With a Little Help from My Friends

By Debbie Burke





All right, so that’s not news to anyone at TKZ.

Truth is we’d rather parade naked down the mall than sit at a lonely table full of books in front of Barnes & Noble, directing people to the restroom.

But we gotta do it sometimes if we want to sell books.

One way to make promotion less painful is to join with other authors.


  1. Misery loves company (just kidding!).
  2. Being in front an audience by yourself is scary. Being in front of audience with colleagues is easier.
  3. A solo appearance means you carry 100% of the responsibility to entertain the audience. Join with other authors and that splits the responsibility up.
  4. More authors draw more interest…unless you’re Lee Child, who doesn’t need help.


  1. Find other authors.

Invite one to three other authors in your area to join you either in person or by zoom. A total of three or four offers good variety while giving everyone a chance to talk. More than that is too crowded and cumbersome.

  1. Decide on a genre and theme.

Montana authors Leslie Budewitz, Christine Carbo, Debbie Burke, Mark Leichliter

My recent event focused on crime fiction, combining four subgenres: cozy mystery (Leslie Budewitz), small town police procedural (Mark Leichliter), police procedural in a national park (Christine Carbo), and thriller (Debbie Burke). The title was “Murder, Inc. – How Montana authors kill people…on the page.”

Include variety in subgenres so there aren’t two cat cozy authors competing with each other.

For instance, a children’s literature gathering could feature one author who writes picture books, one middle grade, and one young adult, reaching three different audiences.

  1. Set up a venue.

Weather permitting, many people feel more comfortable outdoors these days. Depending on where you live, indoor settings may or may not be available.

I’ve been lucky to be hosted twice by a dream open-air location in Bigfork, Montana, right beside the Swan River. Lake Baked Bakery/Riverview Bar has a large grassy area with tables and chairs.

Lake Baked Bakery/River View Bar, Bigfork, Montana

Many cafes, coffee houses, brew pubs, and independent bookstores are struggling financially due to the pandemic. The ones I’ve approached are enthusiastic about hosting activities that draw more customers.

Independent-living senior communities are a good bet to find  many avid readers. So are schools, community colleges, and libraries.

  1. Decide on a format.

A panel discussion with Q&A from the audience works well. Designate one person as moderator. S/he has a list of prepared questions and keeps the discussion moving.

If you decide to do open readings, they should be short—no more than five minutes per person, broken up with discussion and questions between authors.

  1. Publicize the event.

Here’s where having friends is a real force multiplier. Each author has their own blog and email list to disseminate info about the appearance. Each has their own social media followers. If there are four participants, that’s four times the number of contacts than if you did it by yourself.

Press releases to newspapers/radio are more likely to be noticed if there are three or four authors appearing together. Then it becomes an event of interest to the community instead of a lonely author crying in the wilderness.

The venue may have a Facebook page or other outlet where they publicize events. Ask them to include yours. Again, that reaches a wider, different demographic than simply reading fans.

Supplement these efforts with posters around the area and you should have a respectable turnout.

  1. Set up and logistics.

Scope out the venue before the event. Find out what equipment, chairs, tables, etc. they can provide and what you need to bring yourselves.

You need sound equipment–an amplifier and at least two mics for four people. If the venue doesn’t have that, you may know someone who will let you use their equipment. If not, you may need to rent it.

Leslie Budewitz is my frequent partner-in-crime for live presentations. Her husband Don is a musician and he graciously sets up and runs his equipment for us. I always buy a drink and snack for great volunteer helpers like him.

If you need Power Point capability for slide shows, verify that the venue’s system is compatible with yours. Sometimes you can put a thumb drive in their computer. Other times, it’s better to bring your own computer but check that connecting cords work.

Always, always, always test video and audio beforehand. Glitches are uncomfortable not only for you but your audience as well.

Depending on the venue, if there’s a stage, you can sit on chairs/bar stools. Or you may prefer to stand/walk around as you talk.

Set the tone. If possible, arrange the audience seating to be comfortable and relaxed. Rows of chairs are not as friendly as groupings like in a café or bar.

  1. The day of the event.

Arrive at least a half hour early to set up/test equipment. Always, always, always test sound equipment before the presentation.

If the venue serves refreshments, buy some and encourage others. The business is supporting you to improve their bottom line. The higher their sales, the more likely they’ll invite you back again. Thank your host and the servers and tip generously.

During the discussion, encourage the audience to ask questions. The more interaction with them, the better.

Beforehand, set up your own book table.

Bring pens, business cards, and swag.

