Sunday, May 31, 2009

More on the Amazon Kindle

It's the last day of May.

My little Kindle experiment has netted me $1250 for this month. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is for books that I've been giving away for free on my website for years.

I've settled on a price point of $1.59 per Kindle download (they were $1.19 for the first three weeks of May) and I'm currently making about fifty bucks a day, with no signs of slowing down.

Huge money? No. But it isn't chump change either.

The average advance for a first time novel is still $5000. If Kindle keeps growing in popularity, and the Sony Reader opens up to author submissions like it intends to, I think a motivated writer will be able to make $5000 a year on a well-written e-novel. Or more. All without ever being in print.

Isn't that fascinating?

In the previous Kindle thread, Amber Argyle-Smith mentioned that her agent warned against authors uploading to Kindle, as the book would be considered published and therefore unsalable.

On the surface, that makes sense. Ebook publishing is publishing, and once the public is able to purchase it, the first rights are gone.

If you look a little deeper, it makes even more sense why her agent said that. If authors begin uploading books to Kindle and Sony themselves, are agents and publishers still needed?

At this date, May 31 2009, agents and publishers are necessary. Any author who wants to make writing their fulltime job can only support themselves by selling print books, and the agents and publishers are a crucial part of this industry.

But how about in 2012? 2015? 2025?

If you look even deeper at what Amber's agent said, it makes less sense. Publishers aren't stupid. If an author uploads a Kindle book and sells 80,000 copies, I can't imagine publishers not being interested. Why are Kindle books any different than self-published POD books? And publishers have been known, on occasion, to buy those without qualms or nits about first rights.

Right now, the big money is in print publishing. Even with the crummy economy, with bookstores in financial trouble, and with publishers laying off people and downsizing, the big money is still there.

But there is small money to be made by authors with the Kindle. And the small money can add up.

My friend, Robert W. Walker, has written over forty novels. Most of them are out of print, and the rights have reverted back to him.

If he digitized and uploaded his books, and priced them at $1.59 (which earns him 70 cents a download), and sold 500 copies of each per month (I sold 500 of Origin and 780 of The List in May), he'd be making $14,000 a month, or $168,000 a year, on books that Big NY Publishing doesn't want anymore.

Even if he made half, or a third, or a fifth of that, that's decent money on books that he's not doing anything else with.

Now, all of us aren't Rob, and we don't have 40 novels on our hard drives, especially 40 novels that were good enough to have once been published in print.

But how long do you think it will be before some unknown author has a Kindle bestseller?

Publisher's Weekly lists the Kindle Bestsellers, but it omits the freebies. I suppose that makes sense--the freebies aren't actually being sold.

But the freebies are being downloaded and read. There isn't money changing hands, but branding and name-recognition--two essentials for every successful author--are happening.

The ebook horror novella I wrote with Blake Crouch, SERIAL, is currently the #1 Kindle Bestseller, and has been for the last nine days.

I don't know how many people have downloaded it on Kindle, but I have heard that over 7000 have downloaded it on the Sony Reader, and even more than that have downloaded it on Blake's website and various other places on the net.

I wouldn't be surprised, by the end of the year, if more than 50,000 people have downloaded SERIAL.

Is that potentially interesting to publishers? Will a savvy editor approach us with a two book deal to collaborate on some full-length horror novels?

I don't know. But I do know that even if we aren't approached by editors, I'm very interested in writing a full-length horror book with Blake and trading in on some of that branding and name-recognition we earned with SERIAL.

Let's see, 50,000 downloads, priced at $1.59 and earning 70 cents per download, divided by two, is $17,500 each. Per year, of course, since ebooks are becoming more and more popular.

And of course there is a momentum that builds. Old books sell newer books, backlists support the frontlist, each new title brings in new readers who buy an author's entire oeuvre. Profit is only limited by how many quality books an author can produce.

I know I can write four books per year. If each one makes only $5000 a year (which Origin and The List are on track to do), by year five I'll have 20 books done and be earning 100k annually just on ebooks.

If I manage to last as long as Rob Walker, I may become a millionaire yet.

And Rob, by the way, just uploaded two of his books to Kindle at $1.59 each. If you have a Kindle, check them out...

I'm also curious what will happen if I raise my prices from $1.59 to $1.89. Will sales stay steady? Will I lose some volume but gain some royalties?

