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Hosting Successful Author Events: Interview with Robin Kall

Possibly, no one in the book world is more successful at hosting author events than my friend Robin Kall. Since launching her radio show, Reading with Robin, in 2002 Robin has asked authors the juiciest questions, introduced readers to our new favorite books and authors, and given readers insights into our favorite authors’ minds and hearts. Robin’s events consistently sell out.

Readers come from all over New England, New York and beyond to attend events in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Boston. In addition to her own events, Robin moderates author panel discussions at book festivals such as Boston Book Festival, Newburyport Book Festival, Morristown Festival of Books, Tucson Book Festival and others.

What Goes Into a Successful Author Event

author event cooking demo
Robin hosting Micah Sivah’s cooking
demo for “Nosh”

Having attended another fabulous event hosted by Robin, and preparing for my next book launch, I wondered what goes into a successful author event. Who better to ask than the Book Maven herself?

Lisa: Will you share a bit about your journey as a reader? What did books do for you as a child and young adult? Do you have any childhood favorites?

Childhood Reading

Robin: I was always a reader. My mother was a reader, so naturally, I thought that was what you do. We’d spend time at the library, and I was always fascinated by her collection of Bobsey Twins and Cherry Ames books. Like so many other women of a certain age, the first book I remember loving is Judy Blume’s Are You There G-d, It’s Me, Margaret. We talk a lot now about being “seen” in a book, and looking back, that’s what it was with me. I would bring it to school and read it sneakily under my desk. I chatted with my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Epstein, about it years later, and of course, she was aware of it. She was just glad I wasn’t chatting up my neighbors.

Lisa: Unfortunately, I was chatting up my neighbors—but I, too, did the sneaky desk read. For me, it was Nancy Drew, but yes, Are You There G-d was another book that drew me in. I love your insights into why. How did you start your radio show, all about books and reading?

Robin: It all started when I got extremely interested in a local talk radio show. I found myself calling in more and more and even preparing with top stories of the day, so I’d have fun facts to share, which I’d weave into witty banter. It was so much fun that I thought I’d like to pitch an idea for my show. While receptive to having me host a radio show, the powers that be weren’t convinced that people read and that they’d want to hear authors chatting. This was in 2002, and I assured management that it would be wildly entertaining and that I thought this reading thing was really going to catch on. And it did.

Jennifer Weiner with Robin Kall
Jennifer Weiner with Robin Kall

Lisa: It sure did! I’d even set my alarm to wake me for your 7:00 a.m. show on Saturdays—and I like to sleep in! When did you start organizing events, and what did you learn from the first few events you hosted?

Lessons Learned

Robin: The first event I hosted under the Reading With Robin brand was with Jennifer Weiner in 2004. Jen was one of my first radio guests, and I was and am a huge fan of hers. We’ve had many adventures together through the years. I have learned and continue to learn so much about how events are best hosted. On top of what I’ve learned, many things have changed, so it’s necessary to stay a page or two ahead. See what I did there?

I learned that I was dealing with not just readers but the public. So, all of the issues arise when two hundred or so people think they are the only ones who need immediate attention on something that was most likely addressed on the invitation, on the website, in reminder emails sent out before an event, etc. I learned that everything needs to be spelled out and that you put a smile on your face, take notes, and see what can be done differently at the next event. You follow up with people and make sure people leave with a positive feeling. I am proud of how I interact and follow up. The fact that so many people continue to bring new friends to events tells me I am doing something right.

Lisa: Your author events generally sell out. At a time where live venues are struggling to compete with couch potato activities, how do you attract such consistent fans to your events?

Getting the Public to Show Up to your Author Event

dinner after author event with RObin Kall
Dinner at Beech Restaurant after Julie Gerstenblatt’s author event.

Robin: I have built up quite a list of attendees through the years. I am always adding to my list. First and foremost, these events are FUN! The books are brand new, so the conversation never includes spoilers, and I never know where the conversation will go. I am playful and will take a chance to say something that may or may not hit, but the laughter in the room is all I need to keep going. I have heard from many authors through the years that my events are so much fun, and they can feel how devoted the audience is, and I’d agree.

