An author’s guide to a successful book event: connect with readers and boost your brand

By   Hannah Bickerton 12 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

You might be thinking, ‘Aren’t physical book events now a bit outdated, old-fashioned, a waste of time?’ In short, no, not at all. Book events are still an effective way for authors to promote their work, build their brand and interact with their readers. Of course, for some authors this promotional strategy might not be the right fit for a plethora of reasons, but in-person events are certainly not a thing of the past. Whether you’re a debut author or an experienced writer, book events can be an essential part of your book-marketing strategy and help generate buzz around your book.

Types of book events

Author events ultimately allow an author to become visible. There are various forms of events, ones you may need to host yourself, volunteer to attend or be paid to participate in. It’s important to choose to spend your time at events that align with your goals and target audience, so we wouldn’t recommend accepting every invite or hosting too many gatherings.

  • Book launches: A book-launch event often celebrates the publication of a new book. It can be organised at any location, though authors will often choose locations like bookshops, libraries and other literary venues or locations relevant to their book. For example, whitefox author Monique Charlesworth launched her moving memoir Mother Country at the beautiful Daunt Books Marylebone, while James Pattinson launched his genre-bending graphic novel [Re]Start: It’s Never Too Late at Rich Mix in trendy Shoreditch. Both locations completely suited the feel of the books and their target audience, while offering enough space for book signings, drinks, networking, speeches and/or a Q&A session.
  • Author readings: An author reading could be part of a book launch or a separate event entirely, allowing authors to read excerpts from their books aloud to an audience. They’re often held at bookshops, libraries, coffee shops and other literary venues.
  • Panel discussions: Events can feature or centre around a panel discussion, bringing together multiple authors and/or industry experts to discuss a specific topic related to books, writing or publishing in general. Participating in panels can be a great opportunity to share expertise and connect with other authors and readers. For example, the London Book Fair is full of insightful panel discussions on a range of topics, from social media to children’s literature, translation and book design. Our own Sales & Business Development Director Chris Wold and whitefox author David Hargreaves participated in a panel on 23 May, discussing the business behind publishing a book and the many ways publishers and agents are finding new ways to support their authors and propel their books to success through good business strategies and ideas.
  • Book festivals: Literary festivals, such as Hay Festival, Primadonna Festival, Wimbledon BookFest and Henley Literary Festival, are larger-scale events that champion books and authors. They usually feature multiple authors, book signings, panel discussions, workshops and other fun literary activities for everyone to enjoy. This year’s Hay Festival has a list of famous authors and celebrities participating, including Dua Lipa, Stormzy, Alice Oseman, Dara Ó Briain, Margaret Atwood, Mary Berry, Laura Bates, Douglas Stuart and Elif Shafak, amongst many others.
  • Online and hybrid events: It’s also important to recognise new forms of book events that have been introduced as a result of the pandemic. Authors can tailor the type of event, in-person or online or even both, depending on the audience they’re trying to reach. Ultimately, it allows for greater reach as well as increased accessibility, allowing more marginalised people to participate as they don’t need to worry about financial or logistical barriers of having to access in-person events. However, many people are excited about the return of in-person events post-pandemic, so it’s less a case of one replacing the other but more authors knowing what type of event will be best for their readership.

Planning a book event

Once you’ve decided what type of book event you’d like to host and/or participate in, it’s time to start organising. Here are some essential steps to consider when planning an in-person event:

  • Set your goals: Ask yourself what you want to achieve with your book event – is it to connect with readers, sell more books or build your author brand? If all three, make sure you prioritise your goals and determine which is the most important to you. Clearly defining your goals will be crucial in helping guide your planning process.
  • Choose the right venue: It’s important to choose a suitable space in order to guarantee the success of your event. Consider factors such as location, accessibility, size and suitability for your target audience as well as whether the space reflects the feel or setting of your book. When it comes to preparing the venue for the event, set up your event space in a way that creates an inviting and engaging atmosphere for attendees. Arrange seating, decorations and signage that mirrors the tone and theme of your book. Consider incorporating visuals related to your book, such as banners or posters, to capture readers’ attention and create a visually appealing environment. A great example of this is Gabrielle Zevin’s promotional event for her novel Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow at BookBar, where a fun gaming ‘cave’ was created in the small space downstairs with an old GameCube (alongside plenty of pizza) to make it feel somewhat immersive.
  • Set a budget: Determine the necessary costs to host your event, such as venue hire, promotional materials, catering and other expenses, and set a realistic budget that you can stick to during the planning process. Make a checklist of everything you’ll need for the event, from books to tech equipment and promotional materials, and make sure you factor these into costs as well.
  • Promote your event: Utilise your existing platform and various marketing channels such as social media, email marketing and local media to spread the word about your event. If your budget allows, create eye-catching promotional materials such as posters or e-invites to distribute and send to contacts. This is a great chance for authors to get really imaginative with their promotion efforts. For example, in the week leading up to the publication and book launch of Alice Slater’s debut novel Death of a Bookseller, she joined The Book Fairies to leave a trail of books across the UK – hiding them in many locations referenced in the book and creating a literary scavenger hunt, from the Devonshire Arms in Camden to multiple places in Walthamstow. This was a great way to create buzz for Slater’s book release and trigger excitement for her UK tour.
  • Prepare your materials: Ensure you give yourself enough time to order copies of your book for sale or giveaways at your event, along with any other promotional materials such as posters, bookmarks, business cards, tote bags and so on. If you’re planning to give a speech, reading or presentation then make sure you’ve practised and have some notes or visual aids to hand.