June will be interesting...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Advice For Professional Writers

This blog is called A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, because a lot of what I write about is geared toward unpublished or recently published authors.

Now I'd like to dispense some advice for authors who have a book or two or ten on the shelves, because I keep seeing authors making the same damn mistakes. even after years in this biz.

You hear the phone ringing? It's reality calling. Pick it up and listen.

1. Keep writing. I'm shocked by how many authors I know who haven't had a book published in over a year. I can name more than fifty authors who have seemed to drop off the face of the earth. Yes, I know this business is hard, and rejection is discouraging. But giving up isn't an option. If you can't sell your latest book, write another one. And another. And another. Sheesh.

2. Stop whining. This business is woefully unfair, and involves a great deal of luck. Keep your complaints to yourself, get over it, and see #1.

3. Stop fretting about reviews. I know it's difficult when some brain donor on Amazon gives you one star without reading past page 3. Everyone has an opinion, and all opinions are valid, so get over it. Criticism (and for that matter, praise) is pointless after the book has been published. You don't need other people's opinions to be happy.

4. Don't compare yourself to other authors. Ever. Never ever. Someone will always have a bigger advance, better sales, more awards, bigger movie deals, and a much better publisher than you do. This isn't a competition, and envy is just as useless as worry, regret, and guilt.

5. Keep your ego in check. You are not all that. Your writing isn't that great. And anything good that has happened to you in your career is more about luck than about anything you've personally done. Get over yourself, be thankful and gracious, and always remember where you came from.

6. Celebrate. It's so easy to get so bogged down by details that you can forget you're a published author, which is pretty damn cool. Any time something good happens, take some time and luxuriate in it.

7. Promote. As much as you can. If you're not good at it, get good at it. The more you do, the more you'll sell. The more you sell, the longer you'll survive.

Now you might say, "But Joe, Author X doesn't do any of these, and he/she is wildly successful."

True. But Author X is also a dick. And I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Don't be a dick.

Lecture over. Ignore at your own peril.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ebooks and Free Books and Amazon Kindle, Oh My


Now that I've satisfied the search engines with keywords, lets get down to business.

As I write this, SERIAL, a horror novella I co-authored with Blake Crouch, is the #1 Amazon Kindle download.

Why are two midlist thriller authors getting more downloads than huge bestsellers like James Patterson, David Baldacci, John Sandford, Lee Child, and Stephanie Meyer?

Because SERIAL is free.

Those familiar with my website know that I've been giving away free ebooks for years. You can go to and download the nine ebook novels and collections I'm currently giving away.

I've had 20,636 ebook downloads since I began using to track them (I didn't use a download tracker the first year they were up.)

Rob Siders, has also been offering my ebooks for free, and so far 4401 people have downloaded them from his blog.

That's over 25,000 free ebooks I've given away, and it doesn't count other sites who host the books (which I encourage), or people copying the books for their friends (which I encourage.)

Why do I give ebooks away?

1. Writing is the Best Advertising. You can only become a fan of a writer if you read the writer. That's why I love selling short stories--I can reach new readers and expose them to my words. It's like the guy standing in front of the mall Chinese buffet, giving away samples of Kung Pow chicken. Some people try it, like it, then go inside to eat.

2. Books Are Expensive. Many people don't want to spend $24.99 or even $6.99 to take a chance on an unknown. And even fewer want to spend $14.99 on an ebook download. But people love a bargain, and free is the best bargain of all.

3. Free is Viral. If you Google Kilborn+Crouch+Serial, you currently get 6550 hits. Part of that is because of an orchestrated campaign done by Blake and I, in conjunction with my publisher, Grand Central. But part of it is because people are talking about it, picking up on it, repeating it, linking to it, etc. Publicity and promotion is free and easier to come by (if you're a midlister) when you're giving something away.

The goal, of course, is to find readers. Some of those readers will become fans. Some of those fans will become book buyers.

Is it working for me? Well, I get regular emails from fans who have enjoyed my free ebooks who then say they're going to buy my print books. My "regular" I mean a few a week. I'm even getting requests to write sequels to some of my freebies.

AFRAID by Jack Kilborn (my pen name) and my Jack Daniels series are selling well, both in print and as ebooks. Though I have decent distribution with these books (bookstores regularly stock them) I have to think that many folks sought them out rather than accidentally ran into them, and if they heard about them prior to buying them it might very well be because I work my butt off getting my name and words out there, for people to discover.

Now here is where the story gets interesting.

On February 18 of this year, I tried an experiment. My GPS, named Sheila, was murdered by my wife, and to buy a new one I put an ebook download on my website, asking folks for a 99 cent donation. The promotion was called Tequila for Sheila.

Repairing my GPS cost $80. PayPal took 35 cents out of every donation. So in order to repair Sheila, I needed 123 people to donate.

I was not optimistic. While my blog and website are popular, I didn't think folks would want to pay for a pdf download for many reasons. First, because digital media wants to be free. Second, because pdfs are not the preferred method of reading books. Third, because the only people who knew about this promotion were those who visited me already, which is a very limited distribution.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in the print world is distribution. The number of print books I sell is limited by the number of books printed, and the places they are for sale. If no one is aware of my books, no one will buy them. I strive to make people aware I exist, so readers seek me out rather than accidentally run into me, but I can only reach so many people.

So Tequila would only be known by people who already know me, which is extremely limiting.

And yet, to date, 226 people have donated to the Tequila fund, and the donations are still trickling in. So Shelia now has a hotter, younger sister named Leela.

It gets more interesting.

When AFRAID debuted on Kindle and the Sony Reader, my very savvy publisher released it for $1.99. This helped catapult it up the Kindle and Sony bestseller charts, and in the first month it sold over 7000 downloads, even though Kilborn is an unknown name.

So I got to thinking. High name recognition and limited distribution and a low price point, as with Tequila, resulted in 226 downloads in three and a half months. Low name recognition with major distribution and a low price point resulted in over 7000 downloads in a month.

What if I tried high name recognition, high distribution, and a low price point?

Which brings us to

Amazon actually allows authors to upload their own ebooks on Kindle, set a price, and earn 35% royalties.

This is either a closely guarded secret, or authors are just plain stupid, but as far as I know I'm the only published author taking advantage of this.

On April 8, I uploaded eight ebooks to Amazon, and sold them for $1.19 each.

These are the ebooks I've been giving away on my website for free, and are still available for free. But Amazon gets more visitors than, which means it is a much better distributor. That gives me the opportunity to reach people who don't know about me beforehand.

As I've stated before, digital content wants to be free. People don't like paying for downloads, whether they be pdfs or mp3s, because they are overpriced and there isn't a perceived value in binary code, which is all digital content really is. This is why 13 of the top visited sites on the Internet are file-sharing sites--it's often faster, easier, and much cheaper to steal digital content than it is to buy it.

Unfortunately, authors cannot release ebooks for free on Amazon (unless you go through your publisher, like I did with SERIAL.) You have to set the price at a minimum of 99 cents.

After adjusting my price several times, I settled on $1.99 per ebook, which Amazon discounts to $1.59, and nets me 70 cents in royalties each download--more than I make when I sell a $7.99 print paperback.

So how much have I earned in royalties in the 46 days my books have been available on Kindle?

As of this morning, I've had 1906 downloads on Kindle, and I've made $1370.12 in royalties.

That averages out to $30 a day, or almost $11,000 a year, for books that I give away for free.

Actually, I think that is a low prediction, as my Kindle sales have steadily increased, and only recently did I begin charging $1.59 (up from $1.19.) In the past week I've averaged $37 a day.

So why the hell isn't every author with a shelf novel or an out of print book doing this?!?!

It gets even more bizarre, when you start looking at bestseller lists.

Currently, my ebook The List is the #1 Kindle bestseller in the Police Procedurals category.

Who are #2 through #14? Multiple titles by Jeffery Deaver, James Patterson, James Lee Burke, JD Robb, and Michael Connelly.

Who is #15? Whiskey Sour by JA Konrath, which my publisher smartly priced at $3.96.

My ebook Origin is #3 on the Occult bestseller list, being beaten by two Charlaine Harris titles. But I'm outselling Stephen King, which is the only time that will ever happen.

Now, eleven grand a year isn't a huge amount of money, but I consider it pretty much a gift, and it really helps supplement my writer income. I'm not doing it for the money, though. I'm doing it for the same reason I continue to give away ebooks: to spread brand awareness and name recognition and find new readers and fans.

This is the future. But no one else seems to see it.

Well, that's not entirely true. Boyd Morrison is outselling me on Kindle, doing the same thing I'm doing: good product, low price point. Even though Boyd has been blurbed by some major bestsellers, he hasn't gotten a print contract yet. I stress "yet" because eventually NY Publishing is going to see Boyd's success on Kindle and want a piece of it.

