What to Do at an Author Event Besides Read
Readers, like all fans, love personal connections and the opportunity to have a conversation with the authors with created their favorite stories. When you do an author reading, you are connecting with your fans. Rarely will the room be filled with people unfamiliar with your work, so only reading from your writing might not be the best approach. Instead, consider time for questions, conversations, and sneak peeks.
What to Read at an Author Event
In my previous article Reaching Your Fans: How to Give an Author Reading, I shared how to select what you read at a reading and best practices around those selections. You can learn more about specifics there. If you’re reading to people who are already fans, there are two options that usually excite your listeners: reading their favorite parts and sharing something new.
To discover what parts your fans love, talk to them and read your reviews. Pay attention to which characters they’ve fallen in love with or the parts that made them laugh. When asked to read an excerpt, choose one of those. They are already crowd pleasers.
The people who attend author readings nine times out of ten are already fans of the author. Most people don’t go around attending random author events. This means your attendees have likely already read your published works. To keep them interested in you and excited for your next piece, read an excerpt from a work in progress. This could be a chapter from the next installment in your series, a short story, or even a poem. Be sure to choose an excerpt that gives your fans more of what they want, whether that’s your gut wrenching characters or awe-inspiring worlds.
Options Other Than Reading
Your author event attendees are perfectly capable of reading your work themselves, so you need to offer something more than a reading when you put on an author event. Think of it as an event, not just a reading.
Answer Questions About Your Books
Readers came to see you in person to ask you questions, so build opportunities for questions into your event. When I attended a talk by famous fantasy author Neil Gaiman, everyone was given a slip of paper to write down a question as they handed in their tickets. Gaiman put these slips of paper in a container and randomly picked questions to answer throughout his presentation. As an attendee, I found this fascinating and entertaining.
You might not have the number of attendees needed to pull off Gaiman’s approach, but you can still give readers the opportunity to raise their hand and ask a question. You can prompt questions by asking some of your own like “What do you want to know about X character or X place?”
Have a Conversation
If you have a small group of attendees, it’s easier and often fun to have a conversation with the group. Talk about your characters, plot, and setting. Ask them what they think will happen next or what they’d like to see happen in general. Use this as an opportunity to gain information and ideas from your readers.
You can also talk about other books, movies, and TV shows in your genre. An author event is an opportunity to build a deeper connection with your fans. When they feel more connected with you, they’re more likely to buy your next book and share your already published works with their friends. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get noticed as an author. Give them something to talk about.
That said, it’s okay to avoid polarizing topics like politics and religion if they aren’t the focus of your stories. You’re the author and event host, so you are in charge of what is discussed. If you find the conversation wondering in a direction that makes you uncomfortable, reign it in with something like “X asked an interesting question earlier I’d like to return to” or “I’d like to read you this excerpt from my next book.”
Share Your Inspiration
Readers love to ask where authors’ ideas come from. An author event is a great opportunity to talk about your inspirations. How did you come up with their favorite side character? Were they two characters you combined into one or based off a friend or enemy? Did you go for a hike and see a blazing, magenta sunset that made you think of an apocalyptic event? Now is the time to answer these questions.
In my experience, most readers are interested in where ideas come from, not the mechanics or nuances of writing. They don’t want to know how difficult revision was or how you tried to constantly make things worse. Writers are interested in the writing; readers are interested in the concepts.
All those juicy tidbits you found while researching your writing can find a home in your author events. I have a friend who wrote a climate fiction novel about a glacier called Watermelon Snow. He presents a slide show at his author talks, showing pictures of the glacier and his hike to the base. He also extrapolates on the science of his novel. Another author I know uses Florence Hartley’s The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness in her historical fiction, cozy murder mystery The Lucky Hat Mine. During her author talks, she shares the one time she took a liberty and made up something that isn’t actually in the manual for plot purposes. Both of these presentations are related to the stories and give the author’s a chance to share the knowledge they gained writing their books.
One of the biggest reasons readers show up to readings is for your autograph. They want you to sign a copy of their favorite book. Be sure to make time for this and bring the right equipment. You’ll need a table (this seems obvious, but I’ve been to author events that didn’t have one), your favorite pens to use for signings (ballpoint, sharpie, black ink, purple ink, etc.), plenty of copies of your books, and someone to help move the line along.
Why an Editor Recommends an Author Event, Not a Reading
As I said earlier, people are perfectly capable of reading your writing from the comfort of their home. If you want readers to show up to your readings, you need to offer them more. Conversations, book signings, and insider secrets are all ways to motivate people to actually come and talk to you. These are the most common and easiest to execute activities. However you can also play games related to your books, offer giveaways, write a flash fiction piece with your attendees, and more. Author events should be an experience readers are excited to attend and tell their friends about, so do more than read to keep your fans engaged and Ignite Your Ink.
What’s the best or worst experience you’ve had at an author event? Share your takeaways in the comments below. For more advice on writing, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.