I’m just getting ready for a talk at Hounslow Library in West London and it reminded me that I promised to share a few tips about events promoting books.
There are two books in the Tigeropolis series, with a third underway. The stories are targeted at ‘confident readers’, 8-12 and tell the story of a family of vegetarian tigers living in the foothills of the Himalayas who are battling to save their beloved forest (Tigeropolis) from the developers’ encroaching bulldozers. The books are humourous, but with an underlying conservation theme, and loosely (very loosely) based on my experiences of conservation in India.
My first ever promotional book event was at a local primary school. The Literacy Coordinator had asked if I would do a short talk at a morning assembly for World Book Day.
I decided that rather than talk too much about the books I should focus on what inspired me to write the series; describing my first encounter with a tiger, interspersed with a few tiger facts and then finish with a short reading from the book. In Tigeropolis the tigers have forgotten how to be wild and need to re-learn old skills, so the piece I chose to read describes how they learnt to roar again. It was a bit intimidating faced with 350 children aged 5 – 12, many dressed as tigers, but thankfully it seems they did genuinely have an interest in tigers and stayed engaged throughout. At the end they also liked to show that they too knew how to roar!
So, what tips can I pass on?
Number 1 - Establish exactly what your host organisation wants, but also make sure they really know what you can offer.
As I’ve said my books are based on tiger conservation, so I’m also able to talk more generally about tigers and conservation. Some schools therefore ask me to go round individual year groups as well as do a general talk to an Assembly talking about a range of issues. This of course adds considerably to the time commitment, but it can be very interesting – and also challenging, as some of the questions can be quite tough.
Number 2 - Try to involve the audience.
I always try to get the audience to answer questions and to talk about their own experience with tigers in zoos, safari parks, etc. Sometimes I get them to vote on the possible plot ideas I have for the current book I’m working on. And of course, the roaring practice at the end usually works out well as an exercise in audience participation.
Number 3 - Leave time for Q&As.
This is always a highlight for me – although you do find that quite a few children are so focussed on asking their own question that they haven’t noticed that their question has already been asked 3 times. There are only so many different ways you can answer ‘what inspired you to write the book? ’ without repeating yourself too obviously.
Number 4 - Have realistic expectations about how many book sales will be generated.
It may seem obvious but it’s worth repeating – most primary school children do not carry significant quantities of spare cash, or have credit cards, therefore you will either have to get the school to organise pre-sales (advance notes to parents/guardians and sort out paperwork and cash collection), or rely on a brief window of opportunity at the end of the day when parents/guardians are collecting their children. So you need to establish how any sales opportunity will work and it’s most certainly worth trying to make it as easy as possible for the school to encourage pre-ordering. My most successful event so far enabled me to sell just over 100 books (all pre-sales), the least successful was about 15 (and that was when selling at the end of the school day). I should mention, by the way, signing and individually dedicating one hundred books takes quite a bit of time – indeed an entire lunch hour, and then some.
Number 5 - If you are using props, videos or Powerpoint you need to have a back-up plan when it all goes wrong.
And trust me, things do go wrong. Projectors might be missing connector leads, power sockets may be in the wrong place, supply teachers might not know passwords, there can also be problematic acoustics, or lighting, or simply just not having enough space (especially in books shops). Mostly you don’t have the time/opportunity to do a recce – you just have to turn up, take 10 mins to set up and then you’re on. I usually WeTranfer my presentation ahead of time – partly to enable the teachers/shop staff to have a bit more of an idea of what I’m going to say and also to encourage them to have things set up before I arrive – nonetheless I have my presentation on a laptop, a memory stick and I can also run it off my iPhone if necessary. I even have some of the key slides printed out on an A3 flip chart, just in case.
Number 6 - Confirm arrangements a couple of days before you turn up and make sure you have a contact name.
Whilst the school might quite like having you there, it quickly becomes clear you are not the key thing on most people’s minds – and especially at the start of the school day, so you need to know who is expecting you and how to contact them. I also must admit on at least one occasion I, myself, forgot all about the fact I was doing a talk the next day – luckily I glanced at my calendar just before going to bed and suddenly realised I needed to be at a school for 8.30 the next morning on the other side of London.
Number 7 - Don’t do it if you don’t enjoy it.
It’s fun – but it’s hard work – you are on show for at least an hour (and possibly all day) and people expect you to perform throughout that time. That said, it’s also clear children really do like the idea of an ‘author’ visiting them, so that’s always a nice thought to have at the back of your mind as you munch your way through the school lunch you might be lucky enough to be offered just before you go on.
Oh, and finally, if, like me, you are going to ask 300 children to roar simultaneously, and full throated, take my advice and bring some earplugs!
Tigeropolis – Beyond the Deep Forest and
Tigeropolis – The Grand Opening are published by Belle Media
Check out my new Children's picture book (4+) out now: Captain Bobo