Maine summer author tour tips for readers, writers and libraries

As April nears its end and we (fingers crossed!) have the worst of the winter weather behind us, the Maine author talk and book-selling tour is heating up along with the temperatures. That means there’s an author talk coming to a library near you very soon. Or an author table at your local craft fair or arts festival, or some other event involving a local author or authors.

Libraries are an authors best friend.

I’m in the rare position of being a published Maine crime writer, as well as chair of my town’s library board of trustees. As our library works on lining up authors for our golden “summer visitor” season, I am also working on lining up events for myself. From both perspectives, it occurs to me that everyone can use tips on how to make author events productive and enjoyable.

Authors do appearances and events to engage with readers get their name and their books into the public conversation and possibly make some spare change. I sometimes come across the misperception that authors make good money doing events, but I know few who do. After the cost of gas, producing marketing materials, and in many cases taking time away from earning money on their day job, there’s little profit. Sometimes the author ends up taking a loss.

I’m not complaining or looking for sympathy. I’m clarifying, with the belief that the key to success for all involved is for readers, event hosts and even writers, is to look at these events from that persepctive.

That said, I promised tips, not a lecture. So here they are (with some lecture thrown in):

I wait for an author talk attendee to make a decision on buying a book at Rodgers Memorial Library in Hudson, N.H, as fellow author Coralie Jensen listens to an attendee. The library very nicely set us up at a table after our talk. And there was cake.


If an author is giving a talk at your local library, bookstore, or other venue, consider attending, even if the genre isn’t your cup of tea. Your local library is the workhorse of community engagement, and there’s no better way to support it than to show up.

Even if the talk is not at a library, these talks are almost always free and they’re a good way to support your community nonprofits or businesses, and engage socially, even if you don’t buy a book (and you don’t have to, more on that later). Bring your friends or family members. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy it. Some tips:

  • If the book looks interesting, read it beforehand. This not only will enhance your appreciation of the talk, but also helps when Q&A time rolls around. It can be awkward when there’s no Q. Authors love questions or comments from people who read the book. The author won’t be mad because you read the book beforehand instead of buying one at the event. I promise.
  • Even if you haven’t read the book, come with questions. A favorite is “Where do you get your ideas?” But things like “Why did you start writing?” “Why do you write mysteries (or whatever) instead of some other genre?” “What did you wish you knew about writing before you started?” are all good icebreakers. Don’t ask a question that can be answered with “yes” or “no,” instead ask one that will elicit a story, advice or insight.
  • Don’t be shy, please ask questions! But, unless the author invites questions during the talk, make sure to wait for the Q&A to ask them.
  • Me (at left, in black) and a local book group who asked me to talk at their pre-Christmas meeting. It was a great event!

    While your own writing journey or your interset in writers other than the event guest is very, very interesting, the rest of the audience wants to hear from the featured author. Be sure your question is not a speech about your writing or personal preferences or anything else like that in the guise of a question.

  • You don’t have to buy a book, and the author doesn’t expect everyone who attends to buy one. Don’t let the fact you don’t want to buy a book keep you from attending. Authors are even happy if you read the library’s copy, or borrow a copy from a friend. They are happy anytime someone reads their books, no matter how they get it.
  • If you plan to buy a book, bring cash, especially lower denominations (too many $20 bills and the author runs out of change). While many authors are digital-savvy and use Square and Venmo, you can’t count on it, and even if they do, you can’t always count on those functions working.
  • If the author is selling their books themselves (as opposed to having someone else taking money and making change), please, after the talk, allow the author to get to the book table. Don’t corner the author or launch into a long dialogue, even if it’s to say nice things. I have not mastered the art of cutting someone off diplomatically. I imagine many authors have the same issue. Keep that in mind and be aware of what’s going on around you. If the author is nodding politely, but looking anxiously over your shoulder at the book table, take a hint. If there is someone standing next to you holding a book and money, step aside. This also applies to author tables book or craft fairs, or any other author selling event.
  • If you see an author selling books at your local craft fair, art walk or farmers’ market, you don’t have to be a buyer to talk to the writer. Most authors love talking about their books and anything else, and they don’t expect every discussion to result in a sale. Be sure to take a free bookmark or other free marketing material to show you appreciate the author and are interested in their work.
  • If there is free candy or other freebies at the author’s table, take one, not a handful. Especially if you are not buying anything.
  • Any author who’s been behind a table at a book or craft fair more than once has heard it all, so you won’t hurt their feelings by saying. “I don’t read books,” “I think writing is a waste of time,” “I only read Stephen King,” or any other “joke.” But the author also won’t be impressed or think you’re funny. Just an FYI.

