on just one evening, for a certain period, perhaps from 6-7PM in a properly-lighted and definitely-staged corner of a lovely room during the Welcome cocktail reception, for instance, when people are already dressed up and generally ebullient and excited. (Excited energy translates well into photos.)
  13. Consider helping the "stars" of the show with hair and makeup, any teenage daughter can help. Even minimal, simple clothes that are not faded or wrinkled would be a good start. And posture is key. Practice. Try to stand like a rock star. Practice what postures and angles work best.

It's time to get things started

Begin right away: an author must get used to having photos taken. Read on the internet what types of colors (never white) and fabrics (never wrinkly fabrics) photograph well under spotlights. No photos of the under-chin. Ever. This is basic stuff.

Again: lighting and clothes and makeup are your friends. All this will pay off when a photo of the author presenting makes them look intriguing, competent, and surrounded by a gaggle of other, nice-looking and interesting people. It's the old popularity thing. The author must be presented like a person that the average potential buyer of the book will Like.

When you see the picture at bottom, you will understand what NOT to do.

If you put a photo like this (below) on Facebook, it gets two Likes and is forgotten before most see it to begin with (Facebook has an algorithm that buries not-popular material). However, if you put a picture of a good-looking author photographed well and reading at a well-respected venue -- even a small bookstore -- it should get a hundred Likes. And shares. And multiply this by the 50 people who attended...

There is nothing shareable about this photo (below), and no way to make it shareable. As such, the event almost may as well have never happened. Except for the people who went there, no one is ever going to know about it. And those folks would have bought the book anyway. So what was the point of the event?

And do not ever let this happen:

ZZZZzzzzzz.  Be honest, do you have any interest in what's going on in this picture?

Caption: "Think I'll watch a cat video."



Kathleen Hurley