Stephen Windwalker knows more about the Kindle than anyone on the planet, and publishes the excellent blog Kindle Nation. Stephen has been a huge supporter of my ebooks, and I owe him a lot of beer for his efforts in promoting Afraid, SERIAL, and my Kindle titles.

If you find this topic interesting, you need to check out the Kindle Boards, a forum dedicated to all things Kindle. Lots of smart people there who understand how to effectively use the Kindle.

Not so incidentally, the Sony Reader will soon institute a program allowing authors to upload books.

Let's recap:

1. Ebooks are good, because they help get your name and words out there.

2. More people are reading ebooks. Walmart now sells the Sony Reader. The Amazon DX will be out this summer, and Kindle has an iPhone app. And everyone with a new ereader wants content for that ereader.

3. The cheaper you are, the more you'll sell. You can even outsell major bestselling authors.

4. Free is better than cheap. Many more people will download free than cheap, so you'll reach many more people.

5. Distribution still matters. If you want big numbers, you get more downloads on Amazon than you will on your homepage.

6. There is money to be made. Like the POD industry, Kindle is getting diluted with overpriced self-pubbed crap. Don't be overpriced self-pubbed crap, because that doesn't sell. But if you're a good writer, a smart marketer, and can live with selling your book for $1.59, you can make some cash.

7. This is the future. Don't get left behind.

Any questions?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kilborn 200 Tour Wrap Up

I left on the Jack Kilborn Afraid Tour on April 17, and came back on May 10.

Here are the final stats:

Days on tour: 23
Miles driven: 5789
Bookstores visited: 206
Books signed: 1515
Books given away: 580 (this includes two conventions)
States traversed: 12 + Washington DC
Nights in hotels: 6
Gas cost: $593.65
Hotel cost: $400.22
Tolls and Parking cost: $68.00
Food cost: $130.64
Total tour cost: $1192.51

These fine people allowed me to stay with them while on tour:

William Berger
Rob Swartwood
Steve Lukac
Jennifer & James Daniel Ross
Sherrill & Barry Bland
Jeff & Janice Strand
Cynthia & Bill Johnson
Jane & Don Bretl
Rhonda & Randy White
And especially my pal, Jim Coursey

The tour would have been quicker, but I had to do two events, the Romantic Times Convention in Orlando which ate up three days, and the Reaching Forward library conference which ate up two and a half days.

Is it all worth it?

Unfortunately, yes.

I say "unfortunately" because touring like this ain't easy. But having a publisher behind me and fans/peers who were willing to put me up for the night (and often buy me dinner/breakfast) made it cheaper and easier than it would have been had I done it without this sort of support.

These are the reasons it is worthwhile:

1. Meeting Booksellers. I met well over 500, and a bunch of them got free copies of my books (graciously supplied by my publisher.) Many of these booksellers will read the books I gave them, which makes them much easier to handsell. I also encouraged booksellers to post reviews of AFRAID on the Internet, and many of them already have.

2. Signing Stock. Signed books tend to sell better than unsigned books for two reasons. First, there's an added value to a signed book. Second, because signed books are often displayed face-out, which sells more books.

3. Long-term Effects. While short-term sales are nice, the long-term benefits are better. Books that sell well in a bookstore are automatically re-ordered (or are manually re-ordered by the bookseller) which leads to the store automatically keeping copies on the shelves. Down the road, this means royalty checks and an ever-increasing group of readers exposed to your books. It also doesn't hurt to show your publisher that you are working your butt off for them, especially since we're in a recession. There's also some publicity to be had in doing a tour like this, and it makes a good talking point for interviews and a good bit for the bio.

If you want to do a tour like this, some things to think about:

1. Plan ahead. Select bookstore-rich locations where you'll get the most bang for your buck.

2. Use your friends. The more people you can hook up with on the road, the cheaper and easier it is.

3. and When you don't have any friends in a certain town, use the Internet to get the cheapest hotel rates.

4. Involve your publisher. You may not get any $$$ to tour, or any free books to give away, but keeping your publisher informed, and getting whatever help you can from them, is win-win.

5. Get a GPS and a smartphone with Google Maps. Often, doing a stock-signing tour takes you in directions you hadn't forseen. A current GPS and a phone (or Blackberry, laptop, etc) with Google Maps lets you find bookstores in your current area or on your route.

