SCHOOL & LIBRARY APPEARANCES, Part III: GETTING THE GIGS
The holidays are upon us. You're trying to finish the shopping, get the cards out, endure the hassles of travel... Are you managing to write at all, much less promote your work? Well, in the midst of my own cookie-baking frenzy, as promised, here are some tips for getting school and library gigs. (Be warned, this is a long post.)
Particularly at the outset, developing appearance opportunities is hard work, though it can get easier as you build your reputation, garner good reviews, and sell copies of your book. Remember that getting gigs requires putting yourself out there (sometimes affectionately called shameless self-promotion). If you don't have the stomach for it, school and library appearances may not be the way you want to promote your work. If you love connecting with readers, talking about books and writing, and spending a bit of time away from the keyboard, appearances are probably for you. Commit to not neglecting your WRITING. Decide how much time you want to spend each week on marketing and make sure it does not impinge on your manuscript hours. THEN...
1. Make yourself find-able online. Dedicate a page on your website and link your blog, Facebook page, etc., to your appearance program. So, if I were to Bing or Google "Author Appearance" and your name, I'd find your appearance page. Keep it simple without long, scroll-down-requiring descriptions. PROVIDE clear and easy steps for inquiring about an appearance and DO NOT make this a note to your family email address. If you don't have a .com website, open a separate email account with a name like "firstname.lastname@example.org." It looks more professional.
2. Get started by using your connections-- friends, colleagues, family. One lovely author-friend is expert at this and her books MOVE off the shelves everywhere she goes. Her profit margin is not high but, in terms of book recognition and sales goals (paving the way for future books), her efforts are paying off. The strategy: Every time you have plans to hit the road for any reason, and have already handled your travel and lodging costs, let people know. Try putting an announcement on the destination school district's listserv; ask area librarians if they are interested in a visit or can help spread the word; and ask connections in the educational field for contact names. Your message? "YOU, author of X, will be visiting CITY on DATES. Interested schools can contact YOU at XXX. Fee is $X or free with the purchase of a classroom set of books (note that when you are soliciting appearances, fees must be low or even free, and book purchasing requirements can be time-sensitive) for a one-hour presentation." Include a headshot and/or book jacket image--pictures lend credibility. Give the local paper a call and offer to give an interview or write about your "author's experience" visiting their town.
3. Get "reviews" for your presentations. It's often as easy as asking. Provide a "review form" for completion by every host. Make sure there's a signature line for hosts to grant permission to be quoted on your website. On the review form, invite hosts to provide an email address for you to keep in touch and/or contact information for friends or colleagues they feel would like more information about your programs. Collect information and learn from feedback.
4. Tell fans and followers where you'll be and how things go. Website or blog posts noting cities or towns you are visiting or cute anecdotes about young readers you meet in these places make you seem both accessible and friendly. Post good book AND appearance reviews.
5. Reach out to educators in all situations. Several authors with whom I work give my name to teachers and librarians they meet everywhere from literary events to the supermarket to social functions. The authors then send me a list of folks to look out for and, when these people touch base, I can be very responsive because I know how and why they came to request this author (while I generally recommend consistency with regards to fees, requests coming through authors in this way sometimes, though not alaways, have a prearranged fee exception or waiver due to a personal connection). A SIDE NOTE: Make sure you have a nice business card and share it liberally.
6. Specialize. Does your middle grade novel's protagonist study gymnastics? Does the bad-boy romantic interest in your YA fantasy play in a rock band? Reach out to organizations focusing on activities or topics related to your book, especially if you have some background in these areas.
7. Educate yourself. Learn what interests reading specialists, librarians and other educators through organizations such as the International Reading Association (www.reading.org), the American Library Association (www.ala.org), NCTE, NCSS and NSTA. If one of these organizations is holding a conference in your area--go! At least visit the exhibit hall. Talk to people about your book and show your appreciation for the contribution other conference attendees make to literacy efforts. I have personally picked up writing and speaking gigs by attending ALA and NCTE events, not to mention learning a ton.
8. Inform your publisher. Every author would like their publisher's marketing and publicity staff to fill their calendar with book tours and high-profile conference appearances. That these folks cannot offer every interested author all of the appearance opportunities they would like is simple math. However, they HONESTLY DO submit your work for all appropriate rewards and advise you of all specific and appropriate appearance requests. Better to advise your editor, publicist and marketing contacts of appearances you have scheduled and, very occasionally, send along a nice quote from a particularly successful appearance. This way, you're not asking for opportunities your publisher cannot provide but instead showing that you're ready and waiting should the right chance come along. Nice. Subtle. Much appreciated. Professional.
Getting gigs is quite a process, huh? Maybe you're exhausted just thinking about all this work as you sit amidst a pile of unwrapped presents with scotch tape stuck in your hair (er-that's not autobiographical!). In fact, these techniques can become as routine as your exercise regimen or doing the dinner dishes (note I did not choose fun routines but necessary and helpful ones). Take things at your own pace--you can always do more or scale back. I recommend enjoying the cookies and the eggnog this week, and maybe you can add one or two of these ideas to your New Year's book promotion plans.