How to Create the Best Virtual Author Event on the Planet

A Guest Post Featuring Cristin Stickles!

Hello friends!!

Today we have a ~~GUEST POST!~~ If you’ve ever planned an event at McNally Jackson on Prince Street in NYC, or been in or around children’s book publishing in, oh, the last decade plus, then you know my friend Cristin Stickles, aka @thtswhatsheread on Twitter. The best part about Cristin is how fucking funny she is, but also her incredible wealth of knowledge about children’s books, authors events, and The Way Things Should Be (TM). She’s now a National Account Manager at Simon & Schuster, but I’ve asked her to put her bookseller/event manager hat back on and tell us how to plan the best virtual author event on the planet. You can use this….any time in the next decade, let’s be honest. And yes, this is daunting. You’re going to say Kate and Cristin, there is no way I can do all these things. I know. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s also not a requirement—it’s just the advice from a seasoned professional. And yes, it would be hard to do this for every single book you ever publish (ok but that’s a good problem to have). But regardless of whether you are actually able to put into action every single step here, look at what each step means or is trying to do. Community. Participation. Support. Effort. Yup, it takes all of those things. Nope, a publisher cannot do this for you. Readers don’t want to interact with the publisher, they want to interact with YOU. So YOU have to put in the work to reap the rewards. How can you scale this for yourself? Yes, this is time consuming and systemic equities make this sometimes impossible for authors. If that’s you, ask for help. If that’s not you, help others. We can work for justice across the board, and specifically in our community here.

Anywhooooo, here’s Cristin!!!

How I'd Do Virtual Author Events/Why Has No One Figured This Out Yet: An Author Roadmap

—By Cristin Stickles

  • Declare fealty to a physical indie bookstore local to you. You should have already done this years ago by buying gifts there, attending events there, talking to staff, regularly being in the physical store, and regularly attending their author events; start now if you haven’t been. It helps to have it be geographically close but you can also aggressively support specific stores from a distance.

  • Attend a metric ton of virtual author events starting today. Make an effort to attend the events “at” (via) “your” store. 

  • Form a Coven. You should already have a few of these—authors that you’re close with personally, your beta readers, book club or writing group members, other clients of your literary agent or authors of your editor who write in your category, authors who have books releasing within a year of yours, authors who you live physically close to. Contact everyone individually and come up with a master list of authors/ book mongers who want to participate in your author event efforts who you would like to work with. 

  • Make a list, an actual list with email contact info, of everyone you have ever helped or been kind to and identify a specific “ask” you can make to each of them. You’re going to make each of the asks as easy for the person to do as possible, and you’re going to tailor the asks to that person/ your relationship with that person so it’s harder to say no to. You’re looking for people who can donate money to literacy efforts, people who can donate physical items to raffles, people who won’t read your book but will buy 2 or more of your book to donate to a nonprofit/ group you’ve designated if you make it easy enough for them, friends who have ever recommended anything on social media that you bought due to their recommendation, other authors in your category, professional and amateur book recommenders, friends who have never annoyed you on Twitter, anyone who lent you a book in college or high school, friends in book clubs that you aren’t in. This should number in the hundreds (unless you’re never nice to anyone, I guess). 

  • Cull your coven master list down to people who it makes sense for you to promote with. Contact them and see if they’re game for the master plan. If they are, they should do the bookstore/ coven/ Ask items on this list as well. Pull together a master of details on when their books come out and any media or events they have confirmed. Have them all start brainstorming reader-friendly games/conversations/and reader-appealing promotions, raffles, giveaways, and special offers. 

  • Compile a list of the most vocal booknerds who are not authors that everyone knows and contact them to see if they’re up for moderating/ promoting. 

  • Name your group something googlable and memorable. 

  • Talk to your editor/agent/publisher and ask these questions: Is there event co-op offered for my book, was I on the event grid for this season’s new releases, can you get me extra review copies, can you send me books that you want people to read that I haven’t written that can be used as raffle prizes, want to moderate an event

  • Read this, then make a feature shop under your group name with everyone’s titles for sale or preorder. Also offer books picked by your group members with blurbs about why they loved that book specifically. Follow the links to become a Bookshop affiliate—this means you’ll get 10% of your sales back to you in cash. Plan to either direct this to your designated local bookstore or donate it to the charity/org you’ll be designating for donations (see below) 

  • Make a website for your group with the following. Don’t promote it yet.

