I owned and operated a small independent bookstore for seven years. I welcomed local authors for signing/reading events, hosting close to a hundred. All were interesting, but some stood out as entertaining and informative events and others, despite good writers and solid work, were deadly dull.
My comments are beyond the “housekeeping” parts of the event. Sure, have a quiet, comfortable place with wine and snacks. Yes, advertise it well and call in favors from family and friends so you have a respectable number of people there, if you are local. Social media, word of mouth, paper posters, etc. are all a part of the mix. If the event is in a bookstore, listen to the owners about best day and time of day.
So now you are set up in front of a crowd, your book in your hand and placed around the store in 57 strategic locations for all to see, then what do you do? First, since you have gone to the trouble and expense of creating this book, spend the time and thought about how to “pitch” the book. The listeners and potential readers of your book should know what the book is about and why they should read it three minutes into your talk. Exactly how to pitch a book is not a secret. Google it.
Second, don’t be shy about who you are. The identity and experiences of the writer are a strong influence on readers’ decisions to choose your book. This is true even for fiction. All fiction is autobiographical, even if well hidden, even unconscious. In a recent book club we spent time speculating about life events that might have colored John Steinbeck’s creation of women characters in East of Eden.
Finally, the most frequent mistake writers make: if you read selections from your book, be very thoughtful about what you choose. I have seen too many authors read selections that lacked context and therefore confused or simply did not interest the listener. I saw many eyes glaze over. This is not easy. If you have a great book, with complex, fully fleshed out characters, with a rewarding developmental arc, how do you read for three minutes and really let the listener in on what a reader would experience.
There are some other options I have seen work. Consider not actually reading anything, just talk about key parts of the work. Have someone interview you with prepared questions. If the work is appropriate for it, recruit others and use multiple readers, a kind of “readers theater” experience. Go to great lengths to explain what you are reading and where and how it fits in the larger work.
Ultimately, things go best if you can find some way to use your creativity. If it’s a kids book, maybe some representative activities. If none of this works for you, and doing these events remains a chore, then find other ways to promote your work.