As a writer, I am always looking for places to promote my work to potential readers. As part of this, for the past few years I've been putting on readings and presentations at local libraries. But, unlike bookstore readings and signings, the library presentation is usually a very different animal, and in order to successfully arrange regular appearances, there are some strategies I've learned to incorporate.
Most importantly, your presentation must match well with the library's needs. Libraries are rarely looking for someone to just come in, read a book passage or short story, and then sign and sell copies of their latest novel. Instead, they are looking for presentations that can be worked into their existing programs and topics of interest. For example, I'll regularly speak at several libraries during the Halloween season, but rarely do I read my own stories at those events. Instead, I'll put together a presentation that includes a reading of a classic Halloween tale, such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, or I'll tell stories about local scary myths and fables. In other words, I gear my talk to a topic that has local interest. After that, I might have a Q&A (this works well with children) where I ask participants to tell me their own stories of spooky things that have happened to them or people they know.
Another strategy I utilize is to talk about being active in promoting literacy among adult and YA readers. I discuss the importance of reading, and I use examples of current horror novels and their popularity to emphasize how horror can be a great tool for promoting reading. This is a great topic for when you speak to librarian groups or adult readers, people who are interested in getting children to read more.
In either case, my initial approach is similar. I will send an introductory email to the head librarian, stating my qualifications and outlining the different programs I have done in the past. I also mention that I am willing to work with the library on any type of specific need they might have – for instance, some libraries host creative writing classes for children, and might be interested in having a writer come in to either guest teach a class or judge a writing contest. Then, when I do my presentation, I find ways to mention my own books, and I always have samples of my books. If it is a library I've never appeared at before, I'll gift them a couple of my books for their shelves.
One thing to be aware of before speaking at a library is that this type of presentation is different than a reading. Many people – myself included – have a fear of speaking in public. That fear might not apply during a reading, because you are not 'speaking,' and therefore nerves don't become an issue. But just standing there talking to a group of children or adults (or both) can bring on a terrible anxiety, especially if the audience isn't instantly receptive. Which can frequently be the case! If you want to build a portfolio of libraries for repeat appearances, it's vital to put on a presentation that is both interesting and well-delivered. So if you do suffer from public speaking fears, I recommend practicing A LOT before your appearance, and minimizing the amount of ad-libbing that you do. For me, my fears are the opposite – I hate to deliver readings, and I usually try to avoid doing them.
My final suggestion is just to make sure your presentation topic is appropriate for your audience. For instance, when I've had to do readings for YA audiences in the past, I bring several different ones with me, each appropriate for a different age group. This is because at libraries, you never know who is going to show, and reading a story with beheadings and disembowelments is not going to go over well with young children or blue-haired library patrons!
JG Faherty is the author of THE BURNING TIME, CEMETERY CLUB, CARNIVAL OF FEAR, THE COLD SPOT, HE WAITS, and the Bram Stoker Award®-nominated GHOSTS OF CORONADO BAY, along with more than 50 short stories. He writes adult and YA horror/sci-fi/fantasy. His works range from quiet, dark suspense to over-the-top comic gruesomeness. He enjoys urban exploring, photography, watching both good and bad horror and sci-fi movies, hiking, playing the guitar, good wine, and Guinness – not necessarily in that order. As a child, his favorite playground was a 17th-century cemetery, which many people feel explains a lot. You can follow him at Twitter, Facebook, about me, and his website.