By J.J. Hensley
A running shoe store.
An old train station.
A marathon expo.
A private residence.
I’ve held book events at each of these nontraditional venues. While most of us feel more comfortable in a bookstore or library setting, there is much to be gained by broadening our horizons and appearing at different types of locations. My first novel was set against the backdrop of a marathon, and a local running store asked me if I wanted to set up a table at one of their events. I was hesitant, but ultimately decided to give it a shot. I ended up gaining new readers who’d entered the store with intentions of buying a pair of running shoes, but ended up leaving with a book as well. The Pittsburgh Marathon expo gave me a similar platform and, once again, I found myself speaking with people who may not have otherwise heard about my book.
My second novel involved addiction and was inspired by a drug epidemic that swept through my hometown. Rather than schedule an event in Pittsburgh, I traveled nearly five hours to have the book launch where I had grown up. I’d attempted (unsuccessfully) to set up an event in a bookstore in that town, but eventually discovered there was a popular consignment shop in an old train station near the center of the city. Not only was the consignment shop accommodating, but the store ended up doing more promoting of the event than any bookstore would have done. And they had a rope that you could pull to make a cool train whistle sound!
I really liked…I mean, my young daughter really liked pulling that rope.
Even today, three novels into this journey, I seek out unorthodox venues for book events and speaking opportunities. I’ve spoken to classes at Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh on topics related to law enforcement and writing and have managed to expand my readership in the process. I’ve made rounds through the book club circuit, which includes attending events in private residences. Over a three-year period, I’ve participated in nearly fifty events and less than half of them have been at libraries and bookstores.
I discovered how the cumulative effect of developing a readership base can pay off over the long term. I recently had a book launch at a local bookstore and was thrilled when a large crowd filled the store. Many of those people had met me through nontraditional author events and, somehow, I hadn’t scared them off. I’d discussed distance running with some of them, and talked about my time in the Secret Service with others. I’d consumed a glass of wine in some of their homes. I had consumed more than a glass of wine in some of their homes. These were interactions that stuck with us, and those conversations were more personal than what often happens in a bookstore or library setting.
I encourage every author to get out of her comfort zone and seek out venues that will expand her typical reader base. Get out there, drink some wine, and blast some train whistles! Bookstores and libraries are great, but you’ll always find yourself surrounded by the works of other writers. You won’t be the only game in town. If you pick your venue right, you might allow yourself to stand out from the crowd while meeting a lot of great people.
And you may get wine. Don’t forget about the wine.
J.J. HENSLEY is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. He graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Administration of Justice and has a M.S. degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University. Hensley’s works include the novels Measure Twice and Resolve; the latter was named one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was a finalist for Best First Novel at the 2014 Thriller Awards.
To learn more about Hensley’s novels, click on the covers below: