Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tips for Going Clubbing—Book Clubbing That Is

by Sophie Perinot

The first book club I visited.
You never forget your first.
As an author you will have the opportunity to do a number of types of speaking engagements. In the eleven months since the launch of my debut novel, I’ve done book talks, author panels at book festivals, and even a college lecture. All of these were fun and every one of them was a promotional opportunity. But when it comes to sheer bookselling power the grand champion of the author speaking engagement is almost certainly the book club visit.

Once you publish a book you will begin to dream about book clubs. No, literally. Ask my husband—I dream about book clubs. Not stress dreams. Not standing up at a lectern and realizing you’ve forgotten your pants dreams. Nope, book club dreams are the kind of dreams you wake up from feeling warm and fuzzy. I mean do the math—every book club is a chance to make ten, maybe even twenty sales upfront. Make a positive impression during your visit with club members and that dozen copies is just the tip of the book sales iceberg because enthusiastic readers talk. They tell their friends about your book, they pass a promotional postcard for your novel along to someone at work who they know is a member of a different book club and tell her, “This author does Skype visits and she is fantastic.”

So what are the secrets to being a good book club invitee? In searching for a summary of my personal approach to book club visits a quote from Shakespeare in Love popped into my head. In that movie Lord Wessex (boo), instructing Lady Viola with respect to her upcoming audience with Queen Elizabeth, says:

"Be submissive, modest, grateful and brief"

Exactly! I would just add the Boy Scout motto on to the end of that—“be prepared.”

Be submissive—in the “amenable” sense of the word. Being amenable means being, “ready or willing to answer, act, agree, or yield; open to influence.” Attending a book club is different than standing at the front of a room and giving a speech. As a book club guest you are part of a dialogue. You need to be willing to answer questions. You need to LISTEN not just talk. Be open to the comments of members; yield the floor. Let what you are hearing from the readers affect the presentation you’ve planned. A person who feels truly listened to feels valued. And that is precisely how you want readers to feel.

Be modest. Yes you are an honored guest and even—and let me tell you it is SO weird to experience this—a minor celebrity when you show up for a book club meeting (or pop up on the host’s computer screen). At the most spectacular club I’ve attended thus far the hostess had the event catered and made little hand tied bouquets of lavender for all the attendees to commemorate the fact that my heroines come from Provence. But if you let your status as guest-of-honor go to your head and start to act like a “C”elebrity then you risk losing points and readers. You want to be remembered as the author club members connected with on a personal level. Personal connections—in addition to being tremendously fulfilling, and I think talking to readers is absolutely the single best part of this writing gig—sell books. It’s called word-of-mouth, folks, and it is the most powerful book-selling tool on earth.

Be grateful. Look out at the club members. In a market absolutely swamped with product, every single soul present (well, except for the couple who borrowed library copies) bought your book. They read it. They are the audience you’ve pined for since first you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Thank them. Thank them for reading your novel. Thank them for sharing their thoughts about it. Thank them, in advance (and while gently nudging), for reviewing it on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank your hostess for arranging things. If you are attending the club in person, say something nice about the food. But be sincere or don’t bother. Obsequiousness is a real turn off. Be a genuine and polite guest, not an ingratiating flatterer.

Be brief, because to quote the real Shakespeare, “brevity is the soul of wit.” You should be prepared to make some sort of presentation (see my next point) but keep it short because the real heart and soul of a book club meeting is the discussion of the book. Yes, the club invited you because they want to hear you speak, but better to leave them wanting more than to render them drowsy and eager to make an escape.

Be prepared. In spite of everything I’ve said above about being a listener you were, in fact, invited to speak. Book clubs invite authors because an author visit offers value added. The club members are perfectly capable of discussing your book without you. They want you in the room for the thrill of getting inside information. You need to give them something the average reader doesn’t get. You get to decide what that something is. Start by thinking about what you’d want to know about a favorite author or a favorite book. Or perhaps by thinking in terms of what “enhanced features” might be included if your book were a DVD.

Here are some suggestions for adding value to your visit: Go biographical, offering up facts about your past or present. For example, in the Metro DC area where I live many women have transitioned from high-powered careers to being at home and back again, so I often speak about my own struggles with those adjustments. Offer a peek into your creative process. I like to tell readers about the scene in my novel that I wrote first, sharing the story of where I was when the voices came to me. Flesh out the meat of your story. This is particularly interesting to readers if, like me, you write historical fiction. I often talk about the history behind my story, particularly about common misconceptions about historical women. For those who write other genres, consider sharing a scene that ended up on the editing room floor.

Those are my personal clubbing tips. Do you have any you’d like to share in return?

Sophie Perinot is the author of THE SISTER QUEENS, the story of a pair of 13th century sisters who became the queens of England and France. Currently she is holed up in the 16th century working on a novel set in Valois France. You can learn more about Sophie and her work here. And YES she would love to visit with your book club!


JeffO said...

Some day, I hope to be able to add to your tips!

Jemi Fraser said...

That's great advice, Sophie! What a thrill to be speaking to a group of people who loved your book!

Jean Oram said...

Last night the fabulous Fran Kimmel (author of the fresh, Canadian novel The Shore Girl) came to our book club. I think she followed your tips to the letter. She was great. She was gracious when people mentioned one typo in the book, shared her thoughts about the characters and their backstory bits she didn't share in the book as well as bits about what had been cut by her and her editor.

I would also add that it's smart to bring books to sell. Either more copies of the book the group read (those who borrowed it from the library may want to buy a copy and get it signed or give it as a gift). As well, other books you've put out can be popular as well. :)

Great tips, Sophie.

Sophie Perinot said...

Jean, good point although for many authors bringing books to sell is not really permissible (it totally depends on your contract) or feasible (I mean most of those who are traditionally published to not have a stock of their books at home).