Executing your book event

When the day of your event finally arrives it will be time to put all your planning into action. While hosting an event is no easy task, it’s important to remember to enjoy it and recognise that all your hard work has paid off. Here are some tips to ensure a successful physical event:

  • Arrive early: Whatever type of event you are hosting or participating in, it’s always good to arrive early. This way you can make sure everything is set up and ready to go, testing any equipment such as microphones and projectors to avoid any awkward technical issues during the event.
  • Speech! Speech! Speech!: If you’ve planned to give a speech, reading or presentation to your attendees then be sure to rehearse beforehand so you can work on a smooth and engaging delivery that really captures your audience. Structure your speech in a way that is engaging and personal, incorporating relevant anecdotes or insights while highlighting the unique aspects of your book. Provide some visuals, such as slides or props, to enhance your speech and make it even more memorable. A conversation or Q&A session is an informative alternative to a solo speech; for example, the internationally acclaimed author Margaret Atwood participated in multiple events to promote her new title, Old Babes in the Wood. This included an evening of Margaret in conversation with fellow writer Pandora Sykes at London’s Emmanuel Centre (which was also made available via livestream), an exclusive live event at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall in conversation with television presenter Kirsty Wark, with a Q&A session with the audience and live reading by actress Maxine Peake, and a similar display in New York at Symphony Space on Broadway, where a variety of actors performed a selection of the short stories from the book itself. There are lots of possibilities for an author’s participation in an event and it’s vital that you don’t feel forced to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.
  • Connect with your readers: Spend time actively engaging with your audience during the event – encourage questions, comments and discussions to foster interaction and create a welcoming, comfortable and inclusive environment. Listen to your readers, answer their queries and show genuine interest in their thoughts and feedback. All this can be done as part of your presentation, a dedicated Q&A session, during the book signing or simply while networking over a glass of wine. This personal connection can leave a long-lasting impression on readers who in return will reward you with absolute loyalty.
  • Offer incentives: It’s not always easy to attract a lot of attendees for events, especially for debut authors who have yet to build up their readership. By offering incentives or giveaways it increases the chances of people taking an interest and turning up to your event. These may include special discounts or promotions for event attendees, raffles or contests, giving away signed or limited edition copies of your book or other related merchandise. While you’ll need to be prepared to factor these offers into your budget, it’s a great way to create a real buzz around the event and encourage attendees to shout about it on- and offline. For Death of a Bookseller, author Alice Slater’s book-tour events were organised at locations including Daunt Books Summertown, Waterstones Gower Street and Deansgate, Edinburgh’s Portobello Bookshop and West Kirby Bookshop, which included a copy of the books, a goodie bundle and cocktails inspired by the novel. Her final appearance on her tour was at the independent bookshop Phlox Books in London, a night that consisted of author conversation, audience questions, a pub quiz, Cluedo and, of course, more cocktails!
  • Capture the moment: Document your book event through photos and video. You don’t necessarily need a professional photographer there but make sure someone is taking a few snaps at least! These visuals can be shared on social media, on your website or in future promotional materials, which will allow you to extend the reach and impact of your event beyond the physical attendees while showcasing your author journey to your readers.
  • Follow up: After the event, make sure you follow up with attendees and express gratitude for their presence and support. You can do this through personalised emails, social media shout-outs or even go old school with handwritten thank you notes. Additionally, encourage attendees to leave reviews and share their experience on social media, further amplifying your event and fostering interest in your book and any future events.

How book events help authors to promote their work

So now you understand the different types of book events and how to plan and execute one – but what are the actual benefits of hosting and participating in book events in terms of promoting your published work? Is it really worth all the time and effort? Well, only you can decide that, but here are some of the main perks:

  • Connecting with readers: Book events provide authors with the opportunity to connect with their readers on a more personal level. Meeting readers, engaging in conversation and signing copies of their books creates a memorable experience for readers and helps authors build a loyal fanbase. Growing these personal connections with readers can ultimately lead to increased word-of-mouth promotion, positive reviews and recommendations, which can significantly boost book sales.
  • Generating buzz and publicity: Events are a great way to build buzz around your book. By promoting your event through multiple marketing channels, you can create anticipation and excitement around your book. Additionally, book events often attract media attention, including coverage in newspapers, magazines and online, providing authors with additional exposure and visibility. whitefox author Enda McNulty’s launch for his book Commit 2 Lead! featured in the the Independent after BAFTA award-winning actor Barry Keoghan attended!
  • Showcasing your expertise: Book events like panel discussions, talks and readings offer the chance for authors to showcase their knowledge of writing, publishing and the subject matter of their book. By sharing your insights, you can establish yourself as an expert in your field, boost your credibility and attract new readers who are interested in your genre or niche. This assists authors in establishing their author brand and positions them as authorities in their category or industry, while potentially using their book as a tool to garner new business.
  • Book sales: Events can provide authors with the opportunity to sell copies of their books directly to readers. This will lead to immediate book sales and royalties, as well as potential future sales as readers share their books with others and stay loyal to the author, purchasing their future works. Additionally, signed copies are often valued by readers and can become cherished possessions, displayed proudly on their bookshelves.
  • Networking: Book events create a space for valuable networking opportunities. Connecting with other authors, industry professionals and potential collaborators at events can lead to special partnerships, cross-promotion opportunities and expanded reach. Authors can also learn from other authors’ experiences, gain insights into the publishing industry and build relationships that can further their author career.

Book events can be powerful promotion tools for authors, offering them a chance to connect with readers, generate buzz, establish their expertise, sell copies and network with industry professionals. Through careful planning and preparation, authors can create events that are truly memorable for their readers and boost their author brand to new heights. But remember, the key to executing a successful book event is to create a great atmosphere and enjoy the event yourself! This will ensure you showcase your work in the best possible light and will leave a lasting impression on attendees, setting the stage for your future success. So, if you’re an independent author looking to promote your book, consider the benefits and impact of incorporating events into your marketing strategy.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.