6. Eat on the road. It isn't the healthiest way to tour (unless you're Barry Eisler, who stops daily at Whole Foods while on tour and stocks up on nutritious stuff) but it will allow you to get more done. Keep a case of water and some snacks in the car with you.

7. Read my blog. That may seem redundant, since you're already reading my blog, but I've done two of these giant tours, and everything I've learned is in this blog. Read up so you can repeat my successes and avoid my failures.

While the Afraid Tour is over, I won't stop promoting Afraid. My new Jack Daniels paperback, Fuzzy Navel, comes out next week, and I'll be visiting many bookstores in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana to support it. Naturually, I'll also be supporting Afraid. Ditto in July, when Cherry Bomb comes out in hardcover.

Touring isn't just for when your book is released. It's perpetual. If your books are on the bookself, signing them and meeting the bookseller is a no-brainer, even if the books have been out for a few years.

Besides Internet promotion, stock-signing is one of the most cost-effective ways to promote. As I said, it isn't easy, but what worthwhile things in life are? I've found that the most difficult and challenging things are the most rewarding.

Of course, a lot of people also say I'm nuts. But they've said that about a lot of forward-thinking people, like Caligula, and DeSade.

Here's a list of the remaining bookstores I have visited:

BN 5501 W. Broad Richmond VA

BN Glen Allen VA

BN 1150 Midlothian Richmond VA

BN 11640 W. Broad Richmond VA

BN Midlothian VA

Borders Glen Allen VA

Walden Glen Allen VA

Creatures & Crooks Richmond VA

BN Greensboro NC

BN High Point NC

BN Burlington NC

BN Winston-Salem NC

BN New Hope Durham NC

BN Renaissance Durham NC

Walden Four Seasons Greensboro NC

Borders Greensboro NC

Borders Winston-Salem NC

Walden Silas Creek NC

Borders Columbia MD

Borders Express Kensington MD

Borders Kensington MD

Borders K St. DC

BN Kensington MD

Borders Fredricksburg VA

Borders Arlington VA

BN Alexandria VA

BN Arlington VA

BN Mclean VA


BN Manassas VA

Borders Manassas VA

Borders 14th St. DC

BN 12th St. DC

BN Pratt Baltimore MD

BN Towson MD

BN Rittenberg Charleston SC

BN Mt. Pleasant SC

BN Rivers Charleston SC

BN Forest Dr. Coumbia SC

BN Harbison Columbia SC

Borders Market St. Charleston SC

Walden Columbia SC

Walden Sumter SC

BAM Columbia SC

BN Spartanburg SC

BN Woodruff Greenville SC

Borders Express Greenville SC

BN Haywood Greenville SC

Walden Asheville NC

BN Asheville NC

Walden White Marsh MD

BN White Marsh MD

Borders Wilmington DE

BN Wilmington DE

Chester County Book and Music PA

BN Exton PA

Borders Exton PA

BN Lancaster PA

Borders Lancaster PA

Borders Express Lanacaster PA

Borders Harrisburg PA

Walden Harrisburg PA

BN Camp Hill PA

Borders Camp Hill PA

Walden Camp Hill PA

Walden Uniontown PA

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

SERIAL by Blake Crouch and Jack Kilborn

I just got back from the Afraid tour, having visited 206 bookstores in 13 states, and will do a recap very soon.

Until then, here's a cool freebie.

Remember the twin golden rules of hitchhiking?

# 1: Don’t go hitchhiking, because the driver who picks you up could be certifiably crazy.

# 2: Don’t pick up hitchhikers, because the traveler you pick up could be a raving nutcase.

So what if, on some dark, isolated road, Crazy #1 offered a ride to Nutcase #2?

When Blake Crouch (DESERT PLACES, ABANDONED) and Jack Kilborn (AFRAID, TRAPPED), face off, the result is SERIAL, a terrifying tale of hitchhiking gone terribly wrong. Like a deeply twisted version of an “After School Special,” SERIAL is the single most persuasive public service announcement on the hazards of free car rides.

Beyond a thrilling piece of horrifying suspense, SERIAL is also a groundbreaking experiment in literary collaboration. Kilborn wrote the first part. Crouch wrote the second. And they wrote the third together over email in 100-word exchanges, not aware of each other’s opening section. All bets were off, and may the best psychopath win.

