Presenting BEFORE Your Book is Out!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

     The call you’ve been anxiously awaiting comes; an invitation to join other authors for your town’s huge book fest.  But there’s one big problem--production has been delayed and your book isn’t out yet. You try to explain that to the insistent librarian, but she says to come anyway and bring your materials. Sheepishly you agree and hang up the receiver wondering, what materials?

     No need to fret. I am about to share multiple ideas—little things you can do and materials you can bring to your table, with or without a book to sell. If you haven’t developed your own following of devoted fans, it will be even more important to consider some of the following ideas.

     Before I begin, however, I need to emphasize the point that you must always approach the event with respect and courtesy towards the other authors present. You don’t want to “grandstand” yourself or your book, but at the same time, you owe it to yourself, your book and your publisher to do what you can to make your book and what you do stand out from all the others.  The way to do that is to set up a unique and friendly book display that screams, “Come to my table. I’ve got a great book to tell you about.”  

     I am not suggesting that you utilize every single idea presented. Pick and choose what fits your comfort zone.

Questions to ask about setup:

How many other authors will participate? The number of participants will make a huge difference as to how you plan display materials.

Where will the exhibit be held?  Will it be in one room, scattered down a hallway or outside under a tent?  

Will authors be sitting at tables? If so, will chairs be provided? You’d be surprised how many book fest planners forget about chairs.

What size are the tables? 
How many authors will share a table? Answers to these two questions will tell you how much space you will have on which to build a display.  Half-table displays are much more difficult to plan.

Will tables have table cloths? If so, what color is being used? Answer to this is crucial so that you can determine if you need to bring drapes in colors that will be more complimentary to your display materials. I’ve been to book fairs where there were no tablecloths and the tables were wooden, old and in disrepair. Fortunately, I always bring my own tablecloths and placemats so my books and my display were okay.

Are there presentation spots open? Always offer to do a presentation on your book. This is your best chance of standing out among the other authors, and your best chance to get folks excited about your book. Authors who do presentations at book fests or book fairs get more traffic. The more people you expose to your story the more likely it is that folks will purchase a book.

Materials to enhance your display:

Table drapes - bring colored tablecloth and/or colorful placemats to complement the colors in your book cover. If table covers for the book fest are white and your book cover is white, it will get lost in your display. Be prepared with dark colors if your book is light colored and vice versa.

Book cover – check with your publisher to see if they can send you a book cover or email a book cover or at least send the book cover artwork. Mount it on foam board with a sign, Coming Soon from Author ### ####!

Art – if appropriate, ask for samples of the artwork that will be in the book. Again, if none are available, put together a flyer or poster of samples of the Illustrators previous works. A photo of the artist at work is always an eye-catcher.

Artifacts that complement the theme of your book -- For example, if your story is about trains, bring a couple of cars from a train set and a row of tracks and maybe some miniature buildings; just a couple of things to make your spot at the book fest stand out. Get creative. Think outside the box.

Show your process – put together photos, a scrapbook or a chart on a poster showing the process from start to finish; e.g. when first approached, interviews you may have done, verifying the facts, the writing, critiquing and revising, finding a publisher, final edits, final book.  If your book is non-fiction and even if it isn’t, find a way to show the research you did, where your idea came from and how you put it all together.

Book easels -- purchase one or two table-top book easels on which to stand your foam board displays. For poster sized foam board, purchase an adjustable easel, one you can use on the floor or on a table-top. You will use it over and over again if you continue to do presentations, book signings and book fests. Small boxes strategically placed under a table drape will not only add levels of interest but can also be used to lean books up against so they're not lying flat on the table.  

Business cards are a must! Have some made up with your contact information. Do not put your book on your business card unless this is the only book you ever expect to have published. It is better to only include author information and contact information. You may or may not want to be identified by one book. You can list your books on the back of the card.

Clipboard, sign-up sheet, pens and pencils, sticky notes and a pad of paper -- Invariably, someone will want additional information or you will want to capture a name or a comment on paper.

Materials for the attendees:

Create a bookmark or flyer to hand out – put together bookmarks or some kind of flyer that announces your book and where and when it will be available. (Your publisher may be willing to do this for you.) Bookmark should include: picture of book cover, book title, publisher, ISBN number, cost, age group (if for children), your contact information, email and website. Don’t ignore the back of the bookmark. It’s a great place to repeat the book title and include a one sentence pitch about the book’s theme or message you hope the story conveys.

Offer a Pre-Sale Special – check with your publisher and see if they’d allow you to offer a pre-sale price. If they are willing, ask them to provide the flyer or have them send you information to include on a flyer.

FREE BOOK! Hold a contest. Everyone loves a contest.  It’s worth it to pay for a book to give away. Your publisher might even offer one or several copies. Have a signup sheet so that you can capture the names and email addresses of interested persons. Then, when you book comes out, you can send an email congratulating the winner while announcing the debut of your book and ordering information.

Make or purchase a BOOK PLATE you can AUTOGRAPH for folks who say they will buy a book when it comes out. When they get their copy, they can glue it into the front cover. Commercial book plates can be purchased at your local book stores or you can make one of your own. A computer generated one allows you the opportunity to personalize it to your book. On it include the book title and a quote from the book or one of your favorite quotes, something like you would write on an autograph. Be sure to leave room for your autograph. Offer to personalize the book plate with an autograph to those sincerely interested in purchasing a book when it comes out.  

Collect email addresses – to send out an “It’s Here,” notice when your book is available. Don’t let interested folks walk away from your table without a way to communicate with them when your book arrives.  

Have a bowl of mints or candy kisses or other wrapped candy at your display table. Some folks will come to your table just because they smell the chocolate. Why they come doesn’t matter. Getting them there is the important thing so you can share your wonderful book with them. And as an aside, having mints available during a book fest is a great idea. A mint or two a couple times a day keeps your breath as fresh as the great ideas in your fabulous book. 

     Folks attending book fests aren’t just interested in buying books. Many come to meet and talk to you, the author. They’ll want to know how you work, where you got your idea for the book, how you found a publisher, etc. etc. So, put your best material forward.

     Don’t be shy. Make your bookless display stand out. You can do this, even if your book isn’t out yet. 

More Than A Critique Group: Developing the Craft of Writing Together

Monday, April 2, 2012

     When one of my critique buddies suggested we study Ursula LeGuin’s book, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or Mutinous Crew, I was not happy. I felt every bit a part of the mutinous crew. Critique sessions, in my opinion, were for feedback on our developing stories. I didn’t want to muddy up our time together talking about a book none of us had time to read much less do assignments. Fortunately, I was out-voted.  Reluctantly, I purchased a book, read the first lesson and did the end of the chapter assignment.  In this manner our group began to plow through the lessons, one at a time, every other critique session. 

     On lesson day, we each brought our own interpretation of the assignment to the group and shared what we had written. Sometimes we responded using sentences and quotes from stories we were developing and sometimes our responses were fresh and new. But, most importantly, as we began to learn from LeGuin’s marvelous book, our writing began to grow, collectively and individually. We could see it in all of our manuscripts. It was exciting.

     By the time LeGuin’s book ran out of chapters to stimulate us, we had found our next project, this time a 24-session course titled, Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft, taught by the esteemed Dr. Brooks Landon, Professor of English, Collegiate Fellow, and Director of the General Education Literature Program from the University of Iowa. No, we’re not heading to Iowa City to take the course; we take it in our own homes in front of our own televisions at our leisure, one lesson at a time.  We found the course on, a company that offers in-depth study via CD-ROM or DVD on a wide variety of topics taught by noted professors. We each committed $39.95 and ordered collectively to save money. The company offers a complete money back guarantee so we figured we had nothing to lose.

     Now you might think that 24-classes on sentence building would be boring but we’re not finding it so. This is not about grammar and punctuation. It’s about dissecting and developing sentences that pull the reader in and move a story forward; everything you need to know to write a great story. We’re only on lesson 6 and already we’re seeing a big difference in our writing.

     I shared Ursula LeGuin’s book and Dr. Landon’s course not to promote the sale of these two products but to share the idea that developing the craft of writing doesn’t have to be expensive or a lonely, isolated venture.  Get your critique group involved. Surprisingly, the very act of studying together elevated the tone of our already awesome critique group to one of serious professionalism, moving us forward, confident that our growth, now clearly visible in each of our writing, will someday soon be rewarded with book contracts.

What does your critique group do to help its members develop the craft of writing? 

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About Me

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Hi! I’m Sandra Warren, a writer with very eclectic writing tastes. I’ve been fortunate to have publications in multiple genres including children’s, gifted education, parenting, how to, poetry, journal, educational activity guides and biography as well as audio and video production. I'm a city gal recently transplanted to the mountains of NC where glorious mountain vistas inspire latest renderings.

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