Two events into our Lost and Found tour, and it’s been a steep learning curve.
A brutal one at times, but also warm, wonderful and exhilarating.
We kicked off in Birmingham, and, thanks massively to the support of SCBWI critque groupers and to a lovely local teacher, who must have waded through piles of risk assessment forms to organise a group of her students to come along, we had loads of people and felt like we could conquer the world. And we had a mic. It always feels extra starry if you have a mic.
Our London tour stop was a little different in terms of attendance (the vlogger who we’d invited commented that it wasn’t a bit like when she’d been to see Holly Smale) and there was *that* moment when we all wondered if the woman who we’d let feed her baby on one of the panel chairs might have to be the only recipient of all of our fabulous authorly advice and book pitchery, but the people who did go were wonderful. And it was priceless in terms of what we learnt.
So, in no particular order, here are some dos and don’ts if you’re thinking of taking the plunge and organising your own group book tour:
- Organise signage inside the shop, on the landing, and in the window. Tiny amounts of people might come in ‘cold’ but how will they know you’re there? I’ve been to brilliant events where there’s no signage. Do signage. (We haven’t yet. It’s one of the many things on our to do list.)
- Think of a brand image, a common identity to link all of your different books together. There are other brilliant tourers out there: The History Girls, with Rhian Ivory, Emma Carroll, Katherine Woodfine, Helen Maslin, Lauren James. Growing Pains, with Jess Vallance, Laura Dockrill, Julie Mayhew and Claire Hennessey.(Insert pic) Go to those events and see how they do it. Rhian’s was wonderfully collaborative, with each author having deep knowledge of the others’ books and discussing which key scenes they felt resonated with them. I loved it so much that I stole the idea. (Rhian knows this.) This collaborative approach takes the pressure off that horrid Look at Meeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!ness that all self effacing authorly types hate and wriggle away from. Candy Gourlay, in the recent SCBWI Debut Boot Camp, calls this collaborative marketing method ‘cross pollination’.
- Read each others’ books. Invite others to read them. Be generous.
- Get your publishers involved and tell them what you’re doing. Oneworld have been incredibly helpful with designing our banners. Our editors and agents have come in person to our London event to see what we’re up to. We love the extra pressure. We do.
- Hook up with bloggers. Eugene Lambert on our team had the brilliant idea of asking bloggers to chair, which takes the onus off us and means that we are meeting new booklovers at each tour stop. So a win win.
- Have a first meeting (to make sure you all like each other!) and set up your aims and objectives. Ours were: to build links with booksellers; to support each other in our debut year; to learn what works and what doesn’t in the murky waters of promotion; to build our social media profile; to practise our pitches and improve our panel skills; to have fun and make new friends. We deliberately didn’t put ‘book sales’. We thought that would be the icing on the cake. Small steps.
- Have fun! Kathryn Evans had the idea of having a ‘tour stop’ photograph at each event, so we’ve collected the Birmingham Bull and an Islington bus so far…
- Don’t book too many places close together. Factor in the travelling costs and time taken to recover. Aim to book places where you have personal links/contacts/recommendations. Because it’s very, very hard to get people to come along ‘cold’. So, much better to personally invite people that you know will have a vested interest in what you have to offer.
- It sounds obvious, but we didn’t even particularly know our target audience at the start, and you’d think that would be second nature to writers, right? It was Kim, my son’s girlfriend, (she’s studying events management and is helping us with promotion as part of her uni work experience) who asked me: so who’s your target audience then? I looked at her and waffled on about kids-and-adults-and-well,anyone-really-and-maybe-people-who-like-reading?and-writers? Possibly-writers? until it was clear that I hadn’t a clue. Big mistake. Know your target audience.
After trial and error, it’s already clear that the main demographic for our panel event is writers, and probably pre-published ones, because we’re getting a lot of questions from the audience about the publishing and writing process, like: what did you actually do differently with the book that got taken up by a publisher? How many books did you write before this one, the one that made it? I think that being debut authors is our USP (you can tell at least one of us watches The Apprentice). We’re still straddling that magic line between yearning to see our name on a cover and gulping at the distance to climb on the other side. We’re still shaky from the adrenalin of seeing our book jackets for the first time, as we clutch the mic in our hands and our mind races to answer the next question. We remember what it feels like to be on submission and be terrified to even pick up your phone in case there’s an email notification from your agent. And now we know too, those sleepless nights before your first book launch, your first bloggers’ brunch, your first school visit.
After two events, it’s already clear that, unless you’re Holly Smale, a panel event alone probably isn’t the best way to attract teenagers. And definitely not an evening one. So we’re looking into library events with invited schools as a possible way forward. We’re excited to be visiting two schools following our event at Writeblend in Liverpool, so that we can tweak our formula and get to talk to younger readers.
SCBWI support has been invaluable. The lovely bunch at Birmingham were especially supportive, staying on after their crit group and making a beeline for our very first event. Sarah Thomas and Clare Bell rallied the troops. There was a brilliant atmosphere. I can’t thank them enough.
Blogger support. Our first MC, Michelle Toy of Tales of Yesterday, went out of her way to organise a bloggers tour for us leading up to our first event, and Emma Finlayson-Palmer of Ukteenchat gave us chat space. Emma Petfield at Howling Reviews did a sterling job of chairing our London tour stop.
Local school support – is best if you have a personal link. None of the other schools that were invited ‘cold’ responded, nor did the local press. The school that brought students along were from a school I’m visiting as an author next year, and I invited them when setting this up. It helped that Brum SCBWI organiser Clare Bell’s daughter goes to the same school, and that the teacher is best friends with my agent. I was incredibly grateful to the teachers at Queensbridge – it takes a lot of paperwork, risk assessments and letters home to get any school trip off the ground nowadays. Not sure that an hour panel, followed by half an hour Q and A is particularly targeted at teens though. My inner teacher instincts were screaming: make it interactive! Now! Now! Now!
We contacted all of the local creative writing groups, including: Writing West Midlands, NAWE newsletter, OU creative writing forum and teenage reading groups.
A writer from Wolverhampton University told us that she’d seen the Waterstones events page and made a point of coming along. So far, Saturday at 2pm has been busier than an evening event, but maybe a more targeted approach to our audience might change this.
And that’s all we know. As I said, we’re still learning.
What’s next for Lost and Found?
Well, to answer that, here’s our new improved tour blurb:
Lost and Found: 5 debut authors. 5 very different books. 1 tour.
What’s it really like, being a debut author?
Why are so many children’s and YA books about finding yourself?
How do you find your ‘voice’ in fiction?
Debut authors, Olivia Levez, Sue Wallman, Patrice Lawrence, Eugene Lambert and Kathryn Evans, answer questions about their books, their writing process and everything in between. Whether you’ve written a book, are interested in being published, or have a passion for YA fiction, you’ll be entertained and informed. Perfect for creative writing groups, bookworms, and teachers & librarians interested in the YA scene. Come and see for yourself!
If you are near Waterstones in Guildford tonight, please go along and support the Lost and Found team.
Olivia Levez lives in Worcestershire, where she divides her time between teaching in a secondary school and writing. The Island is Olivia’s debut novel and she is already at work on her second book, which will publish in spring 2017. She writes mainly in her caravan in West Wales and was inspired by the coast to create the desert island in this book.