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[Behind the Book] How to Come Up with Book Events
Written by
Annette Gendler
February 2018
Written by
Annette Gendler
February 2018

When I first contemplated promoting my book Jumping Over Shadows through events, I was stumped to come up with topics I could present. My book launch at a local indie bookstore was a huge success, but beyond that I knew I didn’t want to do the standard readings and signings at book stores. I find those tend to be boring, and they only draw sizable crowds if you’re Isabelle Allende or Bruce Springsteen. I am a new author; so why would anybody except my circle in Chicago (who already attended my launch) come to see me? Granted, I could always offer to talk about how I wrote my book, but I figured that would be only interesting to other writers. How could I come up with book events that would appeal to a broader audience?

Go with what others find interesting about your book

I had the good fortune to meet with one of my neighborhood rabbis a few weeks before my book came out. Since my book has many Jewish angles to it, my goal was to get his congregation to host me for an event. While that hasn’t happened yet, it was that conversation that helped me hit upon the main topic I have been speaking about in conjunction with my book. I had given him an advance reader copy, and as we chatted about my book, he remarked that he had been stunned to learn that there had even been a Jewish community in post-World War II Germany, and that I had converted in that unusual environment. Really? I thought. Because I had lived this, it did not seem extraordinary to me, but through our conversation I realized how unusual and interesting this would be when seen from a Jewish vantage point outside of Germany. So I created a PowerPoint presentation on “Becoming a Jew in Post-WWII Germany.” I already knew the history of the Jewish community in Munich after WWII; I just had to find photos to go with the significant milestones (such as an arson attack on the Jewish community center in 1970). Mainly I had to convey the social and historical context, and that was easy to do as it dovetailed nicely with two chapters in my book. Thus, this presentation allowed me to expand on my book with photographs I already had that I wasn’t able to include in the book itself. Depending on the event, time available and audience engagement, I supplement the PowerPoint with short readings from the book. I’ve been successful in giving this presentation to numerous Jewish organizations and book clubs in Chicagoland where I live, but I’ve also presented it in Israel, and I’ve now branched out to getting college speaking gigs.

Show others how to do what you did

This, it turns out, goes beyond the actual writing part, and that’s where it’s scalable. An interviewer’s questions helped me see that the historical research that went into writing my book was something others find daunting, might want to do themselves, and would be interested in learning about. Following that interview, I ended up writing a guest post for a blog on genealogical research. I also found that some of what I did in order to fill in the blanks on my family history could be packaged as a lecture that I will now be presenting at a genealogical society’s meeting next month. I even revised my original guest blog post, and it will run as an article in that society’s spring newsletter. Now I’m researching what other such genealogical venues might be interested.

Branch out from what you already do

It’s always been my dream to teach writing in Israel—I’ve been teaching memoir workshops for years at StoryStudio Chicago, so that’s a natural and well established platform for me. As I discussed my standard workshop offering with a writing studio host in Tel Aviv, she bluntly told me that that wouldn't be interesting to her audience. I did gulp at that, but then I carried on talking to her, and during our one-hour phone conversation, we hashed out a new workshop I could teach on how I made all the different cultural threads work in my memoir. That workshop on “Writing the Multi-Cultural Memoir” sold out in two days in Tel Aviv, and I have been able to teach it in other venues as well.

When I first embarked on book promotion, I expected my publicist would help me expand my book into events and articles. Turns out, at least in my experience, that that’s not the case. The publicist simply followed my lead. All my ideas for successful and lucrative events came from my own interactions with readers and interviewers. They came from listening closely to what others found interesting about my book and my experience. I simply picked up on those hints and asked myself, how can I package this into an event, article, or workshop that answers their questions? And because my event ideas originated with readers, they already had proven audience interest. Then I just contacted organizations that represent these audiences to see if they might be interested in hosting me for an event, and with lots of follow up on my part, many of them were.

PS: Because these events are well attended, they do sell a fair amount of books, both directly and indirectly. I always ask to be able to sell books at my events and so far, that’s never been a problem. Several venues even bring a book seller who handles the sales, so I don’t have to bring my own stash. I've also found that some people buy the book in advance to be prepared and bring it for me to sign. Or they might not attend but notice the event announcement and that's another entry point for them to buy the book. Furthermore, most venues also pay me an honorarium, and now that I’ve built a track record of speaking engagements, I don’t speak for only book sales anymore.


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