Sunday, February 10, 2008

Author Events at Retirement Communities

Author events at retirement communities are good venues for writers whose books appeal to an older audience. For my geezer-lit mysteries, I’ve found this a good fit. I’ve spoken at nine retirement communities with four more scheduled and have learned what works well for the audience and speaker and what doesn’t. For authors planning to speak at retirement communities here are some useful hints:

  • You can find a list of retirement communities in the yellow pages or other listings. Make sure you contact independent living facilities and not care homes or nursing homes. Call and ask to speak with the activity director. This is the person who schedules events. Start with upscale communities as these are the folks that can afford to buy books. Since my book comes in hard cover, I want to do signings where people can afford twenty dollar books. Some retirement communities have book groups. Several times I’ve been directed to a resident who heads up a book group and schedules programs. Some of the people in these groups will buy books ahead of time.
  • Offer a program, not to exceed an hour. I never charge a fee but do insist on being able to do a signing. My program is a twenty minute presentation, approximately twenty minutes for questions and then twenty minutes to sign books. You will find that some retirement communities will not allow programs where products are sold to their residents. I’ve experienced this restriction at about twenty percent of the organizations I’ve approached. Say thank you and move on. It’s their loss of a good program for their residents.
  • If you have a large print edition, bring copies to sell. Since my large print edition came out, I’ve sold approximately half large print and half standard hard cover.
  • Understand the set up of the room you’ll be speaking in. I have spoken in auditoriums, meeting rooms, the lobby and the dining room. I always ask for a large table or two small tables for my books, bowl of candy, bookmarks, postcards and display poster. Sometimes a lectern is available and sometimes I roam. For large rooms see if they have a microphone. At the retirement community I visited two days ago, they had a sound system and provided earphones for residents with hearing difficulties. This was a big plus.
  • Once a program is scheduled, work with your contact on promotion. I’ve sold anywhere from two to forty-seven books at these events and the main difference is promotion ahead of time. Make sure notices are posted throughout the facility, published in the newsletter if they have one and even mailed to outside parties. The retirement community where I sold the most books had an outreach program to bring people from the community in to see the facility, and they promoted my event to contact outsiders as well as residents and staff. One enlightened marketing director even purchased twenty-five copies of my book as a promotional give away. I also promote the event and have brought people from the outside community in to attend.
  • Follow up a week ahead of time to reconfirm. I learned my lesson at one poorly attended event, when I found the event coordinator had neglected to put a notice up that day.
  • Always arrive a half hour ahead of time to set up, scope out the room and meet residents. I usually cruise the lobby or dining area handing out book marks and inviting people to the program. Several retirement communities I’ve spoken at had libraries. That’s a good place to find interested residents. Also see if the facility wants to buy one or more books for the library. Some facilities have public address systems, so ask to have an announcement made fifteen minutes before the program begins.
  • Have fun. You’ll meet great people who ask good questions and are engaged. As I like to say, all my programs have been successful—no one fell asleep and no one died.
  • Send a thank you to your contact person afterwards and keep the information on file for your next book.

People in retirement homes often come up and share interesting stories. I’ve incorporated several ideas in to the book I’m currently writing. Last Friday I was told about a woman who was a widow and took a chance on marrying a man in the retirement home who had never been married before. A month later she went to the retirement home director and said she wanted a divorce and to have a room to herself again. When asked why, she said, “All he wants to do is fondle, fondle, fondle.”


Deborah Elliott-Upton said...

Thanks, Mike for sharing the great info. I almost fell out my chair laughing when I read about the woman wanting a divorce.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


These are super suggestions. Thank you for sharing.

Here's a tip I learned when I was a motivational speaker: Ask the activities director for a letter of reference or to make a phone call to another director for you. You can even jokingly suggest that's part of your "payment." If they are happy with you, they're usually happy to do so, and one connection can lead to another great opportunity.

Our SinC Chapter bought a portable microphone/PA system for about $300. We're making it available to our members as a rental. Perhaps your local MWA or SinC Chapter might do the same. It's a great resource to have, and that way if you are ever in a situation where there's no PA, you're prepared.

Mike Befeler, author of geezer-lit and paranormal mysteries said...

Great suggestion on the letter of reference. I had forgotten that from my old days in sales, but there's nothing like a satisfied customer pointing you to another.

Patricia Harrington said...

Good tips here, Mike, and thank you. Also the one from Joanna Campbell about asking for a referral or letter of reference to another retirement home. I also had the experience of doing "pre-promoting" on one retirement community's closed-circuit, in-house TV station. Inquire as to whether the retirement center has anything like that.


Patricia Harrington, Author
Bridget O'Hern Amateur Sleuth Series

Unknown said...

Thanks Mike, this was an excellent article as were the suggestions from Joanna and Patricia - thank you all. I think I need to make a few stops at retirement homes - I even have an in -two sisters in law and never thought of doing a stop there.

June Shaw said...

Hey, Mike,

Thanks for the great suggestions!
Relative Danger comes out in large-print at the end of this month, so I'd planned to go to some retirement centers afterward. Your blog came at the perfect time for me.

June Shaw