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How Do I Arrange Readings for my Book?

Dec 22, 2021

The number one best thing to do, when thinking of a venue, is to consider it from the venue’s perspective. If you’re approaching a bookstore, think: what does a bookstore want? Easy answer: to sell books. So how are you going to help them do that?

It’s harder than you may think to sell books. That being said, I’m coming from a Los Angeles perspective, where—at least pre Covid and still a bit in Covid 2.0—there are fabulous events every night. So with a reading, you’re competing with premieres, parties and dinners for attendees. Back when readings were all in person, you were also dealing with the traffic nightmare—which is to say you’d lose a lot of people who would otherwise come if it wasn’t at rush hour, which is when most readings are.

 The other factor is that a lot of people who come to readings—even your friends—aren’t going to buy your book at the reading. It’s such a Catch 22 as the author: you’re seriously grateful your friends showed up but then you’re thinking, “God damn it, am I not worth $19.95 to you?” if they leave without buying.

Bookstores know this which is why they like to book celebrities—certainly in LA—for their book signings. People, even very popular people, can’t be counted on to bring in the droves. Those with fans can.

What Can You Do If You’re Not a Celebrity?

Try to get a well-known person to host the event with you and bill it as the two of you “in conversation.” Admittedly this is far easier said than done but I was able to do it for my Jeff Garlin Party Girl Book Soup event. (Sidebar: for someone who’s lived in LA since the late 90s, I’m terrible at befriending celebrities—a major bummer when you want to get the movie version of your book made and it’s all about who you can attach as talent. But I happened to become friends with Jeff over Covid and he was generous enough to agree to host the event with me.)

Before I became friends with Jeff, I asked other authors I knew to do events with me (I’ve done this repeatedly, most recently with Lisa Smith). Two authors, even if they’re not famous, are going to bring in twice as many people as one.

Still, if it’s your first book, you may well bring in a crowd. (For the initial release of Party Girl in 2007, my in-person Book Soup reading drew over 100 people; for all my book events that followed, only a fraction of that number showed up. The fact is, people are terribly excited when their friend publishes their first book; by books two and on, it’s just not that exciting to them.) So if you can get solid commitments from people that they’ll attend and buy books, include that fact in your pitch to the bookstore. (Yes, it’s kind of weird to ask a bunch of people if they can promise to show up somewhere AND buy a book but this will make a difference.)

How to Get People There

To get people to show up, remember to make it something people want to show up for. Let’s face it: listening to someone read from their book is boring AF. People don’t come out for book events. They want to feel an emotion and be entertained.

How can you make it more interesting? I once hosted a virtual book promotion by allowing attendees to pitch their own book ideas. Maybe you can ask a comedian friend to tell jokes before and after you read. Maybe you can make up a song about your friends, print up the chorus, hand it out to the crowd and lead them all through a rendition.

 Then pull out all the stops when it comes to promo. Boost the Facebook post about it.

 What About Non-Bookstores?

Here’s the thing: you can have a book event literally anywhere: a restaurant, a coffee shop, a friend’s house, a fricking street corner. If it’s a restaurant, consider pitching the venue on doing something there off-hours (a Tuesday at 3 pm?), paying for a certain amount of food or arranging to have media there. (A note: obviously, “Author Holding Reading at Restaurant” is not news-worthy so think about ways to make your event newsworthy; for my book on reality shows, I got different people from those reality shows to come and everyone down to People magazine covered it.)

If you’re holding the event somewhere other than a bookstore, you’re going to have to, of course, arrange for your book to be sold there. While there are mobile services, usually local bookstores, who will send an employee to an event to sell books (and thus count those sales for bestseller lists), they usually won’t do that unless the event is massive (so they can justify paying an employee for the trip). It’s far easier for you to order author copies from Amazon or from a printer and just sell them yourself (or get a friend to set up a table and sell them).


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