Four questions to ask yourself before scheduling an author event

During the last ten months of promoting my YA novel One Night I’ve learned that not all in-person events are worth my time. As an author it’s tempting to take advantage of every opportunity that’s presented to you, but events are not always worthwhile. Even for bestsellers. Late last year, I went to a book signing that featured two New York Times bestselling authors – one of whom has a movie adaptation of their book coming out — and there were nine people there. Nine. One of whom was my husband who had to be dragged by me. Not all of the people in attendance bought their books either. It was brutal! I’ve encountered similar situations at events I’ve done. Having done several events the four questions I ask myself now before committing are:

What is the expected foot traffic to the venue? My email list isn’t that large, not all my readers are local, and people are busy. What is the usual number of people (casual drop ins) that come to the event? Get an estimate from the event organizer before agreeing to anything.

Are attendees going to be in spending mode? I’ve noticed that at library events patrons are not as willing to cough up money for a book. The library is a wonderful place, but people are not in spending mode when they go there. They are normally there for the free access to books, movies, etc.

Will I be paid? If I’m compensated fairly for my time I usually don’t care about the above two questions.

Is there going to be a lot of upfront effort on my end? For example, will the venue provide a table, chairs, etc. or am I expected to bring that along? Will the event organizers help promote the event, or not?


Are author events a great way of getting the word out about your books? Of course. But not all are created equal.

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How to Prepare for a TED-style Author Talk in Less Than 10 days


When an event organizer contacted me to fill in for a last-minute cancellation who was supposed to give a TED-style author talk as part of a weeklong writing festival at a local high school I panicked. There was no way I could pull off a talk like that in less than 10 days. That was the sort of thing that took months to prepare for, possibly a year. I was worried because this would be the largest crowd I’d ever addressed. There would be at least 200 people in attendance but there could be up to 500. Plus I had to be onstage for 35-40 minutes. Since the crowd would be made up of high school students the odds were good that I’d connect with some of my target audience there: teens who love John Green novels. Even though the thought of this speaking opportunity scared me, I knew in my heart that I had to do it. What I did to pull it off and how you can, too:

Watch other TED talks for inspiration. Understand your talk probably won’t leave people with as big of a “wow” feeling due to the time crunch you’re under, however, make a note of which talks capture your attention and why. Try to bring some of that X factor to your own presentation. The talks I gravitated toward included some very personal stories so I knew I had to include some in my own talk.

Make a quick list of all the possible story lines you can tell about yourself as a writer. Keep each story to one sentence/phrase. My ideas were:

-I am old enough to have paper and email rejections

-I started writing women’s fiction but was supposed to be writing YA

-I’ve met a few bestsellers—some randomly, some on purpose

-I quit writing at least 10 times

-I struggle to call myself a writer and share my work

-I know the journey is unpredictable but worth it in the end

I decided to go with a combination of the last two ideas because they were the most upbeat and inspirational. It also had a natural narrative arc.

Once you decide on your idea, figure out how to make it visual. Audiences remember speeches better if there are visuals involved. Studies have shown that people process images 60,000x faster than text. Since this was a personal journey story I decided to include a lot of photos: myself at five years-old since that’s when I started writing; my senior yearbook photo to represent the time I started writing my first novel; images of my college newspaper where I worked as an editor. During my speech I also talked about sources of inspiration and showed pictures of my dog, Cuba. I could see smiles form on attendees’ faces as that slide went up. Images are great in terms of jogging your own memory, too, and reminding you what you need to be speaking about at a given moment.

Do not write a script for your speech. Jot down notes and phrases but don’t try to plan for everything that will be said. The best talks allow for some ad-libbing. Plus if you write a script for yourself you will stumble if you don’t remember to say something exactly as you wrote it. I took an executive speaking course last year for work and saw this happen time and again. Someone tried to remember a script they had written instead of having a more natural conversation with the audience.

Don’t make it a sales pitch. Talks like these should be managed like your social media accounts. Be helpful. Be yourself. Be genuine. Tell the audience what makes your personal story unique. Tell them what obstacles you encountered. If there are logical places to mention your book by all means try to work it in. I mentioned my novel, One Night, when I got to the sources of inspiration section of my talk (One Night is set in Hawaii and I shared some of my favorite Hawaii vacation photos). But don’t make it a blatant “buy my book” pitch.

Practice as much as time allows. Ideally you should run through your talk at least three times if possible. Time yourself to make sure it fits within the time frame you’re given. If you mess up during practice, just keep going. Pretend it’s the actual day of the talk where you won’t be able to have a redo. If possible practice in front of someone, or at the very least, your dog.

Wear something that makes you feel like a million bucks. Whether that is a red dress, a suit, or a leather jacket. Wear something that instills confidence and makes you feel like you’ve earned the right to be up on stage. If you hear a Beyoncé song in your head when you put on an outfit that’s the outfit you should wear.

