For those of us who are not offered the support of the publisher’s entire publicity department to promote our latest book, sitting alone in a local bookshop, trying to sell it ourselves can be immensely demoralising. Persistent rain, the final of a great sporting fixture, or the lure of a more exciting event five minutes down the road, is all it takes to tempt any potential buyer away. The solution is simple. Don’t do it alone. Instead, make it a multi-author event. Not only is there safety in numbers, but there are other benefits to be had too.
A couple of years ago, the (rather forward thinking, in my experience) manager of the local WHSmiths branch advertised a ‘local author’ day. I got in contact and was offered a small table from where to sell my books. When the day arrived, I met 11 other authors, a few I already knew, but many I didn’t, all from within a 25-mile radius. Our book subjects and genres varied considerably from local history, dog humour, gardening and World War 2 memoirs through to romantic fiction, local walking guides and even senior citizen satire. The day went extremely well. I sold books, (yes, plural) and it was a great networking opportunity.
We realised that a lot of the success was because of the diversity in subject and genres. People came into the store to see what was on offer. They were browsing. All my sales were impulse purchases. No one had come in specifically to buy one of my books, but because there were so many authors in one store, cumulatively, we were ‘an attraction’.
At the end of the day we all swapped contact details, and thus began the start of many similar multi-author events, some of which we’re beginning to organise ourselves now. Our biggest event recently took place during the first bank holiday weekend last May. Attingham Park, our local National Trust property, holds an annual second-hand book fair during this weekend. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss; the place would be full of booklovers! We approached them, explained that we were a group of local Shropshire authors and felt that offering the public an opportunity to meet an author (and buy their books!) neatly complemented their second-hand book fair. We also volunteered to donate, 10% of our sales generated over the weekend.
Amazingly, they agreed, proving that if you don’t ask, you don’t get! They liked the extra publicity angle of having local Shropshire authors at their book fair. They supplied a magnificent marquee with tables and chairs, enabling us to create an author/book tent. We publicised ourselves and the book fair in the local paper and on the local radio, thus offering further publicity to the National Trust.
Although the Trust’s book fair runs across the full bank holiday weekend, we choose to start small and be there on the Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday only. Visitor figures for the whole weekend proved revealing. On the Saturday (when we weren’t there), 1,300 people turned up, this increased to 2,000 on the Sunday and on Bank Holiday Monday (with typical Bank Holiday weather) there were still 1,400 visitors. So, more visitors turned up when we were there. The Trust were delighted with this, and as a result have asked us back for the full three days in 2010!
From the public’s perspective, it seems that a room or marquee full of several authors isn’t as daunting as one solitary writer sitting behind a desk. “With a group of you there, it’s easier for people to come in and browse without feeling pressurised to go to a specific table,” says Dorothy Nicolle, who kindly organised our National Trust event this year. “You know how it is with some people, there’s a solitary author sitting there and they try to walk past without even glancing in the direction of the author for fear he or she might catch your eye. A group certainly has an advantage.” We’ve found that as a group, people browse our stalls like they would at a craft fair or county show.
From the author’s point of view, we’ve discovered that such multi-author events offer more than just increased book sales. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to talk to other writers about what they are doing,” says one of our authors, Diane Perry. “In the past I have been inspired by chatting to them and the booksellers who may also attend these events. You pick up a lot of information, just by being on the stand next to another writer.”
Organising such events is an ongoing learning curve for us as we continue to seek out new opportunities. But for anyone else considering this approach, here’s what we’ve learnt so far.
Authors: Obvious, but I’ll say it anyway, for a multi-author event you need authors! Some of us already knew each other from the local writer’s circle, but that first meeting at the WHSmiths store was where we really began. However, we’ve continued to expand through word of mouth, and we also make enquiries in other local bookshops. Owners often have good contacts with local authors, as do libraries. Search the Society of Author’s website for other members. A simple first 2 letters of the post code search often brings up a good selection.
Administration: At the moment, we’re still quite small, about 20 of us in total. Most are on email, but a simple database keeps track of contact details.
Finding venues: So far, we’ve operated like this in our local branch of WHSmiths, although whether other members will find their local store as accommodating, it’s difficult to say. But, just like we found with the National Trust, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. We’ve also been in independent bookshops as well as Attingham Park, so check what’s available in your locality. We’re hoping to approach other National Trust properties, but are considering libraries, church halls and other local festivals. One member is investigating the opportunity of linking in with a local literary festival. Clearly it makes sense to target places that book-loving people are attracted too, which is why we approached the National Trust’s book fair, but don’t dismiss any tourist attraction or event.
Keep it small: Especially to begin with. Make your first events relatively short, a couple of hours, targeted at the busiest anticipated time, e.g. 10am till 2pm. Go for longer times at bigger venues with bigger crowds. Never underestimate how long it takes to set up, you’ll always need more time!
Remember variety: When setting out your tables, play on the strength and diversity of your subjects and genres. Mix everyone up, don’t ‘theme’ authors together. We’ve found that mixing encourages the public to browse for longer. Try to plan where individual authors will be placed in your venue before the event, rather than on the day, but be flexible. A leaky marquee can cause havoc!
Finally: Have fun! It’s another opportunity to sell your books and meet the public. And as Diane Perry says, “It’s not just about selling on the day, it’s a great way of marketing for future sales and events.”
(c) Simon Whaley