Thursday, September 5, 2013

Library Events: What's good, what's bad, what works, what doesn't. By Myra Johnson

Myra Johnson
Dora here, waving from somewhere in Norway where Hubby and I are enjoying a cruise. Yay! My sweet friend, Myra Johnson, agreed to step in for me today with a fabulous post on library events. It's a bit longer than our usual, but there's some great stuff in here, so fill up a bigger mug with coffee and settle back for an extra minute. It's worth it! Myra, welcome to Seriously Write! 

First of all, my thanks to Dora Hiers for inviting me to be your guest today to share some of my experiences with author events at public libraries.

Let me just state for the record that I am not an “out there” kind of person. I would much rather sit at home in my comfy writing chair with my nifty adjustable laptop desk with its built-in cooling fan and my trusty MacBook Pro open to my work-in-progress.

But let’s face it. Writing isn’t just about writing. We want readers. Faithful readers. Readers who tell their friends what great writers we are so their family and friends will buy our books!

And that leads us to the dreaded word promotion, which in turns brings us to one of the primary methods writers use to promote their books.

[Cue scary music here.]


When I first dreamed of becoming a published novelist, it never occurred to me that I’d eventually be called upon to speak in front of various sized groups whose interest varied from “You are beyond fascinating!” to “Where’s the nearest exit?” 

My first few post-publication speaking gigs were for church gatherings or my local writers group, where I knew I’d be among friends. But when you have no idea whom you’ll be addressing--much less how friendly and open-minded they’ll be--it’s a lot different.

It also makes a difference whether getting up in front of an audience comes naturally to you. For some authors--the extroverts among us--public speaking is a breeze. Others, like introverted moi, need some encouragement.

That’s why, after moving to the Carolinas in 2011 and joining the local American Christian Fiction Writers chapter, I was very grateful to connect with Dora, a writer who has developed a real knack for working with area libraries to schedule author events.

Although I’ve done several library programs with Dora over the past couple of years, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on the subject. But these experiences have brought a few things to light that I believe are worth passing along to other authors interested in braving the library circuit.

The first program I shared with Dora was actually a three-author panel that also included Jennifer Hudson Taylor, another Carolinian. The audience, comprising readers who enjoy inspirational fiction, proved very welcoming. Each author gave a 10-15-minute talk describing our journey to publication, providing background about our novels, and sharing a few thoughts about writing Christian fiction. Afterward, we took questions and then visited with attendees and autographed books.

A couple of weeks later, and feeling more comfortable now that we’d gotten to know one another better, the three of us repeated our program at a public library in another city with even more success.

Sharing the program with one or more author colleagues definitely takes the pressure off! That’s why, when Dora asked if I’d be interested in working up a joint program for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library System 2012 Summer Reading Series, I immediately said yes, and soon we were hammering out a talk on “Writing Inspirational Fiction” that would be presented at two different libraries.

We organized our talk in a “she said/she said” format, beginning with each of us sharing our personal background and highlights of our writing journey. We went on to discuss our individual writing styles, where we get ideas, advice about finding an agent, and an overview of several Christian publishing houses. Each participant received a handout with a list of our favorite craft books and writing websites.

We ended the program with Q&A, which was a great opportunity to zero in on participants’ individual needs and interests. Afterward, we stayed around for book browsing and more casual conversation. Overall, the program seemed to go over quite well. In fact, so well that this past summer Dora and I collaborated again to give three library presentations on the subject of creating memorable characters.

Now for the good, the bad, etc., etc.

Good: People who attend library events are avid readers. 
Bad: Library patrons like to check out books, not necessarily buy them.

Good: It’s fun and inspiring to chat with people who are really interested in books and writing. 
Bad: Turnout is unpredictable. At some events we had 10-15 or more in attendance. At one of our first summer programs we had only two.

Good: Librarians are your friends. Get to know them and they will recommend your books to readers and suggest upcoming releases as possible library additions.

What works: Contacting libraries well in advance of your desired program dates. 
What doesn’t work: Expecting the library to get you on the program calendar within a month or two. It can take several weeks to several months to get library approval.

What works: Planning ahead of time whether you will address primarily readers or writers and adjusting your content accordingly. 
What doesn’t work: Not clearly advertising your program as Christian or “inspirational” (if that’s central to your topic). People have been known to walk out at the first mention of faith.

What works: Promoting the event on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, etc.; also finding out what forms of promotion the library will be using. 
What doesn’t work: Scheduling your program either too early or too late on a weeknight evening.

What works: Arriving early enough to get your table and book display set up, visit the ladies’ room, get some water, and mingle with attendees as they arrive. 
What doesn’t work: Misjudging rush-hour traffic, then arriving so close to start time that you’re flustered and out of breath. Also, trusting Google Maps only to be sent to a nonexistent location!

What works: Giveaways (bookmarks, postcards, chocolate, etc.) and handouts containing supplemental information. 
What doesn’t work: Sitting shyly behind your book table and waiting for people to talk to you.

What works: Interacting with attendees, asking them about their reading interests, and suggesting other authors (yes, your competition!) you think they might enjoy. 
What doesn’t work: Not verifying whether the library has copies of your books in circulation.

What works: Donating a copy of your book to the library prior to or, at the latest, the day of your program.

What works: Remembering to send a thank-you note to the program organizer and mentioning your interest in working with him or her in the future.

Bad: Preparing talks and doing programs definitely takes its toll on your writing time. 
Good: But in the end, it’s usually worth the sacrifice!

Have you braved the library program circuit yet? What do you like most about speaking events? What do you find most challenging?

Any librarians in the audience? What advice would you offer authors interested in presenting a program to your patrons?

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About When the Clouds Roll By: Annemarie Kendall is overjoyed when the armistice is signed and the Great War comes to an end. Her fiancĂ©, Lieutenant Gilbert Ballard, is coming home, and though he is wounded, she is excited to start their life together. But when he arrives, her dreams are dashed when she learns Gilbert is suffering from headaches, depression, and an addiction to pain killers. This is not the man she had planned to marry. After serving in the trenches, Army Chaplain Samuel Vickary is barely holding onto his faith. Putting up a brave front as he ministers to the injured soldiers at the hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he befriends Gilbert and eventually falls for Annemarie. While Annemarie tries to sort out her confused feelings about the two men in her life, she witnesses firsthand the bitterness and hurt they both hold within. Whom will she choose? Will she have the courage to follow her heart and become the woman God intended her to be? As the world emerges from the shadow of war, Annemarie clings to her faith as she wonders if her future holds the hope, happiness, and love for which she so desperately longs.

About Myra: Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes inspirational romance and women’s fiction—emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. She is a two-time American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award finalist, most recently for her novel A Horseman’s Hope. Her novel Autumn Rains won the Romance Writers of America 2005 Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript and was a 2010 Carol Award finalist. Married since 1972, Myra and her husband are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, and are also grandparents of four rambunctious grandsons and two precious granddaughters. Although Myra is a native Texan, she and her husband now reside in North Carolina and share their home with a very spoiled lapdog. Myra writes full-time and is currently serving as president of Carolina Christian Writers (ACFW--Charlotte Chapter).
Myra has seven novels and an anthology in print and has recently completed a historical romance series for Abingdon Press. Book 1, When the Clouds Roll By, releases this month. Visit her website at Myra can also be found at and Follow her on Twitter at @MyraJohnson and @TheGrammarQueen.