My first ever author talk, at my local library in Belgrade in 2015. May parents in the front row, of course, Mom right next to me, at left, and dad at far right.


Setting up and hosting an author talk is a lot of work. It can be disheartening if after all that, no one shows up. Getting the word out and making author talks fun make all the difference. Most authors will stand up in front of a room of two people and 28 empty chairs and do the same talk they would if there were 30 people there, but but boy is it tough.

  • It’s all about marketing. It’s up to the library, or host, to make sure patrons and the general public know about an event. (The author is responsible too, more on that later). Post it on your library (or organization) Facebook page, but don’t assume everyone is looking at Facebook all the time. Printing out flyers and putting them in local stores and other places where the public will see them, old school, actually gets the word out better. Make sure you send a news release or fill out the events calendar form for your local newspaper (if you still have one) in plenty of time for it to get online or make print. Usually, you need to do it at leat two weeks in advance. Also, be sure all your friends, board members and everyone else, shares the Facebook event post.
  • Marshal the troops. Don’t be shy about using the old-school organizing trick of pressing membership, friends, volunteers and family to show up and to bring friends. Stress to them it’s important for your organization that there is an audience. If members don’t care, why should the public? And if you’re a member, yes, you’re busy, but work that 90 minutes or hour into your schedule. This shows the community, as well as authors, that the library or organization cares and takes its community commitment seriously.
  • Make it fun. Have food, even if it’s just cookies from the grocery store and lemonade. And to ensure the food doesn’t sit there untouched, build in a 15-30 minute “meet and greet” before the talk (not after, when everyone will be heading home). Don’t advertise that the talk starts at 6:30, but there’s a meet and greet at 6. Instead, build the social time into the actual event. The event begins at 6, with a meet and greet and refreshments, followed by the talk.

    Maine Crime Writer Dick Cass (right) warms up the crowd before an MCW making a mystery panel in 2019 at Rangeley Public Library, with himself, me and Kate Flora, as Dick’s wife, Ann, hands out materials to the audience. The more authors, the merrier!

  • Think outside the box. Most libraries or organizations hosting events have an events budget. Use it to incentivize attendance. Buy a couple of the author’s books and raffle them off at the event. Have a trivia quiz about the author’s books, with prizes for winners. There are a lot of things that can be added to an event that signal to the community it’s going to be a lot of fun. Be sure you mention them in your marketing, too!
  • Communicate with the author. Most authors don’t charge a fee, but they do welcome an honorarium. If your library does, make that clear when you invite the author, and specify the amount. I get it, people are uncomfortable talking about money, but the author needs, and deserves, to know. If you don’t offer an honorarium, make that clear as well (and talk to your trustees about setting up a fund for one). While authors don’t do events for the money, they’re more likely to agree to come to your library if it’s not going to cost them money. They shouldn’t have to wonder, but should know. Whatever you do, don’t do what one library that invited me did, and charge a percentage of the author’s book sales. Usually, the author’s take is already small and they’re making very little on that night’s sales. Don’t nickel and dime authors, or you’ll find they’ll go somewhere else. I told that library no thanks.
  • Commuicate II. Find out in advance if the author needs A/V equipment, and nail down the specfics. Find out if they need a table for their books (yes, they will). Let them know what time to get there and how long you think the event will last. Discuss the format, and let them know if you have something in mind, or find out if they do.
  • Be sure to provide water for the author.
  • Be the author’s guardian. Make sure, for instance, that they can get to their book-selling table after the event. Run interference if someone is monopolizing them. Offer help carrying items to and from their car.
  • Consider having more than one author at a time, and check out writing groups, like Maine Crime Writers and Sisters in Crime, to see what programs they offer.
  • Be sure to take photos, or have someone take them, and post them on your library or organization’s social media to show everyone how much fun it was. The more you make sure the community knows that events are a thing, and that people are going to them, the more they’ll be a thing, and the more people will go.

It’s not just about books — merch and promotion will draw people to the table.


No one will, or should, care as much about your success and your books as you do. That means that it’s up to you to put 100% effort into any event you do. If you don’t, why should anyone else?

It’s also a mistake to quantify any event, whether it’s a talk or table-selling, by how much money you make. The engagement with readers and the community, having your name on marketing materials, and being out there, has benefits you can’t measure.

