Self-Pub 101: Live Events for Indie Authors

I know, I know, most writers are introverts, so you just looked at the title of this blog post and shuddered. But don’t worry, live events don’t have to be torture! In fact, live events have been, in my experience, very good days in terms of sales, and very good days in general. This may not hold true for everyone, but you won’t know unless you try!

One caveat here–if you write fiction, there’s probably not much point to doing a live event unless you have print copies of your book to sign. On the other hand, if you write non-fiction, you can probably give a great talk on your topic without needing to have books to sign. Just make bookmarks or postcards for people so they can buy your book online.

Make the Necessary Preparations–Indies need to be professional!

I showed up to my first live event–a book signing at my local library–pretty unprepared. I didn’t think about taking a cash box or much in the way of small bills to make change. I didn’t take a sign with book prices. I did remember to take a few Sharpies and copies of my books, but that’s about it!

When you’re doing any kind of event, it’s important to find out all you can about it ahead of time. If possible, visit the location ahead of time so you know what kind of set-up you’ll have. Ask if you need to bring a bottle of water. Find out if you’re in a super-hot or super-cold part of the building. Check out how far you’ll have to carry your box of books from your car.

Ask who will be handling your sales, if you’ll need to bring a cash box, etc. If you’re at a bookstore event, they’ll probably run the sales through their point-of-sales systems. If you’re at a library event, they might have a bookseller on hand, but more likely you’ll be expected to handle sales yourself. I invested in Square last year after my last event. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but I’m hoping that the ability to take credit cards will make life easier for me.

Bring free stuff to give away. People love free stuff! Even if it’s just a bookmark, it’s something they can hold in their hands. It gives them a reason to come over to your table, even if they turn and walk away again. It will serve as a reminder that they met you, so if they didn’t buy your book at the event, they might buy it later. I went one step further and designed bookmarks that have my Stormshadow cover art, a link to my website, and a way to get my first story, Stormsinger, free–by signing up for my newsletter!

Develop a Book-Signing Survival Plan

I’ll start by saying that I’m an introvert myself. I’m pretty good at code-switching, so I do a good job of pretending to be an extrovert–in fact, I have acquaintances who don’t believe me when I say I’m an introvert, until the first time I cancel showing up at a party or gathering using some lame excuse of “something came up.” It isn’t that I don’t like people. It’s that spending time with people drains my energy, rather than recharging it.

That said, it’s important to develop a Book-Signing Survival Plan.

Think about how much time you can stand to be around people. For me, it’s a pretty long time–I was at Robots & Rogues’ Small Business Saturday event for almost 10 hours this past November. But maybe you can only be around people for two hours. That’s fine! Just plan ahead and be firm.

Make a list of comp titles. People will always want to know who influenced your writing. This is sort of like the Amazon “Also Bought” books. People who bought Lord of the Rings, for instance, often buy The Chronicles of Narnia or The Deed of Paksenarrion or The Kingkiller Chronicles. For me, my comp titles are books by Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley. I’ve also been known to reference Juliet Marillier, because she likes to write about resourceful female characters who find themselves in impossible situations–something I like to write about, too. This is useful for a number of reasons:

  1. It gives you something to talk about when people ask what your writing is like.
  2. It gives you something to ask people who are browsing bookshelves near your table.
  3. If you hear someone looking for those books or talking about those books, you can jump in with how much you love them too, and talking to people means they’ll get curious about you.

Remember, you’re a writer hanging out with readers. That means everyone in the room is a book nerd, and that’s never a bad thing. You’re bound to find some books you love in common, and then you can geek out together, which lessens the anxiety a lot.

Library Events are Great for Indies

Books by traditional and indie authors on the same library shelfI’ve done two library events so far, and I have at least three tentatively on my calendar for 2015. The Allen County Public Library has an author fair every year, as does the Crawfordsville District Public Library. This is a great chance to connect with other writers as well as talking to librarians. If you haven’t realized yet how important librarians are to your career as a writer, you should!

Librarians do a lot of reader advisory–basically, telling people what books they should read. It’s my hope that my librarian friends will tell people, “Hey, you’ve read everything Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley have written. Why don’t you check out Stephanie Cain?” This is, in fact, how I started reading Tamora Pierce. Polly, one of my favorite people in the library world, told me that since I liked Narnia and The Hobbit, I really ought to pick up Alanna: The First Adventure. And I did, and I loved it, and the rest is history.

The Allen County Public Library Author Fair hosts a series of panels during their event. I was fortunate enough to participate in a panel about Self-Publishing and e-Publishing, and I had a blast. Granted, my day job is giving tours to groups of people at a museum, so I’m used to talking to fairly large groups. Stage fright isn’t a problem for me, generally speaking. If public speaking isn’t your thing, you can still go to listen at these panels, and hopefully learn something!

Indie Bookstores and Indie Authors

One of my favorite places to do an author event is at indie bookstore Robots and Rogues in Lafayette, Indiana. I’ve done a couple of events there, and both times they were wonderful. The staff at the bookstore is the best bunch of book nerds you’ll even meet, and honestly I like shopping there because they’re fun to talk to and hang out with. So even if you don’t sell any books, you’ll get the fun of hanging out with fellow book people.

Something to remember, when you’re doing an event at a bookstore, is that you should encourage people to buy your book in the store, and also encourage them to buy more than just your book. Honestly, I don’t think Robots and Rogues makes much money from selling my book for me. They do it because they like to support local authors. In turn, this local author likes to support local bookstores.

I always try to make sure my local bookstores have signed copies of my book in stock. That way if someone in that town wants a copy, I can say, “You know, the books are on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but they’re also at this bookstore in your town, and those are signed copies!” Not that I hate online sales, because honestly, if Amazon and nook didn’t exist, I would still be unpublished. But you just can’t beat the feeling of walking into a bookstore and knowing you’re among kindred spirits, can you?


Indie author Stephanie A. Cain poses in a green and silver costume at GenConI’ve never done a convention as an author. I probably ought to ask Laura VanArendonk Baugh to write this section. :) I’m actually planning to be at the inaugural TippyCon (a fan convention in Lafayette, Indiana) on April 4 this year. As a gamer and fan, I’ve attended GenCon in Indianapolis a few times, and I’ve also done Origens in Ohio. One of the best parts of fan conventions is the opportunity to connect with other fans and connect with creators.

Laura has actually done workshops on Japanese folklore and mythology at several conventions, giving her a perfect platform to mention that she’s also written novels that draw heavily on said mythology. She has, in fact, also written a cozy mystery called Con Job, about a mystery at a fan convention.

Other Opportunities

There are probably other great opportunities for live indie author events that are escaping me at the moment. Maybe you could recite some of your work at an open-mike night. Rent a booth at a street festival. Attend a writing conference and find out if it has a bookstore for attendees.

What live events have you done? Where would you like to see your favorite author, indie or otherwise? Chime in with a comment!

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