Pitching an Author Event:
Tips from Talks with
3 Bookstore Event Coordinators
by Robin Quinn

On any given night across the wide metropolis of Los Angeles, scores of authors can be found in area bookstores chatting up their titles through presentations. Insights gleaned from book event coordinators at three of L.A.’s best-known and most prestigious independent bookstores (Dutton’s of Brentwood, Vroman’s of Pasadena, and Book Soup of West Hollywood) are revealed in the following eight tips:

1. Research the interests and personality of each store where you’d like to present a program. I was surprised to discover how different independents can be in character and outlook. On the hip Sunset Strip, Book Soup leans toward celebrity and the notorious. In the upscale Westside neighborhood of Brentwood, Dutton’s is known for events featuring local authors and star novelists. With a Pasadena cityscape behind it, Vroman’s is a 110-year-old literary landmark offering all types of author events. So since bookstores’ interests and customer bases vary, do your research. A little investigating may save you from wasting time and embarrassing yourself with a misplaced pitch.

2. Investigate the available performance space. The area provided for author events may be too small for the probable audience, or it may be so filled with the sounds of chatty customers, clacking dishes, and an espresso machine that an author can’t be effective without a microphone. Survey the lay of the land by calling or stopping by the info desk before you approach someone official. If the bookstore is local and a likely candidate, experience one or more events firsthand.

3. Be inventive with your presentation format. While standard fare is a presentation for a nonfiction author and a reading for a novelist, more creative formats can help an author stand out for booksellers deluged with requests. Maret Orliss at Vroman’s shared two great examples. First, Elaine Bernstein Partnow, author of The Quotable Jewish Woman, does a one-woman show based on the quotes in her book, and she offers bookstores a condensed version of the show combined with a talk about putting her book together. The other out-of-the-box thinker Orliss mentioned is Barbara Odanaka, the creator of a children’s book called Skateboard Mom. Since Odanaka really is a skateboarder, she could do a dramatic skateboarding demonstration without literally breaking a leg. “That was a great outdoor event,” Orliss noted.

4. Make your approach professional. A good way to start is by sending a media kit, along with an advance reading copy of the title. Another option is contact by email; be brief, but paint a clear picture. Whether the initial contact is by mail or email, be sure to include what the author would do at an event. It helps if the author has a proven track record with a certain presentation format, Orliss of Vroman’s advised. Also point out the reasons your author is right for a particular store (the author’s readership fits the store’s customers; the author grew up nearby; the book has a regional angle, etc.).

5. Mention what you can do to help boost attendance. Lise Friedman of Dutton’s pointed out that providing a mailing list of a local author’s friends, family, and acquaintances is helpful. Also, for both local and nonlocal authors, media coverage that mentions a store event assists in spreading the word. Ask event coordinators about the best media for drawing people to their stores. In general, the key is coordinating your outreach efforts with the store’s as much as possible.

6. Consider working with a local publicist. Sometimes a news tie-in or celebrity involvement can justify the expense of hiring a regional publicist to stir up media interest. Christine Louise Berry at Book Soup says that having an experienced publicist on board allows her to relax about an author appearance. In addition to easing the pressure, a PR firm can dream up an original angle, as an L.A. publicist did for Scene of the Crime: Photographs from the LAPD Archive. Mystery writer James Ellroy and Chief William Bratton of the LAPD appeared together to promote the book. “It was a blast,” Berry recalled. “We did chalk outlines on the sidewalk. We had yellow caution tape all over the events room. And then the Chief and James Ellroy arrived in a squad car from the 1940s. We had all kinds of TV crews here.”

7. Be on the lookout for new developments and additional opportunities. If you’re dealing with an independent bookstore, explore whether they have affiliate locations where author appearances are also possible. If you find a branch store, you may discover that the customer profile is the same, or that it’s very different. When you’re dealing with a chain store, wait until you have had a successful event there and then ask about contacts at other locations.

8. Explore stocking options for each venue. An author appearance can get your books into a store around the time of an event, but don’t assume that it will stay there for long. Policies differ. Some stores, like Vroman’s, won’t consider a book unless it fits into their regular inventory. Others, such as Dutton’s, believe that what sells at events tends to be very different than what they should typically shelve. Check a store’s inventory before you start pitching to see if your book is there. If not, know that you may need to get an OK from a store buyer before you can get an event booking. The events coordinator can let you know. And, of course, make sure the store will have an ample supply of copies for both the event and the promotion period surrounding it. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have boxes of books in the car that night as back-up.

While many event coordinators get more requests for author appearances than they can accommodate, they’re always eager to have events that create excitement about their stores and stimulate sales. Think about which locations could heighten interest in a book and author in important ways, and work appearances there into a multipronged marketing plan.


5 Don’ts When Pitching Author Appearances

  1. Don’t be stingy with background during your initial approach. You’ll need to orient the events coordinator.
  2. Don’t dally till the last minute, then contact the targeted bookstore in a rush. They book ahead.
  3. Don’t pitch a store that isn’t right for your book. Clientele can vary from venue to venue.
  4. Don’t stalk the events coordinator. Follow up, but give people room to think and breathe.
  5. Don’t oversell and underdeliver. Say what you can truly do, and then make it happen.

More articles by Robin Quinn are on this site.
To inquire about reprints or reposting any of the articles,
write to her at

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