Mary in the Library: Anatomy of a Book Signing

As I mentioned in my first Mary in the Library post, one of the things we do a lot at my library is host book events, be they themed panels, book launches, or stops for publisher group tours or a single author. I have attended events of each of these types at my own library before I worked here and at other libraries and bookstores (both chains and indies) so I honestly think it's safe to say I'm a pro at bookish events. That's why I did a couple posts over the summer concerning event advice (part 1, part 2). That's not what today's post will be about. I'm planning on doing a couple more advice posts, but today will be a behind-the-scenes look at how to plan and execute an event.

Note 1: I'm skipping the part where the host (in this case, my library)/the author/the publisher agree to the event (usually takes several emails and/or phone calls) and going right to the fun stuff. This is actually a crucial part of the process, obviously, but I have only been an active participant in this particular part once, and that was not how it normally goes down so I'm not the best person to talk about it. I'll go step-by-step with all the important stuff, along with a general timeline of when we got it done.

Note 2: This is based on a recent signing event at my library for Marissa Meyer's Stars Above tour. 

First things first: major fangirling. It is ALWAYS an exciting day when a publisher and/or an author want to do an event at the library. It's absolutely an honor to be chosen to be part of a tour, especially a big one like Stars Above. It was the FINAL BOOK for The Lunar Chronicles (until the Wires & Nerve news), and we knew we had to do it right. So IMMEDIATELY after step one (like 30 seconds), we move to step two: total and complete panic. It's the FINAL BOOK. We HAVE to get it right! 

Step three is where things actually start to get productive, and it happens within minutes or hours, depending on what else is going on in the library and how long we have to the event. In this case, we had about 2 1/2 months to plan, but we knew we'd have to finalize a lot of logistics early so people could plan.

Step 3 is: How to make our event unique.
As some of you may know, I worked at a small science museum for two years before the library, and I worked both for about six months before I left the museum. One of my favorite programs at the museum was one called Starry Night. Basically, using a giant inflatable planetarium, you can have a stargazing experience at any time of the day, any day of the year. The starlab was sliiiightly out of our budget, but I convinced the museum to give me the former employee discount in exchange for some publicity and future business. As in any facet of life, negotiation and bargaining are really good skills to have.

Starlab all packed up
This is one of the films. Moon seemed appropriate for the event.

A couple weeks before the event, my boss had the idea to use a wedding photo backdrop she saw on Pinterest (Pinterest is an AMAZING source of event ideas!). We then had to print the moon (it took a couple tries to get the color right) and adhere it to cardboard backing.


Step 4 (as soon as possible): Promotion
As soon as you are able (you usually have to wait for an official announcement), promote promote promote. Tweet every couple days at different times of the day. Use Facebook. Make connections with local news outlets to include it on their calendar of local events. It helps to have an official landing page for the event and since Marissa is such a big author and we were becoming inundated with calls, we also set up an FAQ. I would tweet about the event on my personal account every few days, as would the official library account, the city account, and the North Texas Teen Book Festival account (and obviously Marissa and Fierce Reads would occasionally tweet about her tour or RT the rest of our tweets). While I have more followers than the rest, the rest tend to have more local followers. It made for a nice balance. We also print up fliers and create a digital slide that runs on the library's tvs so that our patrons can see what's coming up at the library. Occasionally we'll also send fliers to local schools or even go and do a short presentation so local middle and high school students will also know about the event.

Here are some outside organizations that helped us spread the word: Coppell High School Sidekick article | Guide Live | USamPM | Facebook event

Step five (start one month out, usually continues until the event): Swag production.
This kind of goes under step three since one thing that makes events at my library is the swag we pass out, but this is the part where we actually make it. Since we were stop 5 on the tour and we knew people would have already bought copies, one thing we offered was a free gift with purchase, to encourage attendees to buy during the event. The gift we offered was a pack of three Stars Above buttons. So my boss designed the buttons, I cut them out, made them, and packaged them. It took me a couple weeks because cutting out over 450 tiny circles takes a LONG time, and then I had to make them. (fun fact: I can make a button in less than 30 seconds)
Here's the nine buttons we made

Button production in progress


Finished buttons!

In addition to the buttons, we also make cupcake
toppers that dress up our refreshment table.
Step six (week of): tickets & staff info
The week of the event we printed out the tickets for the signing line and sent out an email with all pertinent information to our staff. Certainly we're on hand for any questions, but the basic info is something everyone should know at a venue (true for bookstores as well: one or two point people, but all staff should be In The Know). We also printed out an FAQ and kept it at the front desk so that staff could help people who came in for the tickets. We had started suspecting that this would be a big event, but within two hours, we had passed out 100 tickets (and this was two days before the event). We also contacted the city police and asked that they send an officer down to help control traffic and assist with parking since we don't have very much in the library's lots.

Step seven (day before/day of): set up. My boss typically draws out a rough sketch of what the room will look like so we have a general idea of the set-up, but it always changes a little bit. We have four rooms that can be opened up, but this time, even expecting such a large crowd, we had to leave one of them mostly blocked off due to the planetarium. We leave two tables for book sales, one for refreshments, one for extra swag (if we have it), one for the signing, and one for NTTBF info. One of our lovely coworkers scales a ladder and hangs our lights, and the rest of us set out chairs. Depending on the event, we sometimes get really specific with the chair colors and make a pattern because we are fussy like that.
...this was one of those events.

We called it a night after setting up the chairs and went out for Mexican food. You know. To keep our strength up for the next day. The day of, we enlisted the help of our teen volunteers to set out the food, organize NTTBF info and swag, and flap all the books Barnes & Noble brought. We also spent a little less than an hour finalizing the moon backdrop and getting it set up in our lobby. One thing I always do a couple hours early is make sure I have the author's biography and a list of announcements so that when I'm emceeing, things run as smooth as possible. And when the author and the publicist arrive, I always double check it's correct.
My niece & I tested out the backdrop. Success!

Step eight (THE EVENT!!!): problem-solving + event stuff. The major problem we ran into this time was simply people. Our space can handle a few hundred people, but this crowd was bigger than that number.

This was our lobby before the event.

The crowd filled up every available space inside our program room and spilled into the lobby. Sadly, there aren't too many ways to solve this admittedly delightful (delightful because yay! people!) issue, but we did end up opening the wall between the event and the planetarium and kept the doors open to get as much air flowing as possible. After we filled the room to capacity, I introduced Marissa and let her do her thing. Then, she took some questions from the audience, and then it was time to sign. Our team split duties so someone checked the line ticket numbers, someone called groups of line numbers, someone passed out post-its and pens to expedite the line, someone took pictures, someone refilled the refreshments until they're gone, and someone (me) worked the planetarium.


The event took just over four and a half hours from start to finish, and Marissa was a trooper through it all, as were all the fans who came out and waited so patiently for their opportunity to meet her and get their books signed.

Final product!
(photo credit to these Twitter/Insta users)

Here are some amazing posts with pictures and videos and recaps of the event:

And these are more events at the library that I attended and/or helped with 
(before I started working here)


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