I was a nervous wreck before my big talk, going so far as to Google “author visits gone wrong,” but in the end it went well. I had a lot of fun doing it. The audience was engaged and students asked thoughtful questions. Afterward, a few students came up to me to commend me on my performance. One girl said, “You know, we’ve had a lot of boring speakers come and talk to us, but you were actually interesting.” Her compliment made my day.

Author’s Note: this post originally appeared as a guest post at Writer Unboxed. To be the first to get new posts, sign up for my email list.

Upcoming events


Hey all, I have a lot of events going on next week – an event bonanza as I’ve been calling it LOL. Where you can find me:

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Help my book get on Goodreads lists


Hi all,

I have a favor to ask that will only take a few seconds of your time. If you are a member of Goodreads would you consider adding One Night to these reading lists (links follow below):

Teen Reads for Adults


YA Road-trip novels

If you like John Green

Favourite Fictional Friendships

Adding One Night to these lists would greatly help me in spreading the word about my novel. Since I’m the author I am unable to add my own books, but if you could help that would be awesome!!

Thanks 🙂

Marketing strategies for indie authors: what works and what doesn’t


In the last few months I’ve tested a number of marketing tactics to promote my YA novel, One Night. I will continue to update this post with results in the future. Below is my analysis of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing indie or self-published novels. Traditionally published authors may find this post helpful, too.


Email newsletter

Details: Once a month I email my subscribers with updates on writing, what I’m reading, contests, and recipes. Each month the content varies and I don’t include all of the above every month. But I do make sure to send them something.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Yes, I have seen sales as a direct result of emailing my newsletter subscribers. My list is small, but becomes more powerful as it grows.

Is it worth my time? YES

Other paid advertising

Details: I have tested Free Kindle Books and Tips, Ereader News Today, and BookBub (international deal only).

Does it work in terms of selling books? Yes. I saw the most sales from Bookbub – 148. The results for FKBT & Ereader News Today were dismal, at 7 sales each.

Is it worth my time? Bookbub is. The rest are not.

Blog tours

Details: I booked a blog tour through YA Bound Book tours.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? Yes. I received a lot of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and would do it again.


Details: I signed up for a one-month slot in the NetGalley co-op through Patchwork Press. It was a steal at $50 compared to the regular NetGalley rate.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? Yes. I got a number of good reviews on Goodreads and exposure on blogs.

Live events

Details: I’ve done an in-store book signing, a few local author fairs, a farmer’s market booth, and spoke to a school group.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Yes. Sales were not through the roof but they did happen. The most successful event in terms of sales was the farmer’s market (my local bookstore hosts a booth at the market). I believe this is because people are in a shopping mindset. For the people I didn’t sell to, I made sure to give them a postcard or magnet with my book’s info on it. Going forward I will not do a signing where it is just me. I met a lot more people when I partnered with other authors. Plus it’s more fun. I will do speaking events, however, or other events with a guaranteed audience.

Is it worth my time? Yes.

Telling everyone I know about the book

Details: When I launched my book I emailed everyone I knew – friends, family members, work colleagues, old teachers.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Yes. For example, my sister posted on Facebook about the book as well which led to an immediate sale.

Is it worth my time? Yes.

Goodreads’ giveaway

Details: I have given away two copies of my book via two Goodreads’ giveaways.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Not sure.

Is it worth my time? Yes. It’s easy to set up, gets eyeballs on the book, and the only cost is postage to mail the book to the winner

Posting on social media

Details: I try to be active once a day on Twitter. I prefer Twitter over other networks. I also post about once or twice a week on Instagram. I used to post on Facebook maybe every two weeks. I don’t post much at all on FB anymore.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Not sure.

Is it worth my time? Yes. I think this is a long-term sales play and a good way to connect with readers.


Library outreach

Details: I called many libraries to try and schedule events/promote my book. This did not work. Calls were either not returned or a million excuses were given for why they couldn’t help. What I tried next was walking into the library and donating a copy of my book.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? Maybe. My book is now available in a few libraries. One can only hope that it is being checked out. *Update: months later I received a nice email from one librarian and I have also been added to another library’s local author email list which puts me into consideration for author events.

Guest blogging

Details: In the past few months I’ve guest blogged at Jane Friedman and Teen Librarian Toolbox.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? Not sure. I think this is a good way to get my name and book cover out there to a good audience, but the referral traffic to my own site hasn’t been huge.

Blogging on my own site

Details: I try to write a new blog post once a month.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Hard to tell.

Is it worth my time? Not sure. What it does do is give me something to post on Twitter. I get a lot of referral traffic to my site from Twitter when I share helpful blog posts.