  • It’s all about marketing. You don’t have to be a whiz at every social media form, but be sure that the ones you use advertise your events. Make sure all publicity has at least three of the five Ws: What, Where and When. (The others are Who and Why, and if they’re relevant, get them in, too). Market early and often. Yes, the library, organization or craft fair should market too, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.
  • Be a good guest. Libraries have limited budgets, small staffs and are juggling a lot. Take care of your needs and responsibilies as much as possible, rather than expecting to be catered to. If you’re selling at table event, arrive and set up in the time frame they ask you to. Follow the rules for how much space you can take up and when you can leave. Whether it’s a talk or a table event, you’ll likely have to lug your stuff around yourself, so make provisions for that, even if it means buying a shopping dolly or making your entourage tag along.
  • Communicate clearly with your host. Make sure you know what time you’re expected, and get there early so you can set up and make sure everything’s in order. If you need equipment, a table or anything else, let them know beforehand. Double-check a day or two before the event on time, expectations, what you’re bringing and what they’re providing. If you’re doing a table-selling event, find out if it’s up to you to bring your own table, pop-tent, etc. If you do a lot of these types of events, those items are fairly cheap, get your own so you’ll be prepared. Having a couple decent tablecloths to use solely at events is a must, too.

    My newest sign, to go on the table with books and let people know who I am. It doesn’t have to be fancy. This is an 11×17 foam board from Vistaprint, for $17. With new logo designed by my sister!

  • Have merch. Invest in bookmarks (there are many design and order websites, like Vistaprint and Staples, and they’re relatively inexpensive). Be sure that your web address is on them, as well as something eye-catching. Try to make them usable long into the future by not putting time-specific information on them. Give them away for free at all events and stick them in a book whenever someone buys one. Other low-cost items, like magnets, postcards, buttons and stickers also keep your information with someone long after the event. Also make a sign (again, cheap on Vistaprint or Stables), that introduces you and your books, and a second cheaper and smaller sign that says how much your books are and what type of payment you take. You can put it all on one sign, but you may have to update as prices and payment methods change.
  • Any time your books are available for in-person sale, have copies of every title clearly labled “Display Copy,” prominently displayed, for people to handle and paw through. Othewise, you’ll end up with a bunch of unsellable used-looking and soiled books.
  • Visuals help at talks. A talk is much more entertaining if you have visuals. I take a lot of photos around Maine, so use them in a slide show to enhance my talk. I also make sure my talk works without the slides in case there are technical issues. You don’t have to do what I do, but consider ways to make your talk interesting and unique.
  • My parents top by the table at Books in Boothbay in 2016. They show up even when I bet them not to.

    Technical issues. I’m fairly savvy with computers, video equipment and more, but have found people speak different languages when it comes to technology. If you have a slide show or presentation, make sure you are very specific about what equipment you have and what you need to make it work. I’m talking cords, cables screens, monitors, the space to allow projected images, etc. I’ve spoken at events where my cords and their ports didn’t match up, even though we confirmed that they would. If they don’t have a monitor, but an old-school screen, and there’s a way for you to project, make sure it’s worthwhile as far as the light in the room, the setup of chairs and other logistics go. Most libraries have decent A/V equipment, but some don’t. Be sure you arrive early enough to make sure everything works, so you’re not trying to figure it out in front of 30 people. The nature of the beast is that the event where you’ll have technical issues is the one with your biggest audience of the summer. It never happens at the events where the only attendees are you, the librarian, your mother and someone who wandered in to return a book. Do a dry run at home. Do several dry runs. My rule is that if I can’t solve the technical issues after 10 minutes of screwing around with the equipment (before show time, not when, or after, it’s supposed to be starting), I scrap the slide show and speak without visuals.

  • Marshal the troops. If you have friends and family who are willing, get them to attend. This will ensure there’s at least a minimal audience.
  • A nice slide show always enhances an author talk. I sometimes show this slide when I talk about how I was a journalist before I was a mystery writer, showing my grandfather and dad, also newspaper editors. just be prepared to call an audible if there are technical issues.

    Make your talk interesting. Plan what you’re going to say beforehand, rather than deciding you’ll wing it. Give your talk a framework or narrative arc. You’re an author, you’ve got this! I usually do a short intro of who I am and how I got into writing, then structure my talk as “The top questions authors are asked.” I tweak it and adjust for each talk, depending on the audience.

  • If you MUST read… I don’t read at my author talks unless the library asks me to. It’s just a personal preference. If you do, keep in mind that people listening to out-of-context reading, even if it’s your awesome opening scene, will lose interest if it’s too long. One rule that occurred to me as I stood holding an empty wine glass wishing I could sneak over to refill it as an author launched into chapter 2 after slogging through chapter 1, is that you should never read longer than it takes someone at an event to finish a glass of wine.
  • Collaborate. Look for ways to do events with other authors. It helps ease the stress and adds intrest to the event for the audience, and also give you fresh ideas, and is much more fun that going it alone.
  • Think twice before saying no. Some of the best events I’ve done have been things like book groups or other non-traditional events that don’t offer an honoraium. My philosophy is that if people like my books and want to hear me talk about them, I’ll be there.
  • Roll with it. When I first started doing author talks, Gerry Boyle gave me some great advice. He said that when he does a talk, he goes without expectations and rolls with whatever is expected by the library. (Sorry, Gerry, if I’m getting this wrong but that’s how I remember it). My philopshy, after eight years of doing  author talks, is: Be as prepared as possible, but also be prepared to roll with what the library wants or whatever disaster occurs.