The authors I invite to the events are the best, so of course, that doesn’t hurt when attracting attendees. I’ve gotten to know so many of my favorite authors. I’ve met and continue meeting new authors, and I am excited to introduce a new author to readers. Another thing about my events that gets people off of the couch is people have learned that they can come alone and will leave with new friends. Readers are the best! I’ve connected with people who I think will enjoy each other and host these events as if they are in my home and we’re already good friends.

Lisa: That’s true. I have come alone several times and made new friends. Then, I saw those friends again at events, and we got to know each other. I’ve also run into an old friend and renewed that friendship. What are the ingredients for a successful author event?

Ingredients for a Successful Author Event

Robin: Attention to detail is critical, as well as venue location, parking, strong AC and of course sound. If a location has its own sound system, I’d do a sound check a few weeks before the event. If it’s not going to work for me, I have an excellent company that will be on the premises for the event. Communication with the event coordinator at the venue is an ongoing process. We are usually old friends when the event occurs. You need to know who will be on-site the day of/evening of the event, how many additional staff, etc. I don’t want any surprises. If something that has never happened or would have been unlikely to anticipate should occur, we learn something new.

Lisa: What strategies do you employ to promote an event? What tends to work best (and is it different for different types of events or different book genres/audiences)? If so, how?

Promoting Author Events

Robin: I have kept an extensive email list of all attendees over the years and updated it as best I can. This is one of my favorite parts about putting event tickets online. The diehard Reading With Robin fans gobble up tickets and send emails sharing their enthusiasm. I love that! A robust email list is crucial, and I am protective of my list.

I spend as much time on social media as the next person, but I also play a little game I like to call “Let’s pretend social media ends today.” All of that data, the photos, etc, would vanish. At least, that’s how I imagine it would work. I post my events on Facebook and Instagram and send private messages to people I am fairly certain will be interested in the author. I give a lot of thought to the themes in the books and reach out to aligned groups and organizations. People are receptive when you’ve done your homework. I know I am.

Robin Kall and Dr. Uché Blackstock, author of "Legacy: A Black Physician Reckons With Racism in Medicine."
Robin Kall with Dr. Uché Blackstock

We recently had a fabulous and meaningful event with Dr. Uché Blackstock, author of the memoir Legacy: A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine. Of course, we invited everyone, and I paid particular attention to policymakers, people in the medical community, and people who work on diversity and inclusion efforts. It was one of the most memorable events we’ve ever been involved in.

Lisa: There’s a theme here: hosting a successful event is a lot of work! It helps that you are so passionate and have the skill set for this!

Creating Buzz for your Author Event

You are wonderful at pacing event promotions and creating buzz. I see you posting or emailing ahead of time to save the date, saying you have something special coming up, and creating suspense or dropping hints before the announcement. Do you have any advice for timing save-the-dates, announcements, links to register, etc.?

Robin: Ha! I do love to tease an event! And people love to guess who might be coming. Elin Hilderbrand was particularly fun to tease as Swan Song is the last of her Nantucket summer novels. We’ve been hosting Elin and her books for many years, so having this previous hoorah here in Rhode Island was essential. There is currently a waitlist, and the pleading has commenced. Timing is tricky because too soon and too late don’t work well and is not an exact science. I err on the side of sooner than later, but it’s—if I had to name it—gut instinct. I pay attention to others posting events and have a general sense of some of the annual events and dates to avoid, but it’s not perfect.

Lisa: I think you’ve changed your ticket provider. Who do you use and why?

Selling Tickets Online

Robin: If you haven’t noticed by now, I am risk-averse and enjoy as much control as possible. When I began hosting events, everyone was using third-party ticket providers, so I did the same. My Squarespace website (thank you, Emily!) has a feature allowing us to sell tickets.

Lisa: Speaking of your daughter Emily, the whole family shows up to support your events—your husband, son, daughter, brother-in-law, sisters! At the Heather Webb event at Curiosity & Co, I met your daughter-in-law-to-be. The whole group are a huge support—so a big shout out to the fam!

