For Indie Authors, any opportunity to sell our books is cause for excitement. That is, after all, why we went through the grueling process to publish them. How else are they going to get to readers?
The thing is, though, events are tricky and they won’t always—or perhaps ever (Did I ever mention I’m a bit of a cynic?)—be lucrative.
So, why bother?
What events provide Indie Authors are exposure for your book and opportunities for you to get face to face with readers to gauge their reactions to and interest in the book as you learn how to better identify your ideal reader.
This past weekend, I attended my first big event where I had my own table and sold my own books. I admit to being a little down about the number of sales. Since then I’ve reflected on the weekend and on all the positive parts as well as on some of the lessons I learned.
Be Prepared Before
As I thought back over what I did and didn’t do prior to the event, these were the preparations I thought were most important to do beforehand.
Make sure you have a quality product to sell.
I’m convinced my incredible cover brought at least nine out of every ten people in. That is because I have one of the best cover designers out there. Rachael Ritchey knows what she’s doing, and she does it well. Despite the pithy saying everyone bounces around, every reader judges a book first by its cover. If yours isn’t professional, fewer people will take the time to stop.
The cover is your step one. After that, you have to make sure the back description is well-written and intriguing and you need to have your work priced properly.
Have your price clearly marked with multiple payment methods available.
Personally, I’m unlikely to give more than a quick glance to a table that does not have prices visible from a distance. Make sure potential customers know what they’re getting into. Be prepared to accept payment in both cash—which means you need change on hand—and credit. I got to use my PayPal Here for the first time. I was quite pleased with it. There is one feature I was unable to figure out, but it didn’t affect anything major. I have heard horror stories of people not being able to use their card readers at big events. You will want to do your research on the venue and on your reader. I had no trouble using mine through my mobile network.
Bring enough books to sell but don’t overdo it.
This is a tricky one. In all honesty, you may not sell more than a handful. I didn’t, but I had prepared for a miracle of readers from heaven to fall in my lap. As a result, I’m several hundred dollars in the hole with a whole bunch of books in need of a good home.
So, be wiser than I am!
Offer more than a price tag.
People want free stuff. And, unfortunately, most people who wander around at craft fairs or book festivals are enjoying being at a free event. They may have no money in their pocket or bank account and a stack of bills waiting at home. It might be that they really would love to read your book, but they do not have the funds that day.
If you have something useful or good to give them, a kind word and a smile, they will take that and remember you. When those bills have been handled and their finances even out, they may just still have that bookmark or whatever you gave them and they will find your book. If you take the time to include some information about how they can get your book at their public library then they can send you a silent thank you for the freebie by sharing your book with their community.
I had a fantastic last-minute idea for this event: goodie bags to give away to any writers participating in NaNoWriMo. As my husband and I were frantically trying to finish putting together my little tip booklets for them the night before—when all I really wanted was to get some sleep—I hoped I’d at least give out one of the twelve I made.
I gave away SEVEN!
Turns out it really was a great idea. Now seven active writers have my editing contact information. They also know that I genuinely care about them and their work and am cheering them on through this steep goal of theirs.
We had a bunch of candy on the table as well. That and my cute little cat bookmarks were a big hit, but here’s the thing: those were great freebies for people, but that was a whole lot of money spent for them to not remember who gave them their treat or goodie.
Whatever you give away needs to point them back to you. I’ll be taking my own advice on this next time.
Let people know you’re there.
I failed at this, friends. My week leading up to the festival was non-stop. I had packed every day with more than was humanly possible to complete in a 24-hour period. In my mind, I planned all sorts of posts on all my social media outlets. I also planned to do some LIVE videos during the day, tag some of the amazing authors whose panels I was sad to miss and walk around to some of the other tables to meet other Indies.
Those are all great things you should do. You should also write out those posts or plan videos ahead of time, when you’re not surrounded by people.
Like I said, I did not. In the interest of being entirely honest, though, I was also recovering from a lovely case of food poisoning that hit me the night before. So, there’s that. I wouldn’t advise getting food poisoning the night before a big event.
You probably won’t sell out of your books. You likely won’t sell more than a few. Of course, you could. And, like me, you’ll want to be prepared for that unicorn event where the stars align and a herd of your ideal readers stampede toward your table.
But, as you prepare, also prepare your emotions for watching the masses drift past.
