I am no marketing genius, and though I’ve written forty-five books, I still have much to learn about author and book publicity. But I recently felt like I got something right with the book launch for my latest book, The Bard and the Bible: A Shakespeare Devotional, a book of daily reflections drawn from a quote from Shakespeare and a verse from the King James Version of the Bible (which were both created in the same period, country, and city).
Go where people are
I’ve done many book signings, and while some went better than others, they were far more stressful than successful. I hated having to call in favors and twist arms to get people to come to the book signing. Yuck. But for the launch of The Bard and the Bible, I thought, Why try to get people to come to me when I could go to them? What that meant for a book that draws from the works of Shakespeare was getting permission to schedule my launch events at free “Shakespeare in the Park” performances near my home. I first contacted the theater company to make sure they had no objection, and then sought permission from venues that were hosting two of the events, on a Friday evening and a Saturday afternoon). Not only did both venues say “yes” (after all, the more people who come to the performance, the better exposure for them, right?), but they gave me prime real estate to set up a book table, hand out flyers, and give away free stuff related to my book. Since hundreds of people attend these free performances, I had a ready-made crowd of people who presumably were already interested in my subject.
Of course, it wouldn’t have worked as well if my book were about quilting or zombies. In such cases, of course, it would make sense to plan a book launch at, say, a craft fair or Comic-Con. It takes off so much pressure, instead of trying to attract people (or force them) to come to your event, to simply go where your “tribe” is already gathered.
Strike a theme
Once I knew my book launch would be held at a performance or two of Shakespeare’s plays, I shopped around for a costume so I could dress as the Bard. This was harder than I expected; shopping online is a gamble, and I didn’t want a cheesy costume. But I eventually found out (by asking friends on social media for tips) about a wonderful consignment and costume shop just forty-five minutes from my house. A full costume (including hose and shoes) cost a pretty penny (nearly $400!) but I got the look—and the quality—I wanted. I even grew a mustache and beard after Shakespeare’s style, much to my wife’s chagrin.
Costumes aren’t the only way to strike a theme, of course. Posters and banners can be affordably printed these days. If your book is a historical novel, set your theme to fit that period. If you’re launching a cookbook, set up a tasting. If it involves an airplane, make available a paper-airplane-folding station. Think in terms of what will grab people’s attention and draw them to your table, booth, or display.
Spread the word
Knowing I would have a ready-made crowd at my book launch events took off a lot of pressure in trying to attract a crowd and persuade family and friends to come. Still, I planned my publicity efforts a couple months in advance and used email, website, social media, and affordable paid advertising to let as many people as possible know about the events. I also coordinated with staff at the venues hosting the events, who kindly included my participation in their mailings and other publicity for the events—without charge. I asked specific friends in the area to help me spread the word by sharing and retweeting my announcements, and took care to thank them for their efforts.
These days, of course, you have to be careful not to overload people’s Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds with blurbs about your book launch, but today there are more ways than ever to spread the word economically and effectively.
Hedge your bets
When I first consulted the “Shakespeare in the Park” schedule for my book launch, I had many performances to choose from. I also know that Friday and Saturday evening shows are better attended than others, but nearly all of the venues are outdoors, which means they are “weather permitting” venues. I did not want my book launch to be rained out. However, I noticed that the Friday after my book’s official release date was in a favorite venue of mine, a beautiful vineyard setting about thirty minutes from my home—and an indoor matinee was being offered the next day! Plus, the Friday performance was Macbeth, while the Saturday offering was Romeo and Juliet. I figured even if Friday’s performance was cancelled, scheduling an indoor venue for the next day was one way to hedge my bets, so to speak. And since they were two different plays in separate parts of the city, I hoped that there would be little—if any—overlap in the crowds (and I was right). Another way I hedged my bets was to enlist my wife and daughter to man the book table so I could be free to wander, hand out printed materials, and engage people’s curiosity (or pity).
Your circumstances will certainly be different. But you can still hedge your bets by thinking through, “What happens in case of rain? Sickness? Traffic? Lost shipments?” and so on.
Give stuff away
One reason book signings can be such a drag is that most people entering a bookstore don’t already know you, but they know you’re hoping to sell them something. But one way to defuse that dynamic at a book launch event is to make it clear you’re giving away stuff—at least some stuff. On the table at my book launch I placed a placard stating, “THESE ITEMS FREE—prithee, help thyself.” On that end of the table was Shakespeare-related merchandise (bookmarks, postcards, etc.) . . . and varieties of Smarties candy (because Shakespeare was a “smartie,” of course, and because chocolate candy melts in August heat). I also made sure my hosts and the director of the play received free copies of the book because, well, one thing could lead to another. I also handed out several hundred full-color cards with the book cover on one side and “fun facts”—along with the book’s landing page web address (www.bardandbible.com) on the other side.
One of my regrets is that I didn’t give away more stuff—and that I didn’t advertise a drawing in exchange for email signups. Next time.
There is, of course, much more I could say, and my efforts were far from perfect. But they did make “much ado” about The Bard and the Bible, so all’s well that ends well.
Bob Hostetler (www.bobhostetler.com) is a self-confessed Shakespeare nut, award-winning writer and speaker from southwestern Ohio. His 45 books include the historical novel, Northkill, and the one-year devotional, The Bard and the Bible. Bob and his wife, Robin, have two grown children and five perfect grandchildren.