If you ever want to get an author chatting, ask them: what’s the worst personal appearance you’ve ever had?

Trust me, if they have a sense of humor at all, they will regale you with the funniest stories you have ever heard. A terrible personal appearance is a rite of passage for every author. Lee Child will tell you about the time he had three people at a bookstore. Three! (And sometimes three is fabulous.) Michael Koryta will tell you about the time he was introduced as Michael Crichton. And Katherine Hall Page and I will tell you about the time we had to give a presentation in a blizzard, to one person and our husbands. And oh, the time I had a terrific bookstore, and a terrific time—and the Red Sox got into the World Series. You could have BOWLED in that store, it was so empty.

That said, here’s the key. You do the best you can, plan the best you can, and if on the day it happens it’s a disaster, that’s okay. Because, in reality, it’s not a disaster. I promise.

Here’s why. The turnout is not the only metric. How do you have a successful writer event? Let’s talk about that.

Be careful about the date

A small crowd is not a reflection on you personally. We’ve all had events that turn out to be during a blizzard, a holiday, a big event (the finale of Survivor? Yup. I am not making this up). Is it a holiday that you don’t celebrate—but someone else does? Election Day? The day before election day? Is it school vacation—that’s not necessarily wise. The Saturday after Thanksgiving? (In a bookstore, that’s a terrific choice! In a library, not so much). A high school basketball playoff. Town meeting. The prom. So, do the best you can with dates. Find out what else is going on in the world. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment!

Embrace the venue

A poor turnout is not the bookstore or library’s fault. They’ve done the best they can—hey, they want people to be there as much as you do, right? But after your event is over, the salesperson and the librarian will still be there. And tomorrow, and the next day. How can you help? How can you be on their side? That’s your goal.

Do something

Hey. You gonna sit behind a table and wait for people to come to you? Nope. As the shoppers come into the store, approach them with a smile, and hand them a bookmark. Say, “Hi, I’m Sally Smith, I’m here showing off my new book. If you like suspense (or romance or sci-fi), take a look, but I don’t want to interrupt your shopping!” I can’t tell you how many people will be intrigued.

Use your instinct. If a customer is clearly on a mission, or headed to the bathroom, or is wrangling a crying child, let ‘em go.

Bring candy

Or something. It’s not about the candy, it’s about letting people know you’re available to chat. It’s a conversation starter. DO NOT spend a lot of money on this. There is nothing you can BUY that will convince someone to buy a book. A bookmark and a tiny talkable item, a way to show you’re a real person, that shows off your book, great. But you cannot guilt or strongarm someone into a sale. Let it go.

Caveat: and this is brazenly crass, but we’re professionals, right? Make sure you balance how much time you can give potential buyers—and I’m all about that—with the reality that right now, this is your show. Your time in the bookstore.

If they being to talk too long, or ask you too many complicated questions about their own book, say—Hey, I’d adore talking with you more, but I have to work! Here’s my email. Shoot me a note, and we’ll chat. Your fellow authors are in your universe. Embrace them the way you’d like them to embrace you.

Be flexible

Say no one shows up at your presentation. And remember, with peoples’ lives the way they are, carving out two hours (with travel and etc.) to go to an author event is a huge commitment. So, let’s say its crickets. Don’t panic! Make the best of it. Be cool. Have a sense of humor. Maybe station yourself at the bookstore door and hand out your bookmarks!  Dump your speech and do a meet-and-greet.  Those are fast, fun, and always rewarding.

I know, you’re shy. I am too, completely. But this is not that you. This is the other you, playing the role of author.

It gets easier. And easier. And then, one day, it’s actually fun. Trust me.

So, engage the people who came to buy whatever they came to buy. Maybe they’ll leave with someone else’s book (yay, them) and your bookmark. And then, they’ll read it, be won over by your graphics and reviews … and come back for your book.

Remember, the rewards are not always instant. Play the long game.

And remember what I said about the turnout not being the only metric? People will leave with bookmarks. You’ll leave bookmarks for the venue. You’ll have promoted, and those posters and notices will have been up for weeks. Librarians and booksellers will get to know you, and like you, because you’re such a gem.

And psst. No one knows that no one came. Right? They weren’t there!

I am a big fan of events. As long as they don’t take too much of your writing time. Let me say that again: as long as they don’t take too much of your precious writing time. You are an author, not a performer. So the writing comes first.

But put yourself out there. The human connection is magic.

Would you like to know more about setting up events, or how to get them, or where the best venues are? Or what you should say, or whether (and what) you should read out loud? I’ll have those posts coming soon. And don’t forget your checklist for TV appearances.

If you have some event secrets of your own, let us know on our Facebook page. And now, get writing!