Bring a signup sheet for your mailing list.

Bring change for cash purchases.

If you use a credit card reader, make sure you can log into the venue’s wi-fi.

Oh yeah, don’t forget to bring your books!

Consider holding a drawing or contest with your book as the prize. People love to win free stuff.


Photo credit: Kay Bjork

Take a deep breath and try to relax. Initially, you may feel like you’re going to an IRS audit but you’re not.

The audience came because they’re interested in reading. They want to learn more about you as authors and your books. Make it enjoyable for them and yourself.

We get by with a little help from our friends. 


 TKZers: Have you done live appearances? What tips can you offer?

If you haven’t yet done a live appearance, what is holding you back?



Debbie Burke enjoys meeting readers in person or by Zoom. To set up an appearance, please click on “Request a TKZ speaker” at the top of the page.

Here is her series sales link.

45 thoughts on “With a Little Help from My Friends

  1. These are great ideas, Debbie. I have heard many, many stories about authors (household names in the industry but to the general public, not so much) who have sat with a rictus grin at a bookstore appearance while droves of folks passed them by with nary a glance in their direction. Ouch. Your tips won’t necessarily eliminate that possibility but will certainly help to even the odds. Thanks so much!

    • Joe, the trick in that situation is to get out from behind the table. Grab a stack of your bookmarks and mingle. Customers don’t want to be pitched, but most will want to engage. Ask browsers what they’re looking for. Ask if they read mystery and if they do, share a bookmark and tell them briefly about your book. Make recommendations. Make it fun.

    • Yes, indeedy,


      Joe, do you think it would help if we each brought a kazoo or other musical (?) instrument and played little tunes between our literary utterances?

  2. Great post, Debbie. Just what I needed. Good ideas and details.

    Our local library has been on shut-down for over a year. We had planned a format as you have described, but Covid put an end to that. I need to move planning an event back to the top of my priority list.

    Thanks for the kick in the butt. Get butt out of chair and in front of readers.

    Have a great day!

    • Our library had an Author Day, with tables on the roof parking area, a big tent, a platform and mike for scheduled speakers, and hourly drawings. The most common number of books sold per author was zero. Most books were bought from the three authors by the tent entrance. (1) There were 300,000 books below us that could be borrowed free. (2) All the traffic was people who use the library.

      I’m not saying don’t do it, but keep your expectations low.

  3. I’ve done group presentations at libraries, but as one would expect, library patrons prefer to check their books out, not buy them. Still, it’s good name recognition. The pandemic put an end to them for the last 2 years, but they’re starting to come back. Sadly, the timing this year is such that I won’t be able to participate.
    I’m too introverted to try to organize something like this, but maybe you’ve encouraged me to give it a try.

    • Terry, I too have found library patrons don’t buy books.

      Glad you mention introversion. If you can co-op with a compatible author who’s more outgoing than you are, that really helps. Watch how s/he engages with the audience then try similar techniques yourself.

      Keep reminding yourself an appearance is not about you, it’s about books and what the audience is interested in. Ask them questions. Learn what they like and dislike when they read. Each group is different.

      It gets easier with practice. Honest.

      • Terry, another trick is to share the work so you’re not on the hook for something you don’t feel capable of doing. For this event, Debbie called the bakery owner. Christine’s son designed the posters and Mark arranged for printing and distribution. My husband ran the sound system and I moderated. And we all had fun.

  4. I tried to coordinate live events back before such things were outlawed through a local independent bookstore. This is a good reason to get to know your local booksellers. I try to focus on the independents because they have more stable staffs. Adding their mailing lists and social media reach to those of you and your cohorts makes a much bigger dent. Plus, the event gets the bookstore to order in more books, and if everyone does their jobs right, they’ll make a few bucks.

    That said, I’m not sure I agree with the efficacy of multiple-author events–unless the authors know each other and are friends. Friends can riff off each other and engage in a fun conversation that will entertain the crowd. On the flip side, if personalities don’t mesh–if one or more authors are shy while others are extroverts–it becomes awkward and the audience gets squirmy. I did a double-billed promotional Zoom event a while ago with an author who transmitted over his phone from a crowded bar with lots of whooping and hollering in the background. The picture sucked and he was a bit oiled and I had to pretend that I was not angered by his lack of professionalism.

    As for alone-in-the-bookstore syndrome, no one captured the mood better than my late great friend in his song, “Signing At A Walden Books and Nobody’s There”. Trust me, you’ve got two minutes to watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZoJ5OKmEJY&ab_channel=ParnellHall

    • Good point, John. You should know, respect, and like the other authors you work with. Your zoom appearance with the bar scene dude sounds like a nightmare.

