Updated: Jun 27, 2019
How To Throw a Legendary Book Jam, part 1.
First we’ll cover the bases, starting with, What the hell is a Book Jam? All the way through to the horrors of Traditional Marketing.
So what the hell is a Book Jam?
It’s an event for authors, to read from their up and coming (or already here) novels. To try and garner interest and sell books.
It’s also a place for readers to find new writers. Ask interesting questions about writing. And come across novels they'd have never found, if they hadn’t been roped into coming along by a friend who just really likes free cupcakes.
So a Book Jam has nothing to do with preserving fruit, and
boiling it to destruction?
Where the do I start?
First, you’re going to need authors.
I suggest 6 to 8 max.
Too many and it's going to feel like it’s an end of year school assembly
Second, bums on seats.
Do you have a local writer/reader community? Are you brave/tenacious, downright cheeky enough to pester people into coming? Otherwise, there’s going to be a lot of crying.
But never fear, because if I can organise an event like this, which I did. Then so can you. I once sat in a Wagamama's for 30 mins after finishing my udon noodles, because I was too shy to attract the attention of the waiter. I’d probably still be there now, fashioning a fort out chopsticks and discarded napkins, if it hadn’t been for the lunch rush.
Next, you'll need a venue...
I could just have it in my home, right?
If you’re chill with strangers using your loo and shoving their wine boxes into your fridge, you could, of course, have your shindig at home. Two obvious reasons, why I would avoid that Category five shit storm.
You’ll need microphone and speakers, along with 20 or so chairs, plus glassware for a large number of people and a robust downstairs toilet.
Other venues will have patrons which you can tap into and an events page you can use. They should have a couple of social media accounts which again you can tap into; this helps with the bums on seat problem, you're going to encounter.
Ok so not at home, where?
On paper, it can be a great idea to hire a fabulous space and then split it with the other authors, but crossed wires happen all the time. You don’t want to end up holding the bill for the venue because New Flash; you’re the organiser.
If the other authors are your crew and you don’t have any worries about that, then that’s great. Just make sure they pay before the event day.
Not that I don’t trust people, but I don’t.
Where can I find a free event space?
Keep it local and ask around. Send out a social media call out. Follow a lead down a dark alley and rough him up for info. You get the idea.
Free space suggestions
Small independent pubs
Schools or Sports clubs
Community Hall or Church Halls
Smaller Local museums
Local independent Cafes
and the mother load...
Small local places want to be part of the community; you need to hold an event in the local community. Can you see where I’m going with this?
If you're London based, I know that none of the above is possible. London is the humping monkey of commerce; it can’t help itself.
I can’t find anywhere free you crazy nut job, what do I do now?
Ok, so the world is a fiscal fist fight.
Here’s what you do;
See if you can negotiate with the venue and have the event on a quiet day of the week/time for them. Suggest that the increased footfall is worth it for them to give it to you for free or at a discount. But understand that events are extra work for staff, so offer to set up, offer to clean down, offer your first born if you think it might help you secure that deal.
If all of this sound like hard work, it is. Selling books is a deranged circus of elbow grease, begging eyes and luck.
Ok so I got a discount, but I still have to pay…
Hold a Blind Book Sale
Not a book sale for the blind, although that would be a lovely idea. But books wrapped to disguise what they are and then labelled mysteriously. Like this.
Make it look trendy and fun, not jumble-sale sad.
Think brown paper, luggage labels and quirky fonts.
Don’t forget to have a ‘framed sign’, which explains why the books are in disguise, but also why you're collecting money.
Get book donations from friends, hit the charity shops, Libraries have sales of old stock. Become a book hunter.
Good Old Bake Sale
If you bake or have a baker friend, ask if they’ll help you knock out some sell-able treats. Here is some inspiration to wet your whistle.
It’s such a bugbear of mine that people create beautiful food, only to then dump it out in any old fashion. It adds a chic feeling to your event if you have things on cake stands, or wrapped boxes with tablecloths and napkins. And if you think I'm a massive snobby shit, then you’re right.
