Oline H. Cogdill

(Mystery Scene continues its three-part series on virtual book tours. Today, we offer a list of tips for a successful tour; next Sunday, we offer a look at Noir at the Bar. Our main story, an overview of virtual tours, ran July 19.)

Whether it’s your first time or you’re an old pro at virtual book tours, here tips from the pros to make your event better.

A strong wireless network connection was mentioned several times. Michael Connelly remembered that “During one event my screen kept freezing so I got up in the middle of it and carried my laptop through my house and set up right next to my router so I would have an improved connection. It worked.” Naomi Hirahara added that she had spotty connections so she contacted her WiFi carrier and was able to get an updated modem for free.

Get a laptop with a great camera. Author Rachel Howzell Hall offered this personal experience: “I didn’t know how bad my computer camera was on my little MacBook Air until my husband saw me on-screen. Then, he shared his fancier Mac with me, and I looked grainy and dull. Part of that, of course, is due to the pandemic and not going to get my hair done and eyebrows waved—ha—but that bad picture was primarily due to a [poor] camera. Knowing this, I now only do events using my husband’s computer. My family also stays off the internet while I’m doing an event—we don’t want to overtax the network, and for this moment, my event is more important than binging old episodes of One Tree Hill.

Make sure your camera is set up correctly so that your entire face is pictured on screen. You don’t want the top of your head to be cut off.

Make sure the camera is at your eye level rather than you looking down on your laptop or at the ceiling. You don’t want people looking at your neck or double chin.

Remember to look into your camera, especially when speaking to others in the conference. “It’s unnatural, but it makes more sense for the participants for you to be looking at them,” said Naomi Hirahara, who latest book is Iced in Paradise (Prospect Park Books).

Take a look at your background during your practice sessions to make sure you have the look you want. “It need not be fancy or look like you’re a ten on Rate My Room, but make sure you like it and that it will make you feel confident for your events,” noted Sarah Melnyk, assistant director of Publicity at St. Martin's Press.

Pay attention to who’s in the background. You don’t want your spouse walking behind you in p.j. or underwear. Author Michael Nava says he didn’t realize his cat was prowling behind him. (Though I suspect his readers got a kick out of it and there were a lot of oohs and ahhs.)

Stay still. Once you find the best place don’t keep moving around with your phone or laptop. It makes your audience dizzy.

Keep movement to a minimum as sometimes that can create some audio issues. Try not to talk with your hands as that can look jumpy.

Don’t try to do personal “grooming” during the virtual event. We’ve all seen the video of the business person who used the toilet during a business Zoom, allowing everyone to witness their “business.” Don’t be that person.

Practice, practice, practice before your first event, to be comfortable with the medium and your presentation.

Be well groomed, the camera is ruthless and this video may be up for years. It won't hurt you to put on a nice shirt.

Wear colors that flatter you, that pop! Hall adds: “Since I’m watching myself on camera, I want to infuse as much energy into my appearance as possible. So I’ve made it a point to wear reds and yellows on-screen. I’ve also made sure to have lots of natural light in the room—again, to chase out any shadows that make me look as tired as I sometimes feel. Ha. Since I’m not at this event in person, I want to infuse as much energy and enthusiasm as I can so that viewers can also be excited.
Deploy social media to drive audience.

The host with the most. Jordan McKenna of Murder by the Book in Houston said “We've found that our ‘attendance’ is vastly improved when the author accepts our co-host offer on Facebook. Every one of our events can be found both on our website and Facebook event listings, and when I create them, I send a request to the author to be a co-host. If they simply approve that request, it will automatically show up as an event for them, and be available on their page for fans to see. It just widens the pool of people who see the event, and in turn can result in more sales. Same goes for Instagram. Basically, as an author, helping promote the virtual events will help your sales.”

Keep your reading short, make sure you are familiar with the material and do your best to keep it engaging. Author E.A. Aymar says “I say this a lot, but there’s simply nothing more boring than a live reading. Most writers aren’t good readers—we tend to be introverted nerds, and the performance aspect of a reading is lost on us. Practice your reading, and make sure you understand that this is a separate art than writing. And if that means taking it into a creative direction, all the better. One of the Noir at the Bar writers hates reading out loud, so she had her daughter (an actress) do the reading for her. It was wonderful to see their relationship, and the mother’s pride. Don’t ever lack for creativity.”

Listen to your publisher if virtual events are appropriate and if so, the number and type of events you should do, said Loren Jaggers, assistant director of publicity for Berkley Books. “The publishing teams had a steep learning curve on organizing virtual events when the pandemic hit, and have ultimately arrived at a smart, data-driven process that produces well-attended events,” Jagger added.

Partner with other writers—that means their fans are getting to meet you, too. Reach out to writer’s organizations and bookstores—content has always been king, but especially now that people are home more. “Be funny… or if you can’t be funny, offer some insight that only you can provide.  Try to stand out from the pack by doing something different and unique,” suggested Danielle Bartlett, publicity director at William Morrow.

Keep it simple. Jordan McKenna of Murder by the Book offers this experience. “We've found that on Zoom (or a similar teleconferencing platform) it gets very crowded and awkward when there are more than three people ‘in conversation’, that includes the moderator.”

Be prompt, be on time. Whether you are an author or a reader, try to be on time. With live events, readers can wonder in when they can. But since many virtual events ask you to sign up in advance, the host may hold the event until everyone who has signed up is on.

For readers, try to buy something from the supporting store. It is not easy bookstore owners and managers to set these up and often takes more time. Maybe you can’t afford the hardcover, but can buy the paperback, a puzzle, a bag, even a mug. Here’s what one bookstore owner said: “Setting up these author events, most with pairings, finding moderators (or reading and coming up with personalized questions ourselves), arranging and tracking bookplates, and sending follow-ups to publicists as we all reinvent the wheel has been hugely more work that what we do for normal author tours. We are grateful to everyone for their time and energy. We estimated that our old-school in-person events took maybe three emails back and forth to confirm. Each of these is taking many, many more.”

Most importantly, have fun.