By Kate Flora
Through our Speakers’ Bureau, Sisters in Crime authors do about thirty library events a year, throughout the New England states. Most of these are excellent, but sometimes the turnout is discouragingly small for speakers who may have driven an hour or more to present a program. Many of the following ideas are from Tina Swift, who has arranged a number of events for the Amherst, Massachusetts, library; others are from our writers. Tina not only always rounds up a large and enthusiastic audience, she even cooks dinner for her Sisters in Crime beforehand.
Target your audience
Librarians know who reads mysteries. Mostly women. Many retirees. Many baby boomers. What will draw readers out for an evening? Chocolate. Fruit. Lively conversation. A chance to meet someone (an author) whom you’ve pictured from reading her/his books.
How do you broaden the appeal of the program to a wider range of mystery readers? Provide a program with a mix of cozy authors, writers of harder boiled mysteries, thriller writers, maybe even true crime, so that the fans of each can enjoy the lively interchange between different authors. Or offer a series in which many different subsets of the genre are discussed. Pick a theme for the event so you can give it a catchy title.
Consider who else might be interested in a program of mystery writers. Many senior citizens are avid mystery readers. Are there senior centers, senior reading groups, or retirement homes whose residents might be interested in the program? Contact writing teachers at local high schools and middle schools whose classes would enjoy hearing authors discuss the process. If the library has a reading group, consider having them read one of the invited authors’ works. Writers are also interested in hearing authors speak. Contact local writing groups, community colleges and adult education groups whose students might be interested in listening to writers talk about writing.
Consider notifying town boards and employees.
Pick a good time and place
Obviously, if this is a library program, you want to have it in the library. But don’t hold a mystery authors’ program in the children’s room–most people don’t like to discuss murder surrounded by fuzzy toddler toys. Or, at the very least, clear a space and use panels or posters to transform the area into an ‘adult appropriate space.’ A conference or meeting room that provides a neutral background is ideal. The authors will provide the color.
If many in your target audience work and have family obligations, hold the program after dinner: 7 p.m. seems to work well. If you know that many of your audience are busy on Thursday night, don’t hold your program then! Readers prefer not to come out on Friday nights, when they are tired from the week and want to collapse at home. If many of your readers are older and don’t like to drive at night, consider holding the program on a weekend afternoon or over lunch.
If your library doesn’t have a good meeting space, consider asking a local church or bookstore to co-host the program with the library.
Help people attend your program
If many of your target audience are retired, it’s possible that they do not drive at night. (Increasing age brings increasing night blindness.) Ask the Senior Center in your town if they will provide a van to transport your guests. If you have a retirement community, many have vans for their residents–ask if they will bring friends. (It’s great publicity for the retirement community and it’s free!) Find out if you can arrange rides with a younger person who would come anyway–they might enjoy picking up a senior citizen.
Always serve food
Serve free food and people will come. Light desserts are fine. Be sure that the coffee is decaf, have tea to go with a little treat. Remember that most people will have had supper. Be sure to have fruit for those who cannot eat sugar, cheese if possible for low carb dieters.
Publicity, Publicity, Publicity!
As early as possible, ask your visiting authors for press kits including information about their books, brief biographical information, and photographs. Many authors will have all of this information in a downloadable format on their web pages.
Hopefully, you have a connection with a local reporter. If you do not, make one. Do this by calling the local paper and asking who covers the library in your town. Who covers arts and entertainment? Who reports on new books? Then call that person–if you have to leave a voice mail, you should be prepared. It’s OK to write a script for yourself beforehand.
Write a press release for your program. Fax it to all of the local newspapers within a 30 mile radius. Don’t forget the cable access TV stations!
Make flyers for your program with a catchy picture or tag line. Leave lots of white space but be sure the “who, what, when, and where” is clearly shown. Tell them how to contact you. Mail the flyers or postcards with the event information to bookstores within a 50-mile radius of your library.
Make small flyers or bookmarks announcing the event to slip into checked out books in the weeks before the event.
Set up telephone interviews about the program on local radio stations and cable TV stations.
Be sure to promote the idea that guests can get an autographed copy of the books at this program. Invite a local bookstore to send books and they may send someone to sell them as well.
Remember the value of hyperbole
Ask people to register because, “Seating is limited.” It gives you a way to put value on a free program and a way to count potential guests. Enlist your Friends of the Library Friends groups are invaluable in creating successful library events. Many times they will willingly contribute money which you can use for honoraria for the authors, help with publicity and provide delicious munchies. They also often form the core audience for your programs. Be sure to thank your Friends at the event for their support.
Highlight your featured authors
For at least one week beforehand, create a “grab and go” spot with the past and present books of the authors whom you will be hosting. Be sure to put your flyers in the mystery section. When you see someone checking out mysteries, either mention the event or point to a flyer. Ask your local bookstore to make a window display featuring your authors.
Be a good host
Acknowledge New England’s uncertain weather and be sure the authors have a contact phone number and that you have theirs.
When hosting an author or author panel, be sure to have a designated space set up for the authors. Wherever possible, consult in advance about how the authors would like the space arranged. Provide water for your guests. Provide a table for the authors to set up their books, with enough space there or on a separate table for handouts and author materials. If you are using a large space, consider whether the authors will need amplification.
Send your authors driving directions and information about where to park.