    • For each author: Book summary, book jacket, author photo, author bio, links to social media, AUTHOR EMAIL ADDRESSES (it’s not the time to be coy, let everyone who wants to find you) 

    • Links to the bookshop shop and ONLY to that shop. 

    • A recommended reading page with each author’s picks, links to the Bookshop store. 

    • A general email address for inquiries. 

  • Look at the timeline of your group’s book releases and identify key times where events or promotions would impact the most authors in the biggest way. Start planning virtual events for each calendar slot you identify 

    • Group together like authors/ talkative authors or pair them with a talkative moderator (editor, librarian, book blogger, bookseller) and confirm participation by everyone for each of your virtual event dates. 

    • Make the event unique: Have your authors play a game, have one panel with all authors and their moms, play a game with the audience, offer awesome raffle prizes for attending the event, offer special author add-ons (more than a bookplate!) if folks buy or preorder the authors books from the Bookshop store front and email it to the group’s general email address. Make the add-ons and raffle prizes amazing (more on that later) and offer them to readers who also/ only buy one of the recommended reading books in your feature shop. 

    • Give people an actual reason to buy the book from you specifically: Entry to the raffle giveaways, personalized letter from the author whose book they bought, instagram challenges, in-book scavenger hunts, preorder bonuses- really go nuts here. 

    • Find a local cause to support with physical book copies. Make sure you talk to the group’s point person and they are able to accept book donations, and find out if there are limitations. Put the option for people to donate your author’s books to the cause (online, without having to relay the books themselves) on your website. Set a realistic goal for this effort and publicize it. Designate this cause for your affiliate $ from Bookshop and don’t be shy about telling people where that money is going.

    • Cause ideas:

      • Incarcerated citizens (be sure to check about which formats are accepted as donations) 

      • Goddard Riverside

      • Local public schools 

      • Specific school teachers/ librarians/ tutors in your professional/ personal circle 

    • Post all of the information to the group site for all of the events all year. Assign Zoom info and provide that. Ask for but don’t require RSVPs. Get web design help with making the action items as easy as possible for readers. 

  • Each author now revisits their list of people indebted to them. Identify a pre-tour ask for each one: Ask them to donate raffle or auction items, ask them to donate to your book donation cause, ask if they’d like to help promote the tour. Write individual emails from individual authors and make the ask very clear. Follow up. Include links to Bookshop for how to preorder. Collect the information on all the bonuses/ prizes offered onto a tab on your group website. Make the gifts awesome and make it easy for people to send their receipts in for entry. 

  • Designate a factotum in your author group who is tracking donations and sales and who will follow up ruthlessly. 

  • Every author details the full plan to their publisher as an FYI and asks the publisher is willing do to help/ enhance/ amplify. 

  • Roll the whole thing out. Publicize on social, use your big mouth contacts, talk about it nonstop. 

    • Each author now revisits their full debtor list AGAIN and identifies a new/ current ask for each person. Ask them to preorder the book, give graphics to your twitter and insta bigmouths and tell them when to post them, ask if people want to review any of the books and make that happen, ask for donations to your specific cause. Make each of these emails personal. It sucks but everyone’s gotta do it. 

  • Don’t stop publicizing. 

    • Attend other author’s virtual events and note what works and what doesn’t work. 

    • Revisit the debtor list AGAIN to identify who you can ask for help with promotion. Do that. 

  • Contact your bookstore of sworn loyalty. Get names of who works there (Twitter bios) and figure out email addresses for specific contacts. Offer to direct future Bookshop profits to them by using their affiliate links, ask if there’s anything else authors can do to help during this time, offer/ ask if you can run a signed book campaign via that store’s website. Link to everything. Do everything you can to benefit them. Do not pester. 

  • Rinse & Repeat. Keep hustlin’.

Round of applause for Cristin! Thank you!!

Keep your masks on, loves. I know it’s hot.