Facebook ads

Details: I have tested spending less than $100 in Facebook advertising.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No, not for me. I have targeted ruthlessly, getting as specific as fans of John Green who live in specific zip codes, specific ages, and times of day. It leads to clicks but not sales. I suppose if I had a budget of $100K it might possibly work, but if it’s not working on a small scale I don’t think it will work on a big scale.

Is it worth my time? No

Emailing random book bloggers

Details: For a few months, I have reached out to as many book bloggers as possible when I have time.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? No. While some bloggers I’ve emailed have reviewed the book, it’s less than 1% of them. I have wasted way more time emailing bloggers than the results are worth. *Update: I recently discovered Book Razor, which vets bloggers for you. They build a list of bloggers who have a good chance of liking your book. The response rate I’ve gotten from the list is pretty good.

Paid publication reviews

Details: I signed up for a paid review from Midwest Book Review & Portland Book Review.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? No. Though I got some decent blurbs to put on my web site and sales pages I don’t think this was a good use of my time and/or money.

Releasing a nonfiction ebook

Details: I put out a guide to self-publishing, for free on Amazon, iBooks, etc. and included a preview chapter of One Night at the end.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? No. I have seen this strategy work for other authors, but it did not work for me. I think the market is flooded with these types of books and unless you are Joanna Penn or other highly successful author it is not worth the time.


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Five Keys to Successful Author Events

Or, what I learned from my second event as an author 🙂

This past weekend I participated in a Local Author Fair at a nearby library. I learned a lot and wanted to share these tips in the hopes of helping other writers.

  1. Bring a buddy who is good at pimping your book. In my case this was my mother. She talked my novel up to anyone and everyone who walked into the room and touted my book to the other 14 authors in attendance. I don’t know if that led to any sales but at least she helped spread the word.
  2. Make sure your table looks amazing. Some of my fellow authors had great books, but their displays didn’t convey as much. I brought a tablecloth, giant print out of my cover made at Fedex Office, magnets, postcards, an easel to prop my book on. Your table needs to sell your book. author-fair-photo
  3. Network with other writers. I shared a table with the lovely Lina Chern, a crime writer, and basically interviewed her at length about her publishing experience when not selling my book. I also grabbed a business card from another author who said she might know a good critique partner for me.
  4. A more general pitch is better when trying to sell your book. At the start of the fair when someone stopped by the table and asked what my book was about, I gave them a blow-by-blow of the plot. Heartbroken teen boy meets Elvis impersonator and quirky friendship and adventure ensues. After I said this, a lot of people gave me a blank look. When I generalized my description, though, to: “It’s a YA novel but it’s not too angsty and it has a sense of humor and it’s set in Hawaii” I got a WAY better response.
  5. Remember that it’s one sale at a time. It’s easy to get discouraged when a lot of people walk through the room and only a fraction of them actually purchase. The hope is some of the readers who do buy your book like it and tell all their friends about it. And when a teen girl stops by, reads your back cover and says, “This sounds sick!!” the struggle will be worth it.

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Authors, if you have any other tips I’d love to hear them via comments 🙂

How to Network Effectively (Even If You Hate Networking): Start Close to Home


If you’re anything like me a small part of you (or let’s be real, a large part) hates networking situations with a passion, especially forced networking situations. There is nothing I dread more than a “networking night” which results in two-hundred people standing around a room talking to the same two people for the duration. One of the reasons I love writing is because it’s solitary by nature; ultimately it’s just you and the keyboard and your ideas manifesting themselves on the page. But if you want to actually sell books and have people read them, you have to meet other people and tell them about it. Since my debut novel was released a month ago, I’ve discovered what the best networking strategies are for people who hate networking.

1. Let your family and friends know about your book, in whatever way you see fit. In my case, I sent all my friends and family members an email. I asked them to sign up for my email list if they were interested in getting further updates from me. One of my uncles, who is very cerebral and who I assumed would have zero interest in my YA novel, bought the book and read it. A few weeks later he cc’d me on an email that he sent to twenty-five of his closest friends. In the message he told everyone how much he enjoyed the book, wrote a thoughtful, multi-paragraph review, and encouraged them to buy it. It just goes to show you never know who is going to be your biggest advocate.

2. Tell your colleagues about the book, in a passive way. Don’t shout it out during a company-wide meeting. Tell your boss in your weekly one-on-one. Send the people you aren’t as well-acquainted with a polite email. Tell them you published a book and provide a link for them to read more about it. From my experience this leads to a spike in sales and unexpected connections. When I told one colleague about my book he connected me with one of his best friends—who happens to be the executive editor of a major review publication and a published author. Meeting up with my colleague’s friend didn’t get a me a review, but it did get me other leads to bookstores and professional organizations I can promote myself to. Plus, he’s become a mentor of sorts who is happy to answer my publishing-related questions and give me career advice.

