When I made the decision to do free workshops and book signings for my latest book, Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer, I thought it would be easy to draw an audience. I had, after all, done all the right things to prepare for this big event: I had a successful e-zine, AbsoluteWrite.com, sent weekly directly to my target market; I was a contributing editor at the most popular magazine for writers; had been interviewed all over writers’ e-zines; and had submitted articles to sites and magazines related to my primary audience (writers) and my secondary audience (those interested in working from home).
But the problem was that my audience was international. I had a workshop set up on Long Island, and more than 99% of my regular audience wouldn’t be able to get there. So I had to get local attention. Through trial and error, I’ve come up with a system that works. I haven’t had fewer than 30 people at any of my signings, and I’ve always sold books. I hope my tips will inspire you next time you’re promoting an event.
1. Focus on the benefit to the attendee.
The first thing a reader should see on your promotional material is what’s in it for them. A signed book is all well and good, but it’ll require them to spend money. What are they getting free just for showing up? In my case, I was offering a free 2-hour seminar about making money writing for magazines. What will they learn? What perks will they get? This is what appeared in big letters on my posters, with the “book signing” in small letters toward the bottom.
2. “Community Events” are not places to do business.
Most local newspapers have a “community events” section where they run short blurbs about local events. Submit your release at least two weeks prior to your event, with all the “who, what, where, when, why” questions succinctly answered. But after I did that and failed to place my events in local papers, I asked an ex-newspaper editor for advice.
“While I would have probably run a little blurb about your free writing workshop, I would not have run your free writing workshop combined with your book signing,” she wrote. “I would invite you to pay for an advertisement because, being the jaded cynic I am, I would not give you free publicity for something from which you are profiting.”
So leave your for-profit hat at home when approaching the media.
3. Think small.
National attention is nice, but when promoting a local event, you want to get your message to as many local people as possible. I mulled this over one day while pushing my grocery cart through a supermarket, then noticed the bulletin board filled with posters. I ran home and created my own on the computer: Colorful posters that gave all the essential information about my event in large, easy-to-read type, with pull-off tabs on the bottom that simply said “Free Writing Seminar,” along with the location, date, and time. You can put these in supermarkets, as well as delis, convenience stores, libraries, and other high-traffic businesses.
4. Find local websites, e-mail lists, and message boards.
Many cities, counties, and regions have their own websites where people can announce coming events. You can also search for your geographic area on Yahoogroups.com to find e-mail discussion lists in your area. Write to the site owner or group moderator to request that he or she tell members about your event.
When Judith Lazarus promoted her books, The Spa Sourcebook and Stress Relief & Relaxation Techniques, she asked a spa product manufacturer to provide her with samples. She used these samples to draw people to her book signing table. You might find a local business that could benefit from being featured at your event, and ask them to hang a sign about the event or include flyers in customers’ bags in return. Or find someone who’s promoting a complementary product or service, and agree to swap—you’ll distribute postcards about their events at your table if they’ll do the same for you.
6. Run contests and giveaways.
Similar to Judith’s deal with the spa product manufacturer, see if you can get a business to donate an item for giveaway—or use one of your own products or services. On your publicity material, you can announce that one lucky attendee (or many) will win a valuable door prize. Or invite people to enter the contest beforehand, then tell each of them that you’ll announce the winner/s at the event. Be sure to include the prize’s monetary value on your announcements.
7. Use lawn signs.
If politicians can promote themselves with signs on our lawns, why can’t we? Ask friends and associates to put a colorful sign on their lawn with very brief information about your event.
8. Be photogenic.
If this is an event you’ve done before, or if you have an interesting photo related to your event, send it to local newspapers with your release. You have a better shot at seeing print if you can provide a photo, and readers will be more drawn to your announcement if it’s accompanied by a picture. Pick an interesting prop or a fun candid shot, not a typical headshot.
9. Business cards, revisited.
Although many local business don’t have enough counter space to display a stack of your flyers, they may be happy to let you deposit a stack of business-card-size announcements about your event. These are easy to make on your computer, and again, should just contain an eye-catching headline and essential information about the event.
Jenna Glatzer is the author of Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer and nine other books. She’s teaching a workshop based on her book Outwitting Writer’s Block at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY this October. For more details, and to pick up a free editors’ e-mail cheat sheet, visit www.jennaglatzer.com.