You're working hard on this event, make it work hard for you. Think of how people act in restaurants. Go on, how much time do they spend on their phones, hitting likes, scrolling, barely registering as a social animal anymore. How long they spend photographing each course, each cocktail, if they still have working emotions, each other.
This is the world we live in now. Use it. Make your event something people want to photograph and shout about on their social media. Embrace the filter!
Just make sure you’ve got your hashtags in order, and everyone knows all about them because if you can't beat them, hashtag the shit out of it.
Okay before we root around in this idea there is something we need to talk about. Raffle money must go to a regulated charity, and no you can’t tell the gambling commission being a writer deserves it’s own charity statues.
The best way to do things like this is with competitions.
Here’s the guide from the website when it comes to what is allowed.
Basically, it reads;
Competitions in. Games of chance out.
Here are some ideas to keep yourself within the law but still helping with the cost.
A book themed quiz that people pay to enter. An event within an event perhaps.
Competition for the best book puns.
The classic, Guess How Much. Get each of your Book Jam authors to donate their book, get people to guess how much they weigh combined. Winner takes a stack of gorgeous books home; you get to charge people to enter.
When it comes to prizes, it’s all about style. Shove an expensive bottle of bubbles in a plastic Netto bag isn’t going to get anyone pulling out their wallet, but wrap even the cheapest book mark up like it’s the crown jewels your adding value to that product.
Selection boxes are the king of this. Bow to the king.
Ok, but I could just ticket the event for cash right?
Be careful with this one.
What would you throw down hard earned funds for? Would you pay to sit in a room listening to a group of nervous authors read for 20 minutes, after which they corner you for the rest of the evening trying to subtly, (not so subtle) get you to buy their book?
There are four people in the world who’d pay for that.
Selling tickets means entertainment, which really means a shit load of hassle.
I would never ticket such a small event but and there is always a but…
Unbound, my crowdfunding publisher do Pledge Parties, for books that are going through the Crowdfunding process. They tend to run them in a London Waterstones midweek, the same set up as the one I’ve suggested. But they ticket it for, £5. For that, you get a glass of wine, and if you pledge on the night, you get money off any pledge you make.
If you feel like you could nail it, do it. The world needs more adventurous people.
Tripping Enthusiast & Leisure-suit Wearer, Mr Z’s Top Tip
Find someone who is shameless to strong-arm people into participating in any games you've organised. Bribe them if you have to. If you think you can do it yourself, have a word. You’ll be too busy herding people, networking, hitting on the hotties and pulling it out of the bag, to do any of it.
So smarty pants, how do I get people to come?
This one is trickier.
People are lovely, lazy, straight up contradictory; they will run into burning buildings to save strangers but also bail on friend's incredibly important event because they can’t be arsed.
Accept that and all your events will be easier, not easy. Easier.
Here are some of the tricks I use.
You might have told people at work about your very important Book Event at the water cooler, but people are forgetful.
You need to tell them in person.
Facebook event invite them.
Send handwritten, lavender scented, wax sealed invites.
Hang posters on notice boards.
Dump millions of fliers from an aircraft bomber warning how you have them surrounded.
You get the idea.
When it comes to the seagull screaming shit show of social media, work as a team. Make sure the other performing authors know the drill. Multiple people sharing the same post with their unique group of friends is going to have more reach.
Plan your presence. Do a rough timeline of increasing social media posts leading up to the event.
Twitter is a garbage fire, but that also means you can warm yourself around it, while meeting the locals.
Search for local art groups, writing groups, reading groups on social media introduce yourself. Like their stuff, (lots) share their stuff (more) until your looking like a stalker and then ask if they’d mind sharing your event, pretty please. They may even pop along, it is after all their bag.
In a world of metadata and algorithms, it seems strange to mention good old-
fashioned printed flyers, but they still have their place. Especially when used at the same time as social media. Here are the flyers I did for mine.
They came in handy to hand out to people who weren’t on social media aka Nanas, or to have a small pile of them at the venue. Art galleries and bookshops sometimes have areas for flyers for local events, use them too.
They can also double up as digital flyers that you can use as your event’s imagery.
So if that's not scared the crap out of yar and you're still super dooper keen, here's part 2.