3. Go to as many writing and/or literary events as possible without any expectations for what might happen. I went to an Indie Author Day event at my local library recently and didn’t find it particularly useful since I’d already published my book and had done research for a year leading up to publication. As I was leaving the event another attendee asked, “Did you get anything out of that?” I told him no, not really. His next comment was, “You know what is useful…” and proceeded to tell me about a local writing group I’d never heard of that hosts guest speakers and workshops on a regular basis.

4. If a reader takes the time to contact you, thank them and ask how they heard about the book. I have found this to be a good way of gauging the effectiveness of my marketing efforts. What’s working and what isn’t? Was this money and time well spent? Nothing is better than direct feedback from readers. And when your next book comes out, they’ll remember you as the author who took the time to email them back. Hopefully they’ll buy your new book without having to think about it.

This post originally appeared as a guest blog on Jane To receive posts like these first, sign up for my email list.


Quick How-To: get 1,000 Goodreads followers with 5 minutes of effort — Ana Spoke, author

As always such helpful advice from author Ana Spoke on promoting yourself and your writing. Thanks, Ana! Read on for her Goodreads’ follower tip below.

Have a gander at these here numbers: I now have 1,020 Goodreads friends! How did I manage this, you ask? Well, about a week ago, I had 200 friends, as a result of a year of giveaways (total of 8, which are also responsible for the staggering 2,424 of my books on people’s to-read shelves) […]

via Quick How-To: get 1,000 Goodreads followers with 5 minutes of effort — Ana Spoke, author

How to write a good book review

Since I’m in the process of soliciting reviews for my upcoming release, ONE NIGHT, I thought it would be helpful if I wrote a post for readers on what to incorporate in a review if they get stuck. Some things to consider as you put together your review:

  • Comment on the elements of the story. This might seem obvious, but it’s an easy place to start if you’re otherwise stuck. What was the setting of the novel like? Could you picture it? How about the characters? Were they believable? Did you empathize with them and their predicament? What about the plot? Love it or hate it?
  • Mention any memorable quotes, scenes, or passages. Even in novels I hate I can pinpoint scenes in which I knew I hated said novel. Write about anything that resonated with you when reading the book.
  • Discuss comparable titles. How did the novel compare to other titles in the same genre? How does it compare to your favorite book?
  • Do a quick rundown of what you liked and didn’t like. You can set this up as a list. For example, what I liked about this novel: X, Y, Z. What I didn’t like: A, B, C.
  • Talk about the writing style and/or the voice of the novel. Is it stuffy? Approachable? Humorous? A combination of different styles? What is good and bad about it, in your opinion?
  • Talk about the future. Will you read another book by this author? Would you want to see more of the same characters? Would you recommend this book to a friend or family member?

Hopefully these tips will help you the next time you sit down to write a book review. When I review books I try to focus on the positive and avoid mentioning anything negative. I only mention something negative if I think it will help the author on their next work. For example, I once wrote in a review that the author could have employed “show don’t tell” more in certain parts of the novel.

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Five Ways to Ensure a Beautiful Book Cover

The great thing about self-publishing is you have complete control over the creative process. This can be overwhelming at times, but ultimately it’s liberating. Below are five ways to make sure you get a stellar book cover for your project.

1. Know your book. Know where it goes in the store and what kind of tone/voice you want the book cover to convey. For example, when working with my designer I told him I wanted to convey a charming, yet contemporary feel. If your book in a thriller you might want the cover to come off as dangerous or convey a sense of excitement.

2. Send potential designers covers you like that you would like your book to emulate. As a self-published or independent author you want your book cover to look as good if not better than NYT bestsellers. If your book has any chance of competing it needs to look the part.

3. Hire someone you trust. I have the advantage of knowing many designers through my day job, however the designer I chose to work with still had to earn my business. I told him what I needed for my book and he pitched a concept to me. I liked it and his rate was reasonable, so I hired him. If you don’t have the advantage of knowing someone personally there are other measures you can take to ensure a good business relationship. For example, how fast does the designer respond to your initial inquiry? Do they lay out their contract terms in a clear manner?

4. Give your designer key details about the book without being overbearing. Provide them with a cover blurb, comparable titles, and your elevator pitch, but don’t insist they read the book. Remember, not all elements of a story can be illustrated on the cover nor should they be. What you want to get across is a feeling/a tone. You want to invite the reader into your world and make them want to come along for the ride.

5. Push your designer to create the best cover he or she can. If you think something needs tweaking don’t be shy about voicing your opinion. For example, if you think a different font might work better for your genre speak up. Be sure you have a reason for suggesting changes, though, and explain to the designer why a particular element isn’t working for you.

I hope these tips help you in your quest for a beautiful book cover. I think mine turned out great, but I’m biased 🙂


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