Anyone offering making suggestions to authors about how to sell their books includes the advice to exhibit at trade shows and book festivals. That can be a great idea. Or not.
Nancy and I have attended two, the Sonoma County Book Festival and the West Hollywood Book Fair, in the past three weeks and we’re gearing up for Wordstock in Portland, Oregon this weekend and the Miami Book Fair International in November. We really enjoy the events and meet a lot of wonderful people, many of whom eventually become Stories To Tell clients. At the same time we have the opportunity to observe a wide variety of authors who are on hand to sell their books. The results appear to be all across the spectrum.
Our advice to authors is simple: If you are going to market your book at events, do it right. Here’s how:
Pick the Right Event Big book festivals like the L.A. Times Book Festival, the Tucson Book Festival, Book Expo in New York, The Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago, Wordstock and the Miami Book Festival are huge and are likely to include some of your potential readers. But they are somewhat expensive to attend and it’s easy for a single book vendor to get lost in the crowd. I wouldn’t advise starting on one of these large stages. Get some experience with smaller, more targeted events. If you feel comfortable and you are getting results try a larger event.
In the meantime try some local or more niche events. A google search of book & author events in your area will give you some ideas. Search also for events likely to be attended by readers interested in your particular niche. We work with a lot of family history and memoir writers so we attend a number of genealogy and family history events. We’ll be at The Genealogy Event in New York in later this month. One of our clients wrote a memoir about her career buying, restoring and selling Mazda Miatas. She has done very well appearing a events sponsored by Miata clubs. If you are writing genre fiction look at events sponsored by local chapters of organizations like the Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America or Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association.
Be Your Own Advance Man (or Woman) Publicize your upcoming appearance. If you blog (and you should) include your appearance in posts. Create an event on your Facebook page. Tweet about it. Make sure to check hashtags for the event and use them to make sure your Tweets get to people likely to attend. Use hashtags for groups which might be interested in your book’s topic or genre and use those hashtags in your Tweets. Send out press releases announcing your appearance. PR Log is an excellent free and easy to use online service for issuing press releases. Do as much as you can to spread the word so that people come to the event looking for you.
Make Yourself Stand Out From the Crowd Are there opportunities for you as an author to be more than just an exhibitor at the event? Find out from the event organizer if you can be a speaker, read from your book, participate in an author panel, or a book signing. All of these will put you and your book in a spotlight.
Make your table eye catching. Look professional. A table with a stack of books is not as likely to cause a browser at the show to stop, talk and buy as a table that looks professional. There is plenty of good advice on what to do available on the web. Make Your Booth Stand Out at a Trade Show on the Entreprenette Gazette will give you some ideas to start with.
Be aggressive. Talk to people. Exhibitors sitting in a chair at a table waiting for people to stop and talk to them are usually disappointed. Get out in front of your table. Greet people as they approach. Ask a question to start a conversation. The objective is to get a person to stop and see your book. I could never do this, but, a friend of ours, Ron Arons of Criminal Research Press, often wears a black and white convict uniform at events. Plenty of people stop to talk to Ron.
Be prepared to talk up the selling points of your book. There’s a big difference in results between authors who take an active approach at an event and those who sit passively by waiting for someone to buy their book.
Think About Post Event Follow Up Not everyone you talk to will buy your book. (Hard to believe I know.) But they may buy later. Collect contact information by getting people to sign up for a newsletter or mailing list promising to keep them updated about future books you’re working on. Invite them to like you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter. If you can maintain contact with folks they may want to read your book at some point in the future or they may tell a friend about you. Building a list to cultivate through social media can be as important as the number of books you sell at the event.