Anna Quindlen, author of "After Annie" with Robin Kall
Author Anna Quindlen with Robin Kall

You host a variety of events—interviews with individual authors, group panels, such as the upcoming Summer with Robin, and book signings. Some come with shmoozing. The Mitch Albom event included dinner and a signing beforehand. For Micah Siva’s cookbook Nosh, you offered a demonstration and tasting in a private home. You and I are exploring a writing workshop. Do you think the variety of events is one of the reasons that they are so successful?

Robin: My interests are wide and varied, and when a book piques my interest, I immediately go into event mode. I enjoy being creative and adding the extra touches that make my events unique. I add a VIP schmoozing element if the event is hosted for a charity’s benefit. Summer With Robin raises funds for The Izzy Foundation, a 45-minute VIP schmooze will be with author Lisa Wingate, debut novelist Essie Chambers, and journalist and author, Julie Satow..

Lisa: What goes into choosing books and authors?

author event ann hood sally hepworth
Ann Hood and Sally Hepworth

Robin: I read books 9-12 months before their publication date, so I’m already considering anything I am choosing to read for an event. I like to bring in the crowd-pleasers while also, as I mentioned, leaving room for debut authors. Sometimes, the event will be in conversation with one author, sometimes a panel of three. This year, we have Ann Hood and Sally Hepworth together, which is new for a Reading With Robin event. Sally is from Australia, and while I’ve hosted her in Boston, she hasn’t been with me in RI for a while, so we made that happen. Ann’s book comes out the following Tuesday, so voila, we put it together.

All of the panels I’ve put together have worked well. Many of the authors became friends and went on to collaborate on other events. I love bringing people together. I also place great importance on bringing in authors with different backgrounds, points of view, and diversity in all its forms.

Lisa: I’m always struck by the quality of your questions. Whether I’ve read the book or I’m about to get my copy afterward, I’m drawn in. Your questions get at the heart of a writer’s motivations, and insights into writing (and reading) and inevitably get me excited to read the book. How do you come up with your questions for authors?

Creating Questions for Authors at Author Events

Robin: Thank you! I do my homework by reading the book, reading the articles about it, and checking social media to see what’s happening in the author’s world.

I have learned to be a better listener. After the first question in the interview, I go wherever the conversation takes us and love the follow-up questions. I over prepare.

The feedback you provided in your question is what I love to hear from people who have attended the events. Guests are even more excited to read the book if the author is interesting.

Lisa: Any advice for an author planning a launch event for their own book? Things to consider, problems to avoid?

How to Plan your Author Event

Robin Kall (photo credit: Little Lion Creative)
Robin Kall (photo credit: Little Lion Creative)

Robin: Have realistic expectations. That will vary for each author and I do believe in stretching but reality needs to play a role when thinking about events. I ask a lot of questions to help get an author to understand what their goals are and what may or may not be realistic.

I often advise authors to look at authors who they feel are good comps and that is a good place to start when thinking about a launch event and other book events.

What to Avoid

One problem to avoid is “free and open to the public events” but I realize for a lot of authors this isn’t realistic. Time is so valuable and it’s not something I thought about in the same way say twenty years ago but now I do. Another problem to avoid is when partnering with someone really check them out, ask questions, follow up, and never assume. I keep thinking of more—double and triple check that the venue/bookstore has your books in stock. Then ask again and maybe ask for a photo of said books (joking) and as a just-in-case if you are driving to these events have your trunk filled with your books. Always do this for an event where you are driving. Heck, I’d schlepp them in my suitcase as well.

An event should never run out of books. In the unlikely event, have personalized bookplates available and books can be sent afterwards. 

About Robin Kall

Robin Kall has always been an avid reader, from sneaking copies of Judy Blume from her childhood librarian to developing her own radio program, Reading With Robin, in 2002.

Over the past 20-plus years, Robin has built a devoted and passionate following both in her local Rhode Island and at The Lenox Hotel in Boston, online, and wherever there are readers. In addition to her talk show, Robin has hosted countless “can’t miss” author events, including her annual Evening With Authors and Summer with Robin. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband and their corgi, Benny. Instagram Facebook

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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