Last month, I had the pleasure of running four indie author events with 65 different authors in total. More than 1,000 readers attended the events, many of them buying at least one book. Seeing how the authors and their readers operated during four 12-hour days taught me a lot about how to run these types of events. Here are five takeaways from my jam-packed Facebook party summer:
In February, when I put together one 16-author event, it was an organizational challenge. With 65 authors in the mix, I'm lucky there were only a couple of hiccups. I ran into three distinct issues along the way. The first occurred when I failed to adequately keep track of which authors were giving away items (see #2). It took me until event #4 to realize that I should have used a cloud-based Google Doc to have authors add giveaway items at will. This would have saved me the trouble of hunting down the potential prizes in dozens of past emails.
The second issue was when one of the authors was accidentally left off of one of the email chains. It was only when I did individual email follow-ups to folks who hadn't dropped their book prices that I realized the author's email had mysteriously vanished from the messages I'd been sending. Copy-pasting can only take you so far. Always count and double check to make sure you're sending an email to the right number of authors. If you're hosting an event with 15 other authors, but there are only 14 emails in your BCC column, somebody is missing. Check your records to figure out who.
The third foible was literally forgetting one author was a part of an event. When making my initial contact with some of the authors, I found that there were a few here and there without contact information on their website. These were the folks I messaged through Facebook. While convenient, Facebook's messaging system makes it easy for some correspondences to get lost in the shuffle. Even though I had all the Facebook-contacted authors email me, I still managed to lose one contact because I failed to add the author to my master list. This is another situation in which Google Docs might have saved the day, but it really comes down to staying on top of all the folks you contact.
To get 65 authors together, I had to email at least twice that many. That's a lot of emails to keep track of. Using Google Docs or an Excel spreadsheet can take some extra time, but it's worth it if you don't want to get organizational egg on your face.
Not one of the five events I ran was the same as any of the others. When I prepared for my first fiction author event on June 13th (Cruel Book Summer), I assumed that readers would be happy enough to buy books and ask authors questions, because that's what they did at my non-fiction event in February. When the first set of questions at Cruel Book Summer was met with crickets, several of the more experienced authors pointed out that many of these events have giveaways.
I ran these events in three-hour shifts, with two to four authors present for each shift. What seemed to work was having each author do two to three individual giveaways during their shift. Authors gave out free advanced review copies of their books, signed paperbacks, bookmarks and even custom jewelry.
The giveaways that were the most successful (i.e. had the most entries) were the ones that encouraged readers to participate. These followed the formula of my creative writing prompts by asking a question that was open ended enough to get a wide variety of answers from the participants. The questions were typically related to the genre of the event. A superhero event might ask "Which is better, Marvel or DC and why?" while a paranormal event might ask, "Which is your favorite paranormal creature and why?" Another successful format was either asking readers to caption a genre-related photo or to answer a question with a photo. A fun giveaway that I ran for ARCs of my new novel Ted Saves the World had the entry requirement of posting a picture of the lamest superhero you could find. There were over 50 entries by the end of it all.
By encouraging readers to participate in multiple different ways, we were able to keep the event active and create some great bonds between authors and their new prospective readers.
There's only so much you can do when you promote your Facebook event through the authors' Facebook pages and Facebook ads. Facebook's view-limiting algorithm actually makes it a poor method for promoting posts. If it wasn't for Facebook's convenient real-time event feature, I'd consider hosting the event using a different platform entirely.
The trick to making these events as successful as possible is to think outside the box when it comes to promotion. Of the three non-Facebook advertising methods we used, two were successful and one didn't seem to get us much traction.
The least successful method was using a paid blog tour to get us five to seven guest posts leading up to the event. None of the posts ended up generating any comments and there were no event attendees who specifically said they came from the posts. I've been dubious about the power of curated blog tours for a while, and this particular tour did nothing to dissuade me from that opinion. It was worth a shot, but it didn't do much for us.
