Along with doing events at the library, we’ve also done readings at bookstores in Seattle and Portland and at Seattle nonprofits that focuses on literary events. We’ll share with you some things that have helped us.
1- Plan Multi-Author Events
Queer Romance and genre fiction is still a small niche, and you will get WAY further and more interest if you plan multi-author events rather than single author events. Partners/venues are more likely to come on board if you say, “I have four writers” than if you have just one. They’ll see that four writers also have four fanbases, and will feel that the chances of a good turn-out are better.
2- Plan Ahead.
Just like libraries, bookstores and nonprofits need months of planning time. Don’t go in thinking you’ll get something next week. Plan 4-7 months ahead. If you have a relationship with the organization, it may take less time, but if you’re meeting them for the first time, then expect it to take longer to plan as people get to know you and trust you.
If you’re going in cold with no relationship, it can take multiple meetings and conversations just to get people aligned to the idea of event. Be patient and know that building a relationship with the organization is one of the most important factors.
3- Make sure to align with the organization or store’s purpose.
Does the bookstore you want to work with only sell science fiction or romance? Does the nonprofit literary organization you want to partner with only holds events with authors already published? Make sure what you want to do aligns with what the organization is doing. Otherwise, it may look like you’re just being opportunistic and not really thoughtful about their needs and their audience.
3- Don’t expect to sell a lot
We’ve had books sold at author readings, but it’s never a BLOW-OUT sale, or the things that people dream about. You WILL be pushing LGBTQIA stories forward at a public event though, and you are providing an opportunity for local readers to meet you. That’s really the main takeaway. Some readers prefer ebooks only, and won’t buy paperbacks, but they will come out to say “Hi!” Use these opportunities as a chance to be visible and meet readers. Don’t use it only for sales, or keep your sales expectations low. (e.g. 1-4 books.)
4- Bookstores have their own needs and requirements
We’ve held multiple bookstore events, and bookstores have very specific needs. They also really like to get books sold as that keeps them in business. The “moral imperative” of highlighting LGBTQIA stories doesn’t always work with a business that needs to make money.
Be open to what your bookstore partner needs. If your publisher doesn’t accept returns, for instance, this means you might have to work directly with the store on a consigment basis. That might mean you’ll have to accept a 60/40 or 50/50 split on the sales with the store.
If you books are only available via ebook, a bookstore will be less enthused to host an event because they won’t be earning anything from the event.
Talking with the bookstore about their needs is a good way to see if hosting an event there is a good fit for you.
5- Market the event!
Besides building the relationships with your event partners and getting on their calendar, marketing the reading is the most important thing to do. Readers have so many options to spend their free time—help sway them by letting them know that you’ll be there and that you’d love to see them.
If you get the time and space to do a public reading, don’t waste it. Tell people about it. Invite your friends. Invite readers. Spam your social media about where you’re going to be and when. This is so vital.
Tip: Fill a couple seats. Whether it’s with a friend, your parent, your partner, whoever, but get a few seats filled from the beginning. Readers can be shy, and not everyone has the energy to be the “first” person to sit at a reading event. Having a few seats filled from the offset is a good way to allow others to feel more comfortable and join the space.
6- Outside circumstances will affect you.
Beautiful weather. Terrible Weather. Bad Traffic. Competing events. All these things can wreck your reading and bring in a small audience. It happens. Even when you market, it happens. Don’t let it get you down, move on, and try again.
7- Don’t give up.
The reason why we have had the most traction in our region is that we keep trying. We’ve done readings on queer romance, sci-fi, mysteries, comics, more sci-fi, biographical writings, etc. The partners we love working with, we keep working with, while still trying out other venues and options.
The more you also do, the more people start to trust you as someone who does things. They’ll ask you to do more things. They’ll see you as reliable. They’ll see you as a partner they can depend on and work with. They’ll create opportunities for you. They’ll recommend you to others. You’ll become their go-to person on that topic.
So, even if you have a low turn-out event, don’t give up. That’s how we ultimately lose visibility. If we stop trying to be visible.
8- Go to Events
Now that you’ve seen how hard and time-consuming events can be to plan, you probably understand how important it is to go to them and be an attendee. Because otherwise, if people see all that work, but no attendees, they’re going to think that doing more events isn’t worthwhile because a market doesn’t exist.
Even if you fill seats with your friends and family, by showing a full room, you’re giving an impression that there’s a market. Libraries, bookstores, and other venues will see that and think, “Huh? I didn’t think people would come, but they did. Maybe we should do this again…”
Going to an event is like going to the voting booth or buying a book. You’re showing visible interest, and that’s so important when we’re trying to say that queer stories should be included. If no one shows interest, people won’t bother including it.
9- Think outside the Box
You don’t need to do what we’re doing to interact with your community and spread awareness. Two examples that are smart and affordable as community engagement activities are:
1- Visit a city? Organize a reader lunch!
One time author Heidi Cullinan organized a lunch meet-up with readers while visiting Washington, DC. This is a super smart idea to take advantage of a trip to also meet readers who one may not have the chance to see normally. Also way more inexpensive than say, a ticket to RT. This idea should totally be stolen/replicated by other authors visiting cities. (Especially cities that have other authors. You could organize multiple lunch meet-ups!)
2- You don’t need a big conference to organize
The UK Gay Romance group one time gathered a bunch of local authors to do a reading and author signing at a bar one Saturday. Again, inexpensive venue option. Free to join for readers. Ultimately, a super smart idea to bring readers and writers together. This idea should also be totally stolen/replicated.