Survival Tips for Writers’ Promotional Events

Promotion is part and parcel of being a writer, especially for poets.  Publishers have a finite marketing budget and resistance is futile: no promotion = no sales = no further publishing contracts (and possibly the withdrawal of an existing contract depending on the terms).

Promotion may involve readings, book signings, literature festivals, writers’/readers’ groups.  Generally bring some drinks, something to eat, promotional material (books, leaflets, etc), a notebook, at least one pen (preferably working) and wear layers (live literature venues are idiosyncratic with regard to heating/air conditioning).

Here’s a Survival Guide:-

Readings

  • Find out as much as you can about the venue beforehand – what’s the venue’s capacity, will there be a microphone, can you bring books to sell and/or other promotional material, can you park nearby, what’s the name of the person meeting you?
  • Ask how long you have to read. Select what you’re reading and rehearse beforehand so you’re not constantly looking at your watch as you’re reading.
  • Find out what the format of the reading will be – is there an interval, do they usually have a question and answer session, are you expected to mingle with the audience? If the format doesn’t suit you, negotiate before the reading, not when you turn up.
  • Be seen – it’s OK to sit if you’re on a raised platform, not if sitting means you’re only visible to the first two rows. Don’t ignore your audience and be polite.

Book Signings

  • Smile. If you look friendly, people will generally be friendly.
  • Sign willingly. It’s OK just to scribble your name if there is a long queue, but try to accommodate requests for personalised messages.
  • You agreed to do this (maybe at the insistence of someone else with a metaphorical gun to your head) so get on with it.

Literature Festivals

  • Some festivals are brilliantly organised by people who understand what writers need to know. Some aren’t. Get as much information as you can – are you reading, running a workshop, on a writers’ panel, at a question and answer session or talking about being a writer? How much time do you have? How about accommodation/parking/catering (you may have to do these yourself so make sure you know)?
  • Find out about your venue and facilities.  If you’re running a workshop are you expected to provide materials, will a flipchart/whiteboard be available, is the workshop aimed at beginners or writers with some experience?
  • Rehearse talks and readings for timing.  If you’re doing a writers’ panel or question and answer session, think around topics and answers beforehand.  Have a couple of questions ready (even if you’re the only writer involved) to cover that awkward moment where the master of ceremonies asks the audience for questions and they have a collective blank moment.

Writers’/Readers’ Groups

  • Find out what they want – reading/talk/questions and answers/a combination? How long are you expected to be there?
  • Find out what the venue’s like and whether the group meets in an informal cosy library or more formal lecture hall environment – you need to consider how to present your reading/talk.
  • Rehearse your timing and prepare questions – sometimes starting with “frequently I’m asked about…” can help warm up an audience.

Quick Survival Tips for Writers’ Promotional Events

  • Promotion is a privilege – be professional (and you’ll be asked back).
  • If reading, rehearse and time yourself.
  • If doing a question and answer session – prepare some questions to warm up your audience.
  • Respect your audience – don’t complain in front of them.
  • Turn your audience into customer evangelists – if they had a good time, they’ll do your promotion for you.
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