by Beth Groundwater
When I suggested to my book club that we invite a local women's fiction author to discuss one of her books and her writing career, the other members went all a-twitter.
“She'll think we're so unsophisticated.”
“What if we don't like her book?”
“What if she hates what we have to say about the book.”
“Goodness, a real author, I won't know how to act around her.”
Confused by their reaction, I said, “Wait a minute, I’m a real author, too, and you aren't self-conscious around me.” Also, I could vouch that this author was a person just like us, was very friendly, and would not judge their literary astuteness. I knew my book club would enjoy her book because it was set in a nearby town and was the type of book we had enjoyed reading in the past.
The group finally agreed, but when the evening of the author visit came, the nervous sweat was apparent. I got the discussion going after introductions by asking the author to talk about her writing career and her other books. Gradually everyone's shyness wore off, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about the book we'd read and the typical questions that we authors are used to answering.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
“What's your writing schedule?”
“How did you sell your first manuscript?”
Later, the author said my friends were delightful and thanked me for encouraging the group to invite her. The book club members said the experience was less intimidating than they thought it would be, and they'd like to invite other authors to visit. They talked about that author's visit and how exciting and entertaining it was for months afterward!
I have visited many book clubs, both in-person if the group meets within an hour's drive from my home or on a speakerphone or via Skype if the group meets farther away. I discuss with them whichever book of mine they've chosen to read for that meeting, and I answer whatever questions they have for me. These are my favorite kind of promotional events, because I spend an hour or two with book lovers and avid readers like myself. I invariably come away with titles of recommended books to add to my personal reading list and to suggest to my book club.
If you're a member of a book club, I encourage you, too, to invite authors to visit your book club. And if you are a member of a mystery reading book club, there are a whole slew of authors who contribute to this blog who would probably be willing to visit. Here are a few tips that hopefully will make an author visit less intimidating.
1. If you haven't already read books by local authors, ask your librarian or favorite bookseller to recommend some. Local authors and those who are not New York Times bestsellers are the most likely to have the time and desire to visit book clubs.
2. Once you've selected a few authors to invite, go to the first author's website (which you can find by searching for the name on the Internet) and click on the “Contact Me” or equivalent link. Send an email saying how much you admire his or her writing and name the book you hope to discuss, then request an in-person or speakerphone or Skype visit and list suggested dates and times. The worst that can happen is the author won't reply or will politely refuse and you can move on to your second choice. The best outcome is that the author will agree and arrange a visit.
3. Encourage your book club members to purchase the author's book and to bring the books to the meeting so they can be autographed by the author, if it's to be an in-person visit. If it will be a speakerphone or Skype visit, the author may be willing to mail autographed bookplates or bookmarks to you. Buying the author's books is the polite thing to do. Since authors usually are not paid by book groups for their time (though gas money is always appreciated for in-person visits), the least you can do is for the majority of the members to buy the book.
4. If one is available, print and bring a list of discussion questions for the book. Many authors, like me, provide discussion questions for their books on their websites. Another place to find discussion questions is at Reading Group Guides. Also, encourage your members to come prepared with one or two other questions for the author.
5. For in-person visits, I like to arrive 10-15 minutes early and set up a small display of my books, bookmarks, and a sign-up list for my email newsletter. Other authors may want to do the same thing. Also, we appreciate the opportunity to sell books to members, who may not have had a chance to buy one before the meeting or who may want to gift the books to others. We're also willing to sign and personalize any books that members bought before the meeting.
6. Someone should introduce the author and thank him or her for coming, then have the members of the book club introduce themselves. Especially if this is a speakerphone or Skype visit, it’s helpful for the author to know something about each member to distinguish them. And, if it’s a speakerphone or Skype visit, members should re-state their name each time they ask a question. Depending on the quality of the microphone used, a member near the phone or computer may need to restate questions from members who are sitting farther away.
7. Relax and enjoy the interaction. If you normally serve food during your meeting, continue to do so. Just let the author know beforehand. Most authors won’t turn down a meal, snack and/or a glass of wine! Make sure someone watches the time so you don’t keep the author longer than the agreed upon period, and plan for time at the end to autograph books, if it’s an in-person visit.
Having an author visit your book club can be a fun and rewarding experience, as you can see from the photo above of a visit I made to a nearby book club. I encourage you to conquer any qualms you have and go for it! If you have any questions about author visits, ask away. And, if you’d like me to discuss any of my books with your book club, please contact me at my website.