16 April 2015

A Debut Author's Guide to Planning Book Events

My debut novel, Between the Notes, will be released into the world in exactly two months. It's exciting, and kind of terrifying. Most nerve-wracking of all is the prospect of speaking in front of crowds (God, I hope there are crowds) at book events. I've scheduled several appearances—some solo, some with other YA authors. Now I'm trying to figure out how to make the most of them!

I went to author friend Evelyn Skye for advice. Evelyn guest-hosts events at her local independent bookstore, Kepler's Books in San Francisco. She agreed to share her insights. 

Every debut author's dream: A standing-room only crowd
like this one at Kepler's Books. 

Hi Evelyn! Welcome to my humble blog.

Thanks so much for having me, Sharon! I’m thrilled to answer questions about what makes a good book event!

Thank you! Like many debut authors, I've scheduled events. So, now I'm wondering: What role does a bookstore play in developing an event? What about the authors?

That’s a perfect question to start with, as I’m sure many authors (especially debuts) are wondering the same thing. Now, I can only speak to my experience at this one bookstore, but I imagine it’s similar at other indies. The people who work there love books and love authors, and they want to make your event as successful (and fun) as possible.

Sometimes, a publisher’s publicist will organize the book tour, and in that case, they will already have things in mind. For example, Marissa Meyer recently came through Kepler’s to promote Fairest, and that was part of a larger “Lunar Ball” book tour across the country, where there were costume contests and giveaways at each stop.

If your publicist doesn’t already have a set agenda for you, though, you can usually work with the booksellers to mold the event. 

On that note, what kind of activities can be included in a typical event?

All sorts of things! But first, you’ll need to figure out if you’re doing the event solo or whether you’re part of a panel. That affects how you budget your time.

If you’re solo, I’d estimate that you can keep your audience’s attention for about 15-20 minutes. After that, they’ll start to zone out (unless you are an especially charming sort, in which case, carry on!) In your 15-20 minutes, you could:
  • give a presentation about a unique aspect of your book (Stacey Lee recently did a lovely, short bit on The Oregon Trail at her launch)
  • talk about how you became a writer or where you got your idea for this book,
  • show your book trailer if you have one,
  • read a short excerpt (short is key, no more than 5 minutes, in my opinion, although some people say you could read for up to 15),
  • play a game with the audience where you give away prizes (bookmarks or other small swag is great!) to anyone who asks you a question. 
If you’re on a panel, some of the pressure will be off of you. Of course, that means you won’t have all the limelight to yourself, but it also means you won’t have to entertain the crowd all on your own, either.

Evelyn Skye (far right) recently moderated a Kepler's Books event
with Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff.

If the bookstore provides a moderator, then you really have it easy. The moderator will ask you scintillating questions and you’ll give witty answers. The banter will be so delightful that, before you know it, Jimmy Fallon will be calling you to appear with him and Justin Timberlake on The Tonight Show, where you’ll do a skit about your book, which will then go YouTube-viral. (At least, this is how I always envision it whenever I moderate events. J).

The bookstore will often expect you to have a moderator already, though, and in that case, you and your fellow authors should go in with a plan. Just like you’d have a program prepared if you were a solo act, your panel ought to know what it’s going to talk about. I like it when there is a theme or something that unites the books and authors. I don’t mean they all have to be contemporary authors or all fantasy books. It could be something like Stories that Came from Dreams or Writing Books Based in Personal Experience. Then fashion 5-7 questions around that theme.

To kick off, give everyone one minute (or less) to describe their book to the audience. Literally one minute or less. Then move on to the questions/program you’ve prepared, making sure that each author is conscientious of how much s/he speaks so that it’s roughly even amongst you. It not only keeps the audience engaged, it’s also fair to the others sitting up there at the table with you. Keep answers 1-2 minutes long, then let the next person speak. (Also, not everyone has to speak on every question/topic.)

At the end of the event (whether a solo event or a panel), it’s nice to give the audience a chance to ask questions, but keep it to just a handful. You can always offer to answer questions after the event, if you’d like.

And then comes autograph time!

What else can we do to make our events stand out?

Book-themed treats, anyone? I.W. Gregorio offered
these yummy cupcakes at her launch, based on
the book cover design for NONE OF THE ABOVE!
Personally, I love treats, especially book-themed ones! For instance, if your book features fortunetellers, you could bring fortune cookies. Or maybe your main character is obsessed with jelly beans, in which case, Jelly Bellys are in order. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can really add a personal touch and help your fans feel cared for and special.

(But make sure to ask the bookstore ahead of time. They may have policies about the kinds of food or drink you can bring. After all, they are in the business of selling stacks of delicate paper that are sensitive to sticky fingers. Buffalo wings and caramel apples are probably not allowed.)

But don’t feel pressure to bring food or swag if it’s not in your budget. This is about your books, and the people who come to the events are there for your stories, not for the jellybeans!

Any last advice?

Try to relax and have fun. You’ve written a book! People want to buy it! People want you to write your name on their skin and crowd surf with you! (Oops. I mean, they want you to autograph their books in the appropriate spot on the title page.)

This is a big moment in your career, and you should enjoy it. At the same time, it’s just one moment in your entire life, so don’t let it cause you too much stress. Just remember this:

You wrote a book. You’re amazing. Now let’s celebrate!

THANK YOU, Evelyn! 

Evelyn Skye is the author of THE CROWN’S GAME (HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, 2016). She is also an event host at Kepler’s Books; Social Media Manager for SCBWI’s San Francisco region; and the ringleader of YA Lunch Break, a popular Bay Area book club. When she’s not writing, she can be found chasing after her daughter on the playground or sitting on the couch, immersed in a good book and eating way too many cookies. Evelyn is online at www.evelynskye.com and on twitter @EvelynSkyeYA.


  1. Great post, Evelyn! When I worked for A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books in Opera Plaza in SF (now Books, Inc), the situation was similar. Daniel Handler and Brian Jacques were standouts. They played musical instruments and entertained with an entire "show." But not everyone is multi-talented. Their audiences were quite large as well. I do recall sitting in the audience (although I was working) and asking questions to support the author if the event attendance was small.

  2. Thanks, Jilanne! So nice to hear more tales of how supportive booksellers are of authors. That's wonderful that you'd sit in the audience to encourage and ask questions. It's always a treat to have authors in store, no matter how big or small the turnout!

  3. Great info and so real! You explained things that I never would have thought of. The tips on making a book stand out are phenomenal. Writers can be very boring in their 'wordiness' when reading their work, no pun intended...


  4. To kick off, give everyone one minute (or less) to describe their book to the audience. Literally one minute or less.