      Parnell Hall’s song nails it. Thanks for the great link.

    • John, you are so right. In this grouping, Debbie, Christine, and I had all done events together before and are comfortable with each other. Mark was new to our group, but we were sure he’d fit right in and he did. If one author writes something too different, or hogs the mic, it’s no fun for anyone.

      And darn, I miss Parnell!

    • Great video by Parnell! My only bookstore (is there such a thing anymore?) talk was at an indy place. We had 20 people, all friends, and sold 15 books. The store owners were happy; that was twice as many as their other events. Basically, the rule is BYOT: bring your own throng, no matter where you speak. Unless you’re Mary Higgins Clark

  5. Very handy tips, Debbie. I’ve done a number of author readings at conventions, and a group reading at my local library. I’ve also been on panel discussions (moderating some of them) at science fiction conventions and our local Williamette Writers Conference.

    I’ve not done book store appearances or dealer’s room selling and signing. I’ve focused pretty heavily on ebook sales as an indie–my print sales are proportionally very low. I do have indie author friends who do well with print.

    I really like your group author Q&A events. I really should give these a go once the pandemic becomes endemic. I have local author friends who might be interested 🙂

    Thanks for another great post!

    • Thanks, Dale. Ebook sales are a greater proportion for me. too. But a significant number of my readers prefer print books.

      Sure hope live appearances can come back more. Fun chance to connect with readers.

  6. #6
    I am the IT Guy. If you need video or a slide presentation bring your own laptop. Have a copy on an USB drive, on the hard drive, and in the cloud someplace. Know how to get to your cloud copy. It isn’t a bad idea to have your slides on a PDF file as well.

    Have all of the dongles you would ever think you will need. Especially if you are a Mac person. My buildings speak Windows. You need to be able to send your presentations VGA and HDMI. Not a bad idea to have an exention cord as well. Yes the library should have one, that isn’t going to help when your battery dies three minutes into your talk.

  7. Your event looks like a winner to me, Debbie! I prefer solo appearances to group author events. I’ve been to too many group author events that went over about as well as a bobcat in a chicken coop. I think it depends on your location, and like John said, who you do the event with. One time a bookstore put together a group author event and stuck us all in the bookstore cafe, me and six POETS. Yeah, you can imagine how well that worked. The longest two hours of my life. On the flip side, my solo appearances are a blast. I loosen up the crowd with a game I invented: Name that Serial Killer. Gummy body parts for prizes. The one with the most body parts at the end wins a free book. 🙂

  8. Someday. That’s the dream. Maybe in a few months when my book is published… the pandemic is over… people stop coughing on each other… and if my hands heal up from all the exposure to hand sanitizer – maybe.

    If they allow you across the border and if you head into the Calgary area – count on my support.

    • Thanks, Ben!

      By Canada and Montana distance standards, Calgary isn’t that far away, *only* six hours. You’re sure welcome this side of the border, too.

      Best of luck with your launch and let us know the date!

      • P.S. True story. Last time I went to Canada was with another author for a weekend conference. We both brought a box of books. The border guards grilled us for ten minutes and examined the boxes as if they suspected we were smuggling plutonium. Never figured out what that was about.

  9. I’ve never done a signing event, Debbie. Probably never will, but I’ve done a few panels and presentations. I just did a video chat with Sisters In Crime on Saturday about a coroner’s role in death investigation. The Zoom feed on my end sucked, however the content worked and my mailing list got a boost. As well, there was a bit of an Amazon spike. Plus, I had fun and it was almost like getting out of the house for a change. Enjoy your day, KZers!

    • Garry, with all your stories and experiences, I expect you’d be a great presenter, no matter how flaky the Zoom feed was. An increase in your mailing list and sales spike sounds like it was worth it.

  10. Fantastic advice, Debbie. Very thorough. Having had the pleasure of joining you in such an event, I can assure readers that Debbie follows her own advice. Connecting with readers firsthand is so rewarding and a good reminder for why we spend all those years writing books.

  11. Speak for yourself on doing the naked mall bit. I am not that cruel to others’ sensibilities.

    I’m mostly an introvert, but I’m a trained teacher, and I have this mental switch which cuts on my inner Dad. My dad was an extrovert’s extrovert with world-class charisma. One on one, he could charm anyone, and he used it for good. My surviving syblings and I all have that inner Dad switch when needed. The evil eldest brother had the switch cut on all the time. The world is lucky he wasn’t ambitious, or you’d know his name and his cult. He always had a herd of human sheep around him. Very scary. It’s also why I can ignore charismatic and narcissitic types. I can see them coming a mile away and just laugh at them. Anyway, I have no trouble with crowds, but I like to come very well prepared for presentations and writer panels. That’s the teacher me.

