How to Host a Killer Book Event / Jenny Milchman

I’m old and I’ve read and seen a lot. Rarely do I read something that makes me shift back in my chair and go, “Wow!” This blog does it for me.

Author Jenny Milchman is the touring James Brown. (She took her kids out of school?) She’s accredited with the longest book tour ever. (Rented out her house ‘cos she was going to be gone 11 months!) This woman has to keep Starbucks in business.

You learn a lot on the road. Most authors keep it to themselves. Jenny shares. You may not want to load the kids in a mini-van and drive across the continent, but everything Jenny shares can be used to advantage at the bookstore in your own hometown. What a dynamo. If you want to build an audience (different from selling a book), this blog is a must-read. I’ve seen these techniques work first hand. They will make a major difference in your mind-shift, maybe even career altering.

Read, enjoy, and share you own experiences. We would love to hear them.

Clay Stafford





Clay Stafford
Founder Killer Nashville
Publisher / Editorial Director Killer Nashville Magazine


jenny-milchman-square-webHow to Host a Killer Book Event

By Jenny Milchman

First, I’m going to give y’all (this is Killer Nashville so I feel safe saying that) my bona fides for writing this post. Then, I’m going to cull ten bullet points for what will make your event the best ever. (I love bullet points! They make everything so simple and easy to digest. I wish chocolate cake came in bullet points. No, I don’t).

But, I digress. On to those credentials.

So, after my first novel — which was really my eighth, but that’s a different blog post —came out following a thirteen-year journey to publication, my husband and I did the following:

We rented out our house, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, withdrew the kids from school to “car school” them on the road, and put 35,000 miles on that new car. Over a period of seven months, we toured the bookstores, libraries, book clubs and other literary pockets of this country. Then, when my second novel came out the next year, we did it all over

Of the past 24 months, I have spent 11 on the road, doing over 300 events.

I’ve seen everything from the one person who showed up at a bookstore in Goshen, Indiana, and didn’t buy a book (but for a very good reason) to nearly 300 foot-stomping attendees in Oxford, Miss., where I appeared at Square Books’ ever-popular Thacker Mountain Radio event. And a great deal in between.

Without further ado, here is what I’ve learned:

  • Do keep a contacts list. When you’re engaged in social media, find out where people live. (Nicely, not like a stalker). You’ll be amazed how many will want to come out to see you in person.
  • Do make things personal. Don’t send invitations to a Georgia event to everyone on your mailing list. Figure out who lives closest to Atlanta, or Savannah, or Macon. Blasts get deleted; personal notes are read.
  • Having said that, a Tweet and FB status update—“I am here” with a photo and place/time/date should become part of your day- or week-before routine.
  • Do consider creative ideas for format. You don’t have to get up there and read for twenty minutes. Instead, tell the story-behind-the-book, or the story of your publication journey. If your book has a ready tie-in, do something related (like dress up to fit the historic period or serve cookies to reflect a recipe in your book or teach a craft the sleuth uses to solve the case). Hold a writers workshop; be a guest author at the store’s book club. Pair with another author and interview each other. Bring in your dog or cat (because people love dogs and cats, of course). Your imagination is the only limit here—let it fly as free as it did when you wrote your book.
  • Do know that attendees love the Q&A portion of an event. Leave lots of time!
  • Do bring a gift for your host. Something sweet to eat, a little gift bag filled with swag related to your book (lip balm, pens, pads, matches, pouches of hot cocoa, chocolate, mini anything, tissues—again, let your imagination roam).
  • Do consider holding a raffle for attendees. Their receipt for your book is their ticket. Prizes could be a gift card to the bookstore, something tied to your book (Jodi Picoult gave away stuffed wolves when “Lone Wolf” came out), a book club basket of books by your author friends, or a writer’s wish list consisting of coaching or critique.
  • Do serve light refreshments if possible. Nothing makes it a party like wine or cheese, baked goods and one of those boxes of coffee, or even just popcorn.
  • Do understand this paradox. Book events are not about selling books. May you become the biggest blockbuster author in the world and sell 1,000 books at every event. You will still only begin to cover the costs of the tour. Events don’t really make dollars and cents—but they do make dollars and sense. There will be moments when your one attendee turns out to be the book reviewer for the Miami Herald. And other kinds of moments, too. That attendee I had in Goshen, IN who didn’t buy a book? It was because he already had three copies. One to read, one to loan, and one to keep “pristine.”
  • Do be professional. Things can go wrong, and will. I went to Arkansas with my first novel, and the venue had forgotten about my event. Never mind—we went over my calendar, saw that I was actually passing through at such and such date and could come back. When I arrived that time, the place was closed. I promise things will go easier for you than that! But when they don’t, wear a smile, don’t be a diva (or divo?) and know that getting to hang out with a bookseller who then reads your book and becomes a fan for life can be every bit as joyous as walking into a packed room.

For the past three years, Jenny Milchman has gone on what Shelf Awareness called “the world’s longest book tour”. She is the author of three acclaimed and award-winning thrillers: Cover of Snow, Ruin Falls, and the just released As Night Falls. Visit her website at

(To be a part of the Killer Nashville Guest Blog, send a query to We’d love to hear from you. Thanks to Tom Wood, Maria Giordano, Will Chessor, Clay Janeway, and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s blog. And for more writer resources, visit us at,, and

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