In the span of one week, I attended two in-person author promotion events. The first one was an open-mic event where I read aloud from one of my mysteries, and the second was a talk I attended by another author on her publishing success. Here's my thoughts on both.
The open-mic event was organized by a national writers' association, and was open to authors and musicians performing their own work. I anticipated that most of the audience would be composed of the event organizers and fellow performers, and I was right. Aside from us, one of the authors brought her own cheering section, and there were a couple of other people since the public were welcome, but that was all.
I was #13 on the roster. We were given ten minutes, but it felt as though most people weren't sticking to their time limit. By the time I got up to read, the audience had dwindled to about one third of its original size. I read the first chapter of Framed for Murder as expressively as I could, left the audience on a cliff-hanger, and sat down after five minutes. I did sell one copy of my book to one of the organizers.
My take on open-mic events is that it's not very interesting listening to someone reading aloud unless you're familiar with the author's work. Cold readings are really hard to pull off, and just because you're an excellent story-teller doesn't mean that you're good at engaging an audience. Open-mic events are useful for getting to know your fellow authors, however, and for giving each other a pat on the back.
My take on an author's appearance at a bookstore is that talking to twenty people at a time is a long, hard way to build a reading audience. If you're J.K. Rowling and you've got an audience of thousands of people, plus the event is being recorded, that's another thing. But is it an effective use of the author's time, or are author's appearances a relic of the old way of book promotion? I'm not sure, since I've never done it. It would be interesting to measure its success by refraining from promoting the book through other avenues, but who would be crazy enough to do that?
I don't have a huge list of people I can e-mail about my books' releases, so I continue to write and publish through Comely Press, promote through social media, and hope to build up a list of followers who look forward to reading my next book. Independently-published authors have to promote their books, of course, but the time stolen from writing cannot be regained, and how is that time best spent? It's a balancing act, for sure.
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