Saturday, November 25, 2006

Library Events 101

At some point in your writing career, you'll be asked to appear at a library.

Library events are great opportunities for authors. You get publicity. You get a public forum for spreading your message. And often, you get paid and/or sell some books.

But if you're asked to speak at a library, what is expected, and how should you handle it?

Here's a quick rundown of the basics.

How do I get invited to speak at libraries?

Because you're a savvy author with a hip, informative website, who is constantly attending writing conferences and festivals, you're probably already on the radar of many libraries.

If your email isn't already overflowing with library appearance requests, you may need to grease the wheels a bit.

Network and schmooze. Librarians like books, and often attend book-related events, like booksignings, conventions, and conferences. Meet them, talk them up, offer yourself as a speaker, and give them a business card with contact info.

You can also contact local libraries and offer your services. Check Google, your local Yellow Pages, and

Once I'm invited, what do I charge?

Some libraries will pay you hundreds of dollars to appear. Some with give you a handshake and a thank you. Most are somewhere in between.

If the library is giving me a stipend (I've gotten as much as $300 for an appearance) then I make sure they get some free stuff from me (books, audios).

I also sign the library's copies. Then they'll hopefully be stolen, and new ones will be ordered. :)

If a library every asks what your speaking fee is, tell them you'll take an average of the last three speakers they've paid. I do free events all the time, but many libraries have event budgets, and must spend them or else risk losing them.

I don't bring up the fee--I let them do that. If they don't bring it up, they're probably not offering one. Which is fine; a free appearance still gives you a publicity soapbox and the opportunity to sell your books.

Who sells books at a library event?

Sometimes the library will have a local bookseller do all of the sales for an event. If that's the case, make sure you get in touch with the bookseller several weeks beforehand, to make sure they know which of your books to carry. If your books can't be ordered through distributors (they're self-pubbed or out of print) work out the split you're giving the bookseller prior to the event (usually 40% off cover price.)

Sometimes they'll ask you to bring your own books. If it's a big library event, with lots of authors, ask a local indie to attend and sell books.

My indie orders extra books for me and sells them to me at cost---a 40% discount, plus they count toward my royalty.

If you're doing a solo library event, bring the books yourself. You won't be able to accept credit cards, but feel free to take cash and checks (bring change with you).

It's always a crapshoot as to how many books you bring. The most I've every sold at a library event is 30. I usually bring 20 paperbacks and ten hardcovers. Sometimes I'll also bring magazines that features stories of mine, and I'll give a free mag to anyone who buys a book.

For libraries, I usually charge attendees a flat $20 for hardcovers, and $5 for paperbacks--the goal is to be read, not make $$$---even though you can make a few hundred bucks selling books at a big event.

What should I do to publicize the event?

List it on your website, blog, MySpace, newsletter, etc. Ask the library if they'll list the event in the local paper. Offer to drop off flyers a week before the event for the library to pass out to patrons. And suggest more than one author attend.

With library events, the more authors there are, the bigger the draw. Keep that in mind if/when you begin soliciting libraries---they're more amicable to having an event if you can get some of your writing friends to join you for it. It becomes a bigger deal and will likely get more publicity and a bigger crowd.

For that reason, get know the local authors near you and make sure to share speaking opportunities.

What do I do when I'm at a library event?

You'll be expected to sing for your supper. Have a speech planned, and know what it is you're going to talk about (platform, baby.)

Prior to going on, work the audience. I introduce myself to everyone who came, shake their hands, and give them a free signed coaster (a flyer or a bookmark also works.) This gets them on my side before I go on stage.

If you're afraid of speaking in public, or you suck, you have a choice: get better, or don't do it. I've seen authors do their careers great disservices because they felt they were a lot more interesting then they actually were.

Keep it funny. If you can't be funny, keep it moving.

I've found that readings--unless they're uber short--bore people. For libraries, my standard schtick is to do a Q&A with myself that I culled from email questions. That way I can get all the obvious ones out of the way (why do you write for a female hero, where do you get your ideas, why JA and not Joe, why do you mix humor and scares, why did you become a writers, etc.)

Save time for questions at the end, but don't expect anyone to ask any. People have to be goaded into participating.

For more public speaking tips, visit

Events usually last between one and two hours. It should go without saying that you need to be gracious, thankful, on time, prepared, and easy going. Whenever you appear in public, you are a spokesperson for your brand. People come to these things wanting to like you. Don't give them any reasons to draw a different conclusion.

What if no one shows up? What if I don't sell any books? What if the event goes badly?

Welcome to the writing biz.

I've had library appearances where eighty people showed up and I made a few hundred bucks. I've also driven 200 miles one-way to greet a throng of two people.

Remember that there's no such thing as a bad experience if you can learn from it. No one said this was going to be easy, fair, or fun.

But, like all promotion, the more you do, the better you do. I've been on local TV and radio, been invited to attend conferences and festivals all expenses paid, gotten interviews, and have made some pretty good money, all because I've done library events. The intangible benefits can be substantial.

Plus it's never a waste of time to meet librarians, because they have big hearts. It has to do with thier excellent circulation.

And yes, you can use that joke.