It’s every author’s nightmare, and every bookseller’s and publicist’s too: The bookstore is brightly lit, the e-blasts and media notices have gone out, the signs are up, the table is set, and there you are, staring into the uncomfortable faces of the four people who came to your book signing—and one of the four is your mom.
Or, horror of all horrors, you’re staring down the barrel of an empty room, watching minute after minute tick by, while you alternate between making awkward small talk with the twenty-something behind the counter and desperately avoiding eye contact.
Let’s face it—there are no guarantees with author events. Anything could happen that might prevent people from showing up: poor promotion, bad weather, traffic jam, zombie attack. And even if you fill a room with forty people, you may only sell ten books.
But there are some tricks you can use to make sure your event has the best chance possible:
1. If an event sounds like a bust, don’t book it, unless you’re really desperate—and then probably still don’t book it.
Again, there are NO guarantees about whether an event will fly or flop, but warning signs of a “bust” include any combination of the following: a). The event was booked last minute (three weeks or less); b). It’s in a town where you don’t know a single person; or c). The bookstore seems apathetic about or disinterested in hosting you, is uncommunicative, or warns you outright that you and only you will be promoting this event. The best events are booked well in advance, with a venue that’s excited to host you and who will be promoting the event, and where you (hopefully) know at least one person who will show up and tell their friends.
2. Tell everyone. EVERYONE.
Approach your book signing like any party you might host, but on a larger scale. If it’s a local signing, invite your friends, family, and coworkers. Have them invite their friends, family, coworkers, and book club members. Invite your neighbors. Invite the parents milling around your child’s afterschool care, the people at gym, or at the dog groomer’s. Regardless of whether it’s a local signing or not, spread the word on your social media. Alert your alumni association. If there’s a Facebook page for the city where you’re having your book signing, post about the event. If the bookstore doesn’t make a Facebook page specifically for your event, make one. If the bookstore is making a flyer, get copies—and if they’re not, make a flyer—and post them in libraries, coffee shops and other venues around town (you can also email the flyer to local libraries and businesses and ask them to post). Invite local affinity groups and clubs who might enjoy your book. Yes, you are going to be that person, and that’s totally okay! If you want people to come, spread the word far and wide.
3. It’s your party, so bring the party.
Your publicist (if you have one) may have booked the event, and the bookstore may be your host. But this is your event, and ultimately you are responsible for turning out a crowd—not always an easy task when people have couches and Netflix. So how do you make an event more fun and interactive? Consider providing light refreshments, if the bookstore isn’t already providing them. Bring fun swag to hand out. Host a raffle, contest, or giveaway, just for people who come to the event. If you have a book trailer, see if the bookstore or venue has a screen and projector you can use, and show the video. And no matter if there is one person there or 100, get a shot of people holding your book!
Events are unpredictable, so don’t waste too much time worrying about who will come; just take a deep breath, and focus on making the event as enjoyable as possible—and not just for everyone else, but for yourself, too!