Ci7 Education: Events University

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The “Events University: In-store and Off-site Author Events” education session at the seventh annual Children’s Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offered booksellers the opportunity to learn best practices for hosting events in-store and off-site, including partnering with schools and libraries, hosting large-scale events, and using alternate venues.

Erica Barmash, marketing director at Bloomsbury Children’s Books, with booksellers Stephanie Appell, Heather Hebert, and Alex Schaffner
Erica Barmash of Bloomsbury Children’s Books with booksellers Stephanie Appell, Heather Hebert, and Alex Schaffner

Hosting author events can be an effective way to strengthen a customer base, build goodwill within your community, and make money, but tackling the ins and outs of events can be daunting, time-consuming, and overwhelming. This full-day, two-part workshop on Wednesday, June 26, featured booksellers who have experienced event success offering attendees tips for navigating events in a small space; best practices for ticketing events and anticipating turnout; how to launch a book festival in your community; and more.

Booksellers can watch a full video of the session on ABA’s Education Resources page (a BookWeb username and password are required; e-mail [email protected] for login credentials).

Panelists for the first half of the day included Alex Schaffner, events director at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Massachusetts; Heather Hebert, owner of Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pennsylvania; Stephanie Appell, director of books and events for young readers at Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee; as well as Erica Barmash, marketing director at Bloomsbury Children’s Books in New York City. The second half of the day featured Blue Willow Bookshop event coordinator Cathy Berner and owner Valerie Koehler, who spoke about how they pull off three children’s festivals annually: Bookworm, Tweens Read, and TeenBookCon.

Blue Willow Bookshop event coordinator Cathy Berner and owner Valerie Koehler
Blue Willow Bookshop event coordinator Cathy Berner and owner Valerie Koehler

Here are some of the tips panelists offered for putting on in-store and off-site events:

Before You Begin Planning...

  • Have a clear vision of the kinds of events you want to host
  • Be realistic about the kinds of events your store can accommodate and the kind of the numbers you can produce
  • Once you’ve confirmed an author, make sure to gather and convey all necessary event information
  • Speak with the author about their expectations for the event
  • Have the author’s travel plans, arrival arrangements, AV needs and backup AV plan, tech run-through, and start time nailed down
  • Make a formal confirmation sheet that you send to the publisher to help you gather important data
  • Communicate to the publisher what your store considers a successful event
  • Ask about publishers’ expectations for the event

Marketing Assets

  • Cover image and author headshot
  • Online graphic with tour info
  • Ask if the publisher or author will act as a partner on the event and cross-promote on their social channels
  • Publishers might have marketing materials you can ask for
  • Talk to the publisher about tour announcements/reveal

Things to Consider When Looking for the Perfect Venue

  • Anticipated attendance
  • Size of the event, cost, and relationships with local venues/organizations
  • Venue size (good to have different venues for different types of events and backups in case your first choice is unavailable)
  • Any community partner who can lend you a venue for free
  • Cost of renting
  • Staffing (whether or not the venue provides staff for events and what type of assistance they will offer)
  • Physical space layout  (how the flow of attendees will be in the space)
  • Unique needs
  • Accessibility
  • Location/parking
  • Local schools/libraries (they are low-cost venues, helps foster a relationship with school district)

Pre-event Checklist

  • Staff arrival time for load-in, allotted time for loading books in and out of venue   
  • Confirm publisher contact, venue contact
  • Confirm author’s arrival time
  • Prep green room for author
  • Make sure security is in place if needed (venue security, private security, or police detail?)
  • Transportation of books to the venue
  • Will the books be pre-signed? Where will this take place?
  • Be prepared to introduce the author to audience
  • Flap the books to make signing easier
  • Plan how to transition from signing line to photo ops
  • Contact the venue to accommodate author special needs


  • Educate and inform staff of details
  • Designate a point person and make sure everyone knows who the point person is and where they’ll be
  • It doesn’t hurt to plan too much (figure out exactly how many tasks there will be and who will be taking on each role)
  • Don’t understaff
  • Make sure you have enough staff to cover the store/decide if you will have to close early
  • Make sure anyone participating knows all the basics of the event as well as their particular job
  • Prior to the event, get everyone into a huddle and go through the whole plan

Managing Turnout

  • Make sure that crowd management is one of the elements of your staffing decisions
  • Plan the flow of traffic in advance, from arrival to departure
  • Set up early!
  • Write up a team plan and communicate that plan
  • For an in-store event, make sure you are set up in time to accommodate people when they’re likely to start arriving
  • Communicate to attendees what to do at multiple points (via e-mail prior to the event, or via microphone, signage, people physically directing them during the event) 
  • Even if you’re very busy, make sure to treat any customer interaction as important and see to the needs of individuals as questions or problems arise
  • Prior to the event, send a reminder to attendees with event information, when doors open, signing guidelines, cancellation policy, etc.


  • If event is ticketed, publishers like to check in on sales (it’s important to communicate sales early so publishers can ramp up marketing if necessary)
  • Look into using ticketing services 
  • Do book/ticket bundles
  • As you do more ticketed events you get to know the market 
  • Be communicative with your publicist and proactive about maximizing sales and making the event look good even if it does not match expectations.
  • If need be, you can always add a promo code to reduce the cost of the ticket, which can help fill seats at the last minute
  • Promo codes are also good when working with an organization that would like to give their members a special discount


  • Over-order just a little (it’s better to have slightly too many books than to sell out)
  • Keep accurate ordering records
  • Order direct from publishers for better discount so it leaves plenty of time
  • Order drop shipments
  • Make sure the publisher knows it’s an event order so you can have immediate returns
  • Look at factors such as genre, time since book release, whether an author is local, etc. to gauge how many books you need
  • Check on whether any backlist sales or promotion is expected by publisher


  • Promote your event everywhere the book itself is displayed/shelved in the store, which lets casual browsers in on the event
  • One way to drive sales is letting people know that the earlier they pre-order their book, the earlier they’ll be able to get in line at the event 
  • Take advanced orders for signed/personalized books to be mailed, but first, confirm with publisher, then include that everywhere you promote the event
  • Remember: ticket sales are not always indicative of turnout!


  • Aim to have some signed books left over to add to inventory 
  • Have a signed book sticker (signed books make for easy displays)
  • After event, flap and stack books for author (some authors prefer to wait to promote signed stock until end of tour, so one store doesn’t compete with another for sales)
  • Design your own “autographed copy” sticker to double as advertising when people post photos of their signed books on social media

Running a Festival

  • Identify your festival’s mission 
  • When partnering with school districts, make sure to have the support of someone in district's administration office
  • Make friends with the building principal and the school librarian
  • Research whether the town, city, state, or county’s economic development commission has funds you can apply for
  • Find volunteer students to help unpack books at schools
  • Make the kids the focus (for example, ask authors to answer kids’ questions first)
  • Send out requests for submissions to publishers six to eight months ahead of time
  • Work hard to find authors who write about a variety of life experiences
  • Give authors enough downtime during the festival so they don’t wander off
  • Have panels moderated by experienced librarians or teachers
  • Have a welcome team with coordinated T-shirts
  • Ask attendees to register for festival (include a few demographic questions in application to be able to report back to publisher)
  • Have authors come to the store the night before to sign their books and/or host a party for authors 
  • Debrief with staff immediately after the festival