    I always try to be positive and pleasant at an event, no matter how much it goes against my normal personality.

  • At library talks, find someone to handle the payment part of your book sales if you’re not partnering with a professional bookseller (most smaller authors don’t). Many book sales and goodwill from readers are lost as the author tries unsuccessfully to disengage from a talkative attendee keeping the author from engaging with anyone else. Yes, the ideal solution is to learn how to politely get to the table and sell books, no matter who tries to stop you, but that’s easier said than done.
  • Be sure you have a variety of cash (ones, fives, 10s), so you can make change. People only carry $20 bills, if they carry cash at all. Even though I know you hate technology, getting a Square reader and signing up for Venmo is easy and it will increase your sales. In fact, people with smart phones can use Square without a reader if the person buying has Apple wallet or another phone-based pay function. But also have cash on hand. The more able you are to sell books in a 21st century way, the more books you well sell.
  • Be your best promoter. All the other items above are part of this, but there’s more. Whether it’s at a library, or five hours at a table, engage with people about your books. You don’t have to do a hardcore sales pitch, but be prepared to talk about what you do and what your books are about in a conversational way. There should not be one quesiton at a Q&A you can’t answer. Feel positive and be positive. Even if you’re not a social person and it doesn’t come naturally. I know no one will believe this, but I have social anxiety and it’s an effort to engage pleasantly with strangers, particularly for hours on end. But at least it’s talking about my books and writing, not quantum physics or block chain. Two people show up? Give the same talk you would as though there are 30. No one bought a book all day at the arts festival? Well, at least people took bookmarks, talked to you about your books, and your name was on the program. Some guy comes up and smugly says, “I never read books! They’re a waste of time!” (You’d be surprised how many times this has happened to me at an event). Smile your sweetest smile and say, “I’m sorry to hear that. It’s your loss.”
  • Celebrate the event. Take a photo of the library, any signs with your name they put out, the audience, and get someone to take a photo of you, then put it all on your social media. Make sure to tage the library or organization that hosted you.
  • After it’s over, send a note to the library or organization that invited you to talk thanking them.
  • Remind yourself how lucky you are and how hard you have worked to be in a position where you are talking about and selling a book or books that you have written.

About Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on Twitter at @mmilliken47 and like her Facebook page at Maureen Milliken mysteries. Sign up for email updates at She hosts the podcast Crime&Stuff with her sister Rebecca Milliken.
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13 Responses to Maine summer author tour tips for readers, writers and libraries

  1. bangorgirl says:

    Maureen, what great information! You very kindly did a talk at one of my church’s (South Freeport Church) Author Luncheons about 5 years ago. I continue to be the chair of our luncheons and, as you may recsll, these are a small fundraiser for our church but more so a community outreach. Can you share with me what would be considered a reasonable honorarium for these events? Thank you.

    • Maureen Milliken says:

      That was a wonderful event, and the lunch and flowers were great! I consider it a non-traditional event, so an honorarium wouldn’t necessarily be expected, but standard is $25-$50. And authors do appreciate it!

      • bangorgirl says:

        Thank you Maureen. We have been blessed by you and all the authors who have so generously donated their time and talents over the past 10 years.

  2. dickcass says:

    Great stuff, Maureen. Thanks! We ought to print this up and hand it out everywhere we go . . And I remember Rangeley, which was a lot of fun . .

  3. These are great tips, Maureen. Thanks for posting such a comprehensive guide!

    • Maureen Milliken says:

      Once I started I got carried away. I didn’t realize there was going to be so much. 🙂

  4. Great tips, Maureen. I would add a couple of tips for libraries. In the promoting events column, some libraries have a little flyer for the event that gets handed out to patrons as they check out books. Also, it is so helpful for authors, and lets us converse with readers, if the library can have someone/someones to help with book sales.


  5. Valuable tips! Thanks!

  6. kaitcarson says:

    Great tips!

  7. jselbo says:

    Thanks! Keeping for reference in a folder where I can easily find it.

  8. Sandra Neily says:

    That was GREAT, Maureen!!!!! Thank YOU!

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