F. Paul Wilson says, “SERIAL reads just like a Crouch or Kilborn novel: Full speed ahead, no flinching, no blinking, no brakes.”

SERIAL contains the novella, SERIAL, a Q&A with Kilborn and Crouch, author bibliographies, and excerpts from their most recent and forthcoming works: Kilborn’s AFRAID and my ABANDON.

And finally, a note/disclaimer from the authors:

SERIAL is a horror novella written by two of the most twisted minds in the world of horror fiction.

But just because it is 100% free doesn’t mean you should automatically download it.

This is disturbing stuff. Perhaps too disturbing.

If you can handle horrific thrills, proceed at your own risk.

But if you suffer from anxiety attacks, nervous disorders, insomnia, nightmares or night terrors, heart palpitations, stomach problems, or are of an overly sensitive nature, you should read something else instead.

The authors are in no way responsible for any lost sleep, missed work, failed relationships, or difficulty in coping with life after you have read SERIAL. They will not pay for any therapy you may require as a result of reading SERIAL. They will not cradle you in their arms, rock you back and forth, and speak in soothing tones while you unsuccessfully try to forget SERIAL.

Yes, it’s free. But free has its price.

You have been warned.

To read the opening section of SERIAL online and download the entire eBook novella for free, visit Blake Crouch's website at

While you're on Blake's site, I encourage you to poke around for a while. He's one of my favorite writers, and Kilborn fans will adore his work.

SERIAL is also currently available for free on the Sony Digital Reader, and will soon be available on the Kindle (either free or really cheap.)

As I'd promised pre-tour, I will blog about my recent experiments with eBooks and why they are the future of publishing. But first I need to take a nap, for about a week...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Afraid Tour Day 17

In Savannah, heading northwest then northeast up to Richmond.

Miles driven: 3782
Bookstores visited: 142
Books signed: 1059
States traversed: 7
Days on the road: 17
Nights in hotels: 6
Gas cost: $364
Hotel cost: $401

Other costs include food, parking, and tools, which I'll add up later.

So far, bookseller reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and I'm getting to meet a lot of cool people. I had to fly home for the Reaching Forward library conference, and signed and sold a lot of books and had a great time.

When this tour ends, the total cost for everything should be under $2000, and I'll have signed well over 2000 books and visited well over 200 bookstores.

Is it worth the time and money?

Well, it sure beats sitting on my butt whining about my sales. :)

Latest stores visited include:

Borders Orlando Airport FL

Borders Philly Airport PA

BN 213 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

Borders 909 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

Walden West Shore Tampa FL

Walden University Tampa FL

Borders Clearwater FL

BN 11802 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

Borders 12500 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

BN Clearwater FL

Walden Citrus Park Tampa FL

BN Merrit Island FL

BAM Merrit Island FL

BN Daytona FL

BN St. Augustine FL

Borders Jacksonville FL

BN San Jose Jacksonville FL

BN Midtown Jacksonville FL

BN Savannah GA

On to the Carolinas and Virginia...

Friday, May 01, 2009

Library Events

Because I have zero planning skills, I had to fly back to Chicago in the middle of my tour to speak at the Reaching Forward conference for Illinois libraries.

And since I've been going non-stop for 14 days, I haven't written a speech yet.

It's been a while since I've posted actual advice on this blog, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and write the speech and my blog at the same time.

The name of my speech is Author Library Events: What Authors Want. But I'm taking that as a jumping-off point to explain how author events can be successful.

Libraries are more than book and video rental stores. They're hubs for the their communities. Books don't make a good library. People do. And an author event is a great way to bring people together.


If your library wants to sponsor an author event, the first step is recruiting authors. Writing conventions are the best way to do this. Nothing beats face-to-face contact. Ask your boss to send you to writing conventions. When they stop laughing, pay for the trip yourself, and remember to write it off on your taxes as a work-related expense.

Approaching authors is easy. If you begin your sentence with, "I love your work" then you've already got a captive audience. Introduce yourself, and your library, and ask if they'd like to speak for you. If they're somewhat receptive, get their card (or their email) and give them yours.

This is a good time to talk about paying authors. I've discovered that you get what you pay for. Most famous and semi-famous authors are asked to speak all the time, and they charge speaking fees. These can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

If you've got thousands of dollars in your events budget, go after some bigger authors. They'll also want their travel expenses paid for. Is this excessive? Perhaps. But the writers that are good at this sort of thing are usually worth what they're paid.

