Do’s and Don’ts for a Successful Author Event

By Rob Brunet

Last week, my co-host Tanis Mallow and I ran our latest Noir at the Bar Toronto. It’s our seventh go, counting a couple variations which included a night at the improv, where we joined forces with Bad Dog Theatre.

Since The Thrill Begins’ s Managing Editor Ed Aymar wants my Murderers’ Row post like yesterday, I figured I could use the residual adrenaline from mounting an author event to pen a post about how they come together. And since Ed runs D.C.’s Noir at the Bar, I figured he could fix all my mistakes in the edit. (Right, boss?)

I’d love to write that after seven N@Bs, it’s a breeze. The reality, though, is that while the early days’ stress has been largely supplanted by fun, making each event a success takes time, and a bit of a plan. As a writer, I’m a pantser, but when it comes to bringing forty or fifty people out to a venue and giving them a fun evening they’ll want to repeat, you don’t get to edit your rough draft in the morning.

I’m sure every Noir at the Bar organizer has their own run-down, and our own has evolved over the past couple years, but for anyone looking to get a reading series off the ground, I give you:

Fourteen Tips for a Wicked Author Event in a Bar

  1. Find a long narrow bar and have authors read from the far end so the people at the back can’t see them and remain blissfully unaware they’re reading at all.
  2. Tell no one about it. Don’t use Facebook events pages. Don’t encourage authors to let their fans and friends know. And, above all, don’t build a mailing list from event-to-event so you can let people know about the next one.
  3. Let authors read several chapters each. Everyone knows the whole point of going to a bar and hanging around with authors is to practice dozing on a bar stool while appearing to listen intently.
  4. Never invite more than four authors. Readers hate being introduced to more than a couple new ones at a time. Truth be told, readers don’t like books at all.
  5. Never ever invite newbie authors. All they’ll do is invite their friends, neighbours, siblings, and workshop partners to your event, crowding out all the walk-in traffic your sandwich board on the sidewalk is bound to drag in.
  6. Use a picture of a book for all your social media promotion. Better yet, show a picture of the bar where the readings will happen—empty, so people can choose their seat in advance, like on an airplane. Everyone loves airplanes.
  7. Never work with publicists or editors to identify authors who have upcoming releases. All they do is introduce strangers into the mix. Nobody likes strangers. Stranger danger. ’Nuff said.
  8. Refrain from editing the authors’ bios. They’re writers, after all, and no one is better at saying interesting things about authors than the authors themselves. Ask them for a list of everything they’ve ever written and every prize they came close to winning. Read whatever they give you in a monotone voice when you introduce them. That way, they’ll sound more interesting when you finally give them the microphone.
  9. Drink lots. Start early and make sure you’re slurring your words by the time you’re introducing the third author. You’re a writer. Do what’s expected of you.
  10. Make sure the light is extra low around the microphone. Authors are shy and often nocturnal. You don’t want to scare them. Besides, they’re only kidding you when they say they want to be able to see their work. Successful authors actually memorize everything they write.
  11. Tell your authors to read the deepest most complex piece of work they can find. A public reading is an opportunity for authors to explain their work to an audience. If it’s short, snappy, and captivating, readers can read it on their own at home. While watching baseball.
  12. Which reminds me: tell the bartender to leave the game on, sound low, during authors’ readings. Otherwise people will keep checking their phones.
  13. Don’t invite local press and never tweet the event while it’s going on. Authors hate having their picture taken. And nobody ever wanted to know what an author looked like anyway. Especially not when they’ve showered and put on real clothes.
  14. Pack your evening with material, end-to-end. Don’t let the microphone get a moment’s rest. No one goes to a bar to chat with other people who share their passion. Authors don’t want to actually mingle with people who came to see them. Besides, people love ordering drinks with hushed whispers and hand signals. So whatever you do, don’t take breaks between readings. If need be, have your authors read their material a second time to fill the gaps.
  15. BONUS TIP. Whatever you do, don’t tell people about your own author event in the comments below. Strangers might show up and spoil it. (See Tip #7.)

ROB BRUNET writes character-driven crime fiction laced with dark humor. His debut novel STINKING RICH was listed on Crimespree Magazine’s Book Picks for 2014 and named one of the year’s top debuts by Mystery People. Brunet’s short crime fiction appears in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Crimespree, Noir Nation, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, and numerous anthologies. He loves the bush, beaches, and bonfires, and teaches creative writing at George Brown College in Toronto, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and son.

To learn more about Stinking Rich, click on the cover below: