Planning the Literary Event
Organizing a literary event can be a trial by fire for a new author, because- let’s face it- writers tend to be hermits rather than socialites. Plus, your major in college probably wasn’t party planning. So we’re going to work under the assumption that you have next to no idea how to set one of these things up, and that’s perfectly okay. That’s why we write these types of columns.
So here’s the scenario: your novel is due to be released in about a month, and for the sake of keeping things cheap, we’re going to pretend you have very little money to work with. Unless you’re on a big label, that tends to be the case anyway. So prepare for a little out-of-pocket expense just to get the wheels greased. The thing to keep in mind is that there’s plenty of ways to save money and still put on an event that gets you, the author, some prime exposure and (hopefully) a lot of book sales. But it's going to take a lot of legwork and a ton of networking. So first things first, you need a venue.
Getting an Event Space:
The obvious thing to do here is to pick out your favorite bar or hang-out. You can book this place by speaking with management or the resident event planner at the venue. You’re going to need to do this far enough in advance to procure an open slot on a Friday or Saturday. This will likely be a new concept for you, but they’re going to book your event for the same reason they book a band or a DJ: because it will drive traffic to their business. If you can get a crowd through the doors, that’s all that matters to them.
Bars are advantageous in that you have a liquor supply on-hand for your guests and lots of seating. It’s pretty much ready-made. If you’re looking to do something a little bit more low-key though, an independent bookstore or boutique might work better. You won’t have a bar, but you’ll have more freedom to personalize things. For instance, a bar wouldn’t likely make a consignment deal with your publisher and sell your books through their registers. A boutique or an indie bookstore would, and that’s going to make things easier when you take into consideration how many people prefer to pay with credit card.
Any venue you look at is going to have its own set of advantages/disadvantages. Put together a wish list of what you want out of your event space and narrow down your selection that way. Make sure to consider how many people it holds, what’s served, the hours of operation, etc.
Sidenote: some places will want to charge you a fee to use their space, mostly art galleries and restaurants. DO NOT fall for this. You’re the talent. You’re the one bringing traffic through their doors. The trade-off here is that you’re being granted usage of the venue in exchange for bringing in clientele. NEVER pay for something that you can get for free.
I’ve been sponsored by Shakers Vodka and PBR on multiple occasions (both for readings and release parties), and once by Red Bull. I think sponsorships are a fairly new concept when applied to authors, but not so new in the grand scheme of all things nightlife. The only trick to this is finding the right person to contact, which is going to be your local rep.
The rep pushes product in order to spread the word. You may have seen this before: a tequila company sends out girls in skimpy underthings to give away shots or they set up a vodka booth in a bar that’s normally not there. Their job is to introduce their product to as many people as possible so those people will buy it the next time they’re out. These people are given case upon case of beer or liquor to give away to the general public, simply for the sake of marketing. There’s no reason they can’t market their product at your event. In fact, in my personal experience with liquor reps, they tend to favor these literary parties as they generally have a better crowd.
Again, finding them is going to be the hard part. You’re going to have to do some legwork and research, but they’re out there. My advice on this is to start with local brewing companies or smaller liquor distributors. You’re probably not going to get Grey Goose or Budweiser, but a local company will be likely to work with you.
To reference back to the first section: you really don’t need a liquor/beer sponsor if you hold your event at a bar, however, if you go with a boutique or indie bookstore, this is going to help you out big time on the libation front.
Spreading the Word:
Do all the obvious stuff first: make a Facebook event invite (don't forget the cool flyer), text/email all your friends, post a blog, etc. The venue should do their fair share of promotion as well. You’ll want to put the word out early to plant the seed and give everyone a chance to mark their calendars, then you’ll need to do it again when the event gets closer. Gain interest then maintain it.
Twitter isn’t really helpful with this kind of thing unless you have a huge local following. Facebook is much better, especially because they have local groups and local organizations. For instance, I live in Kansas City and we have a group called The Downtowners. This is a group that lives downtown and is looking for things to do around the area. If I have an event going on down there, then I can post to that network of people about it. There’s also a group called KC Young Professionals. I’m 29 and I’m an author, so I guess that makes me a young professional. I could post there too. So when you’re promoting your own event, keep your eyes peeled for groups like that. These are large numbers of people that you’re not friends with but can still network to.
Once you’re all caught up on the electronic side of things, move on to print. Flyers are always a viable option, and I definitely recommend having some placed at your event space, but don’t feel like you have to go all over town taping them to every telephone pole you see. That’s pretty labor-intensive. If you’re looking to get some printed ad space, inquire with your local alt mag; it’s that supplement to your local newspaper that comes out once a week. You can talk to one of the ad reps about being included in there, either just the event listing and/or a picture ad.
Things get kind of tricky here because there’s no static advice I can give you on how these things work. It’s a case by case basis. In my experience, listings have always been free but an ad usually costs something. You can negotiate at this point, but it’s all dependent on how much the mag wants versus how much you’re willing to shell out. I will say that the cost—whatever cost that may be- is not without benefit. Ink KC (my local mag) circulates 50,000 copies to over 1,400 different locations per week, and in my case, turned out to be well worth it. This is obviously a point where you’ll need to investigate for yourself and weigh the cost against the benefits on your own.
While you're at it: if your local mag does book reviews, toss an ARC their way.
Coverage & Music:
I would hope that with all the time you spend tweeting and updating your Facebook page that you know at least one photographer and one DJ. If not, I’d find one fast.
The DJ thing is optional, but I happen to think it adds to the gravity of the event. There’s also the added benefit of being able to throw your own favorite tracks into the mix. Again, this is yet another way to personalize things. If this doesn’t sound like your bag, you can always burn a mix or settle for whatever the bar plays.
The photographer is a little bit more important than the DJ because this person is going to be integral to your post-event marketing. It’s your release party, so you can’t really be expected to have the iPhone out all night taking pictures when you’re supposed to be signing books and mingling. Believe me, things will be a lot easier if you hire on one of your photographer friends to play the resident shutterbug. After it’s all said and done, you should have quite the photo reel to post to all your social networks. This isn’t just for the sake of marketing. As an author, release parties happen about once every two or three years, if you’re even somewhat prolific. Capture those memories. Nights like these are few and far between.
Hopefully, this outline gives you an idea of what goes into literary event planning. These are the wide brushstrokes, as it were. Make sure you bring a ton of business cards and books to sell, and feel free to tinker with the idea of doing a giveaway or some kind of live reading while you’ve got everyone in one place. If you come up with an idea that better suits your purposes, run with it. Remember, it’s your event, so make it the event you want it to be.
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