I usually charge between $300 and $1500 to do a speech, plus expenses. I've taken less if the library is nearby, or if I'm friends with the librarian.

Often a library is hesitant to make a monetary offer, worried it will be insulting because it is low. I say, "Go ahead, insult me." If I'm interested, we can always negotiate. And like any good negotiator, your first offer should be lower than what you're actually willing to pay.

Usually, I'm happy taking an average of the last three speaker fees they've paid.

If you don't have a budget, you can still get authors, but they'll be of a slightly lower caliber. For example, for free you can get the guy who self-published his Print On Demand book "I Can Fit My Whole Fist Up My Butt." If you book him, remember not to shake his hand.


Besides meeting authors in person, meeting them online is a good way to recruit them. Every author has contact information through their website. Authors are also on many social networking sites, such as Facebook, LibraryThing, Goodreads, Shelfari, Twitter, MySpace, and so on.

A typical offer would list the type of event it is, the date, what you can pay, and what you expect the author to do.

Flexibility is important. The more flexible you are with your dates, the more likely you'll be able to get authors. Authors have deadlines, and travel a lot, and I often have to turn down events because I'm doing another one. So if you need to book a lecture room months in advance, request several days and give the author some options.

It's important to mention that you should NEVER book an author without having seen them speak in public. Most authors suck at public speaking, and these are often the ones most anxious to speak. If you've never met them in person, try to find them on YouTube.


Content is king.

Library patrons are looking for two things: Information and entertainment.

Simply booking an author for a signing isn't going to draw much of a crowd, unless the author is a huge bestseller.

In other words, it isn't enough just to buy the monkey. Now the monkey has to perform.

What are some types of events I've done?

BOOK FAIRS. These are often a collection of authors, and usually an annual event. The key to a successful book fair is to get a great keynote, who you'll probably have to pay for. But you'll also get all of your local authors who will come out for free.

BOOK CLUBS. I speak at a lot of book clubs. If I can't be there in person, I'll talk to the club via conference call. Most authors will do this, and none of them, me included, charge for this.

HOW TO. I lecture a lot about how to get published. Since every community has newbie writers, this is always a good bet. Other lectures can focus on the writer's area of expertise. Raymond Benson successfully lectures at libraries about movies, something he knows very well, having been a writer of James Bond novels. Michael A. Black and Dave Case, both cops and authors, have a crime scene presentation.


Should you advertise on radio or in the local paper? I say no. I'm not convinced paid advertising gets people to come to events, and I think your money is best spent elsewhere, like on snacks. Or beer. (Yes, I've done library events that had an open bar. The turnout was amazing.)

Here's what you should do instead:

Contact the local media for free publicity. Most papers and some radio stations list community events.

Ask the book club and writer's group to read the author's book prior to the event.

Print up some cheap flyers and hand these out to patrons checking out books a week before the event.

Posters are nice, if you can get them cheap. Flyers posted on every wall works just as well.

Your website and email list should promote the event. Ask the author to use his net contacts as well.


If you've been burned before with low attendance, even though you had decent, name authors, then you need to think about stepping up the program.

People love free stuff and give-aways. Someone on the fence about attending the event might decide to come if attendees can win something.

It can be something donated by library patrons or sponsors--a night in a bed and breakfast, a free hair style, an oil change, round trip tickets to Mexico with complimentary face masks to ward off the swine flu, etc.

It can also be free books, supplied by you or the author. Some authors will donate a character name. The sky is the limit, but contests and freebies do bring people in.


The day finally arrives. You make sure the chairs are set up, the sound system works, there are plenty of cookies and coffee, and then you cross your fingers and hop the author and some patrons show up.

If the author doesn't show up, for whatever reason, have a back up plan. That's why a contest is nice--in case something happens, your patrons won't hate you.

If no patrons show up, the author might feel a bit stung, but a stipend takes much of the bite out of that. You'll probably feel the need to apologize, but all smart authors know that it isn't your fault, that these things happen, and they should be kissing your butt for thinking of them in the first place.

Then, of course, inflate your numbers on the report so your budget doesn't get cut.

But if you've followed the proper procedure, chances are you'll have a decent turn out, and everyone will have a good time. Be sure to collect email addresses from people who show up, so you can inform them about upcoming events. If the author had a good time, ask them to suggest other authors for you.

Any questions?