Vagabond Voices
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Vagabond Voices

My First Author Event!

Photo by J.S. Lender © 2021

I HAD BEEN RATHER nervous about my first author event this month. The event included a reading from two of my books, along with a book signing. Although my anxiety was getting the best of me, I eventually realized something important — writing is not performance art. The important work had already been completed, and all I needed to do was simply pull the sheet off the oil painting, like a museum curator, and say a few interesting things. Hopefully, the folks in attendance would appreciate the finished product. And they did!

I’ll never have a tombstone that reads: “Here lies a man who had impeccable timing.” I published my first book in December of 2019, just a few weeks before the pandemic swallowed the entire world with one obnoxious gulp. I published my second book a year later, in November of 2020, while the pandemic was still raging with an unbridled fury. I had been corresponding with a local library that carries my books about planning an author event, but that event was pushed back multiple times due to the pandemic. By the time I published my third book in August of 2021, bookstores and libraries were starting to breathe themselves back to life.

The nice folks at Arvida Book Co. in Tustin invited me to host an event for my new book, and I excitedly accepted the invitation. There’s a charming little patio area behind the store where author events are held. I felt that holding the event outdoors would be a relaxing touch (and it was).

Researching and planning have never been strengths of mine. I tend to just roll up my sleeves and begin new projects. I’m sure there are countless articles and YouTube videos about How To Host a Successful Author Event, but I can assure you I have never seen any of them. The only thing I planned in advance were the stories I would be reading from my books. My most recent book, White Sail, Blue Seas, is a collection of short stories for adults. My book from last year, Kaia and the Whale, is a collection of short fiction for young readers. I decided that I would read one story from each book.

I didn’t do much promotion, other than creating a Facebook event and circulating a few paper flyers around town. Just about everyone who showed up was there through word-of-mouth. In my opinion, that’s the best way to promote any type of business endeavor.

My primary concern was the length of time required for reading each story. I did not want the event to speed by too quickly, but I also wanted to avoid putting my audience to sleep. After a bit of experimenting, I found a story from my adult book that took me 20 minutes to read, and a story from the children’s book that lasted 10 minutes. If I were sitting in the audience, I would not want to listen to an author read for more than 30 minutes (regardless of how much I appreciated the author’s work). After that, I figured I would chat with the audience and take questions for about 10 minutes.

My estimated timeframe was right on the button. While I was reading my first story from the adult book — Catalina on the Horizon — the audience seemed engaged, and there were a few chuckles from a woman sitting in the front during the funny parts. It is a story about a man who is parasailing off Laguna Beach when the line breaks and the wind blows him 25 miles offshore to Catalina Island, where he descends upon a crowd of corporate party animals boozing it up on an outdoor dance floor. There was a healthy amount of genuine applause when I finished that story, which made me feel like things were moving along smoothly. I then presented the story from my children’s book — Melvin Hangs Ten — which is a tale about a frustrated sea lion who knocks a teenager off his surfboard, steals the surfboard, teaches himself to surf, then ends up becoming a local surfing hero. There was more applause, and the kids in the audience seemed to enjoy that story the most.

Then I took a few questions. A little girl in the audience asked me how long it took me to complete each of my books. One of the adults asked me to name some of my favorite authors. I spoke a bit about the fiction writing process, then the presentation was concluded. I sold a few books, signed them, and chatted with the attendees. The woman sitting in the front who had been chuckling told me that the story about the parasailer reminded her of some of Hemingway’s books. I probably started blushing and visibly sweating because I never anticipated receiving any complement of that magnitude.

If you are a new author who’s ready to plan your first promotional event, the first step is to simply get out there and introduce yourself to librarians and bookstore owners. Don’t do it by email — stop by in person and hang out for a while. Buy a book and support the independent stores. Communities need them more than you may realize.

Best of luck out there!

J.S. Lender’s new book White Sail, Blue Seas is on sale now! Copyright © J.S. Lender / Reef Point Press 2021

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