    Okay, my PRO TIP for the day: Several years ago, my public library had a gathering of local writers where we could set up books to sell with a meet and greet for locals. During the quiet times, I walked around the event and talked to other authors. TWO of the local authors had books with my surviving publisher, a small epublisher/trade paperback. The odds were not only amazing, but it reminded me I should have asked around more in my publisher author groups, etc., to see if anyone was available for group promotions.

    BONUS TIP: Even if you don’t write science fiction, fantasy, or horror, check around for local amateur-run science fiction conventions. (Not the professional ones which are chock full of B-list media stars. They care nothing for books and authors.) These cons tend to be local author friendly, and many of the readers are popular genre omnivores. So you may be asked to be an author guest and sit on panels, or, at the very least, you can set up a book table in their vendor area.

    • Meet you at the mall fully dressed, Marilynn. 😉

      Your evil older brother sounds like an intriguing character for a crime novel.

      An area library used to host a similar local author event. Don’t know how many readers it drew but catching up with other writers was great.

      Interesting tip about amateur sci-fi cons. I wouldn’t have thought of them but readers are readers.

    • Hmm. Interesting tip. There is Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society and Meetup lists several others. That’s a genre I haven’t published in. I do have a WIP, and I used to read Van Vogt, Simak, Bester, Sturgeon, Matheson. Met Bradbury several times. Should be fun.

  12. Your blog describes my biggest fear . . . what if nobody comes?
    Thanks for the suggestions to help make an event more successful. BTW, the event in Bigfork was fun for all and informative!

    • Great to see you there, Ann!

      “what if nobody comes?” Don’t worry about that. At a minimum, you’ll have a gang of local Montana authors cheering you on.

  13. Another advantage to a group event? Friends to hang out with afterward and let down a bit!

    Seriously, great post — detailed, practical, and encouraging. Thanks, Debbie. I hope other KZers can find a local crew and develop something similar, using Debbie’s excellent tips. If we can pull something like this off in a small community — and on the day of the downtown car show! — you can do it anywhere!

  14. Funny you should write this today. I just finished setting a date and time for my newest Red River novel, The Texas Job, which releases on February 15, 2022. I try to work at least three months ahead for those events I schedule myself, and today it was at the Paris Public Library in Northeast Texas.

    I have a different situation here with the library about 120 miles from my house. I’ve been writing a newspaper column for the paper there (The Paris News) for the past 33 years and have an outstanding following. It’s hard to believe, but there’s no bookstore in this rural town of nearly 25,000 people, so I have to supply the books for the event (and that’s another story because I went the traditional publishing route to avoid hauling books around), but I sell hundreds of dollars worth each time I go.

    We can write pages of information on signings at libraries, local book festivals (most I avoid like the plague), and independent bookstores. John is right in a previous comment. I’ve signed with other authors and had a great time because the chemistry was there and we built on each other. At another event in Austin, Texas, I did my best not to put a fellow author in a shallow grave that day, because he spoke these words in our presentation: “I’m different than Mr. Wortham and Mr. X, because I’m more of a craftsman in this profession and it takes me more than a year to produce a quality novel.”

    He sold exactly one that day, while Mr. X and I moved double digits. The lesson I learned that day was be entertaining and engage the audience.

  15. Good evening, Debbie! I’ve never done a group event, but it sounds like a great idea. (If you need a cozy author for your next promotion, I’d be happy to masquerade as a Montanan and fly up there!)

    The most successful events I’ve had were 1) at a large local library where I gave a talk, showed a video book trailer, and played a mystery game, and 2) same agenda at a large independent book store. Although most of the attendees were friends, there were others who stopped by and we sold a lot of books. More importantly, we had fun and built relationships.

    Book signings I did at B&N or other book stores were uncomfortable for me. Won’t do any of those again.

    In the meantime, maybe I’ll check with some author friends who are in the vicinity to see if we can whip something up here.

    • Kay, you’re always welcome in MT and you don’t have to pretend to be anything but a terrific cozy author.

      Interesting how some commenters have had good luck with libraries and others have not. Probably depends on the library.

      I would support Indie bookstores even if I didn’t sell a single book.

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