It’s awesome that there’s enough of a community to pull together themed fashion shows here in Minneapolis and St. Paul. So far we have Music, Vampire, Zombie, and now Steampunk fashion shows. Most of them are very well done and professional. Some are not.
One show in particular left me disappointed. Truth is, I’d hesitate to call it even semi-professional. And that’s a shame, because with just a tiny bit of consideration and a few keystrokes, it could have been on a par with professional events like Voltage: Fashion Amplified.
I see authors who make the same mistakes and come across as unprofessional with their book readings, signings and other public events. This article suggests simple ways to make any event look and feel more professional. It doesn’t pertain to authors only; any event can be made more professional by implementing these suggestions.
One way authors act unprofessional and amateurish is when they are overly-protective of their work. I once met a guy who said he was writing a book, but wouldn’t tell me what it was about. A person in my writer’s group marked on the rough draft he submitted for an editing critique that it was copyrighted. Seriously.
Events can exhibit the same unprofessional behavior on a larger scale. The steampunk fashion show I attended announced that absolutely no one was to take pictures, and anyone so much as exposing a camera would be roughed up. Meanwhile, there were hordes of “approved” people (Read: friends) running videocameras and snapping pix throughout the show.
Contrast that behavior with Voltage Fashion Amplified, a music/fashion show run by local fashion maven, Anna Lee. Cameras are encouraged. Anna knows that even crappy pix from your cellphone are free publicity. Every single person who takes pix of that event, posts the pix online, and reviews the event on their blogs are contributing to the promotion of the event. Why would you limit free publicity?
I suspect that people who are overprotective of their work are simply afraid that someone else will do it better. If that is your fear, then you shouldn’t release your work to the public. Ever. In any shape or form. Just keep in in your closet until you die, then someone else can get rich off it. (Or more likely, throw it away.)
Give First, Sell Second.
Having something on hand to sell is nice, but not necessary.
Having something on hand to give away is necessary.
Most people get this backwards, and treat their event like a Pampered Chef party. “Come to my book reading so you can buy my book!” does not entice anyone but your mother to show up. Tell people what’s in it for them, not what’s in it for you. Free is the keyword. If your event doesn’t cost anything, say so. Prizes and giveaways are a good incentive. You don’t have to give away gold bricks or vials of unicorn tears. Bookmarks, posters or a drawing for a free (signed) copy of your book will work and they don’t cost much.
If you’re charging admission, you better have something pretty stellar to show. People want a lot for their money.
Recently, Prince held a concert and a “free” copy of his latest CD was included in the ticket price. We know better. The price of admission was raised to offset the cost of the CD and his album sales skyrocketed. Someone put a stop to that behavior, and good thing, because it wasn’t fair to those who already owned the CD. But nothing says authors can’t do something similar, like having the book available right at the door and offer a discount if purchased at the same time as the event fee.
Get a Quality MC
The Master of Ceremonies is the personification of your event – arguably as important than the talent. A hack MC can make even a good event look like its run by hacks. There’s more to being a good MC than just being comfortable in front of an audience, and it’s more than just filling empty space with witty banter.
An example of a great event MC is local hero Bobby Marsden, who runs the Fearless Filmmakers events. Bobby knows how to keep things moving along. He can direct a group of people on stage as easily as he can direct the attention of the audience, all while maintaining a sense of humor. Bobby Marsden knows how to control the event. And when he doesn’t, he knows how to maintain appearance of control over the event. Things go wrong. The next act isn’t ready. The projector is broken. The microphone is cutting out. I’ve seen Bobby deal with all this in style, and most of the time, the audience doesn’t even realize something is wrong.
If the MC doesn’t have control, the audience will try to ‘help.’ NOTHING makes your show look like it was put on by a bunch of fanboyz than a bunch of fanboyz in the audience hijacking the show from an inept MC.
Be careful when your MC is also appearing in the show as an act. You might argue that the Oscars, Saturday Night Live and the Teen Choice Awards have announcers and presenters whom also take part in the show. The difference is that they are famous. If you can get Lady Gaga to MC your show, then by all means have her on as a musical guest too. Having your cousin Tim act as MC is fine, but when he shows up later as a musical guest, it looks cheap.
Don’t Hide Your Event
It should be obvious, but if you want people to find your event, posting fliers all over town is optional. Posting the event info online is not. And I don’t mean just the Date, Time and Place. People need to know if there is a cover charge, how long will the event last, and if there are age limitations. Most importantly, if the content of your event isn’t obvious from the title then you need to give a description of the event, ideally one that entices people to go.
It’s not good enough to list the event info on your blog. No one reads your blog. I know, because no one reads mine either. You need to put the info where people will go looking for it.
Start with the venue website.
Local media – Here in Minneapolis, the must-haves are vita.mn and city pages.com, but don’t overlook the MN Daily website, the Rake, Metromix.com and others.
Specialty websites for your type of event. For example Dark Twin Cities.com loves to list local events with some dark flair. Jambase and Eventful list music events.
If you didn’t think of social media like facebook, myspace and twitter, et al. then you should have someone else promote your events for you.
Fine, go ahead and put it on your blog too. It’ll make you feel better.
You’re probably laughing right now. “Zero, have you been smoking grickle-grass with the Lorax? Everybody knows you have to list your events online!”
Um, actually, they don’t. When searching online for the steampunk fashion show, all I could find was an abstract event name which had more to do with porn stars than steampunk fashion. I ended up getting a tiny bit of info from one of the fashion designers for the show, and I totally took a chance even going. Most people would have given up. Actually, most people would never have found out in the first place. Perhaps the people holding the event didn’t want others to attend? Was it pseudo-members-only? That’s the feeling I got, which brings me to my next point.
Don’t Exclude your Audience
Add up the above suggestions and you’ll arrive at a larger truth about events. Be inclusive. Not exclusive. Cliques are for kids. No one’s going to have good things to say about your event if they feel snubbed. In fact, they’ll probably write a blog post just like this one.
If you’re a first-time visitor to Goth Prom, Renn Fest, Voltage: Fashion Amplified, the Zombie Pub Crawl, and other artistic events in the Minneapolis area, you’ll be welcomed, hit on, and have fake blood puked on you like everyone else. That’s the kind of experience that makes you want to not only come back again next year, but invite more people.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but have a schedule. Stick to it as close as you can, but be prepared to be flexible when things go wrong.
OK, maybe you aren’t a big deal. Maybe the only crowd you can draw is your mother, and that’s because you live with her and she’s driving you to the event. If so, you might consider adding to the talent pool. A little cross-promotion can go a long way. Get your author friends involved and make a bigger event out of it. Get local vendors involved. If you can make the event big enough, you might get some sponsors interested.
Is there anything wrong with a writer booking a venue and ignoring these thoughtful tips? Of course not. As long as they’re happy with just their friends showing up. In which case, they’d be money ahead to hold the event in their parents garage, then they can have full control of the event and keep all the money for themselves instead of splitting it with the venue.
But if you want to run a pro event (especially a series of events that will grow over time) you have to include your audience. Make sure they know how fun and value-added your event is. Have a schedule and make sure your MC can manage the crowd in case things go wrong. Make your event findable online. These things separate the pros from a bunch of kids screwing around.