The second method was to use Rafflecopter to encourage readers to invite friends and sign up for the authors' email lists. I wasn't too familiar with Rafflecopter, but between a very informative post by author Shelley Hitz and the help of author J. Thorn, we navigated the waters of the platform. Rafflecopter is a site that lets you host giveaways, but the real gem of the idea is that you can give away extra entries to the giveaway if the entrants do something extra. In our case, we gave away additional entries if folks invited 10 friends to the event, tweeted about the event or added their email to all 17 authors' email lists.
I tried to go the extra mile with this by getting six authors with the biggest Facebook presence to use Facebook's boost post feature on a post that included the Rafflecopter giveaway. It's difficult to tell how many folks actually clicked through as a result of the $50 or so we put into the boost post, but the Rafflecopter statistics speak for themselves. There were over 1,300 entries with more than 50 ravenous readers signing up for the authors' email lists. The Rafflecopter campaign helped build up the Dark Side of the Sun's attendance and contributed to the authors' precious email newsletter lists.
The biggest promotional coup of all five events almost slipped through the cracks due to poor tracking on my part. The March to a Bestseller event was a huge success, and it took until I ran several events that sold fewer books to figure out all the reasons why. One of the main ways I brought people to the event was a massive email campaign in which my virtual assistant and I messaged every college creative writing program in the U.S. (over 500 in all) to invite them to the event.
It was hard to tell this was successful at first, because we got so few direct responses from the campaign. Even though there was little direct contact, it later became apparent that many of the departments invited their students who skipped right past the event to buy the books directly. This helped to explain how we sold approximately 3,000 books with 650 attendees vs. the later events in which we sold approximately 200 books with an average of 350 attendees per event. Once again, email marketing wins the promotional battle.
Figure out some way to promote your events outside of Facebook and you'll get a much better result.
During the March to a Bestseller event, one attendee visited the page to complain about how I was spamming his inbox. He claimed I was the only person posting and that he would report me to Facebook. This didn't make any sense to me at the time, because there were dozens of other active authors and readers at the time (several of whom came to my immediate defense).
I later realized that unless you change Facebook's original email notification settings, you will receive an email every time an event host posts in an event. Given that this complaining individual received approximately 200 emails with my name in the subject, I understood why he was frustrated.
There are two ways you can go about remedying this problem. The first is to make it clear to attendees that they will have to change their Facebook settings if they don't want to receive a ton of emails. You should do this prior to the start of the event before they receive a barrage of day-of emails. You can link to any one of a number of instructional posts on Facebook and elsewhere online.
I used the second method, which was curbing the number of posts I made through my account. Instead of posting every couple of minutes on the event, I made sure to only post every 15-30 minutes. If the event lulled, I asked one of the authors through a Facebook chat window to post a new giveaway to keep the party moving along. Another method I used was responding to posts with my author Facebook page, which didn't result in guests receiving a notification email. This ended up being a bit of a pain, because you can't make original event posts with a Facebook page, you can only comment. I had to keep switching back and forth to use my author page and my actual profile, and I couldn't keep that up for the entire 12 hours. If you have more patience than me, it might be a good way to limit the number of notification emails your event sends out and boost your Facebook page likes.
When you're organizing a massive event like this, it can be easy to get caught up in things that don't matter. It doesn't matter if an author doesn't show up for his shift or if the event lulls for a few minutes here and there. Heck, it doesn't even matter if you don't sell that many books. The point of the event is connecting with other authors and linking those authors up with new fans. Any sales or other opportunities that come out of the events are just gravy.
I had a tough time internalizing that the authors were actually enjoying themselves and the connections they were making. Many authors told me flat out that they were very happy to be part of such an event, but I was often too focused on results to notice.
Before I got married, a friend gave me the advice to make sure that during my wedding day I stopped on several occasions to clear my mind and take in everything that was happening. This practice would keep the day from being a blur and would remind me what was truly important. I followed the advice at my wedding and on several occasions, I followed it during these author events as well.
Don't be so blinded by planning and sales that you forget what being an author and an entrepreneur is all about. It's about people. It's about making connections. If you've done that at the end of a long, hard day of clearing out your massive list of notifications, than you've done what you set out to do. Keep that in mind.
And here's a bonus tip. Have a nice, big margarita at the end of your event, take a picture of it, and post it to the event. Your fellow authors and readers will get a kick out of it.