I know! I know! We writers tend to yearn for the comfort of a warm and cozy hole in the ground; “not a nasty, dirty, wet hole …”
Sorry … got distracted.
The point is, we would rather be curled up in a favorite chair with a book or pen and paper accompanied by a cup of something warm and perhaps a feline or canine companion than have to face hordes of people passing by and touching our stuff and, essentially, judging our books by their covers.
But … we chose to be authors and, for an author’s work to fulfill its destiny, it needs readers. So, readers we must find! We can’t do that if we’ve pulled our ponchos over our heads and glued our eyes to a screen in order to avoid as much human contact as possible.
Now, I’m positive I didn’t do the best this past weekend, but this was my first experience in a specifically literary context. I hope I learned a few things, though, that will make me better at being approachable next time. If I know anything about the readers who attend these types of events, it’s that most of them are similar to us reclusive authors. So, there’s a fine balance between being welcoming and giving people a reason to stop and running them off with our in-your-face, too-eager friendliness.
I tried to read each person who stopped by. The instinct is to start blabbering away about our book the second someone shows an interest in a desperate attempt to keep them from fleeing before buying, but—as a reader who’s been on the other side of the table many times—I know that’s not always what a person wants. If a reader has stopped at your table, they are interested. Something you’ve put out has caught their eye. They want some time to determine if what caught their eye is worth dipping into their precious book budget for, and it may be too hard to do that if the person behind the table keeps talking to them about the weather or even about the book. Also, I could see in a few of them a look similar to a deer in headlights when I spoke too soon before they’d had a chance to sink in and evaluate the worth of my book.
Now, I might have lost a sale or two by not engaging more with some of the people who stopped and read the book’s description. So, what I will do better next time in my preparation is to think through a few quick lines to say to someone who has read through my book’s description and is turning to go. Perhaps, “If you have any questions about the book, I’m happy to answer them.” “The book is set primarily in the south, so you’ll read about plenty of good southern food.” “Do you enjoy southern fiction?”
Be Prepared After
Now, I’ve given myself this same advice for conferences in the past. I’m not sure why I didn’t think about it for this event as well. What I should have done was made sure I scheduled time to input email addresses gathered for my newsletter signup, to thank the event coordinator and to follow and interact with all the incredible fellow writers I met.
Another aspect I really should have blocked off time for was to write out what worked and what didn’t or what ideas came to me during the day—things I’d like to either do differently or implement next time.
I’ll admit, I was disappointed in last weekend’s sales. I had this grand image in my mind of breaking down empty book boxes to tuck under my arm as I made my way back to the van, whistling and skipping along the way. Instead, my sweet and patient husband lugged the same four boxes full, full, full and still halfway full back to our van that he had carted out early that morning.
Here’s the thing, though, Saturday was an opportunity that deserved further reflection. Four specific aspects of the day came to me as I thought back and I found myself suddenly cheered up.
Tis better to give …
I got to gift seven lovely writers a bag of encouragement for NaNoWriMo. Not much can lift you up when you’re down than the joy of giving.
Books bring us together.
For an entire day, I was surrounded by fantastic books by passionate authors and the readers who eagerly soaked it all in because we all enjoy a shared love of books.
I’m changing set minds, one at a time.
One gentleman moseyed by and stopped for a closer look. Now, I could tell he was—for the lack of a better way to say it—someone who was a book “professional.” He examined the cover before turning, not to the back like most people do, but to the spine. I watched his gaze drop to my Press logo. He turned to the back, looked inside to the copyright page and a few others. Finally, he looked up and asked, “Who is this publisher?” I could tell he was impressed and, so, with great glee, I simply said, “Me!” I watched a glimmer of shock pass across his eyes before he said, “This is well done.”
I am pleased that I had impressed and shocked a “professional” and hopefully left him considering Indie Authors in a different light. One at a time.
But, the best part of the day hadn’t happened yet. That came with a single sale that reminded me of my why.
Wiley met Ducky.
I noticed him before he noticed me. I also saw he was being drawn by my book’s cover. He came steadily closer, almost like a magnet was pulling him. He never took his eyes off that cover. When he picked it up, it was with such a gentleness. He gazed at it for a moment, then turned it and read the back. He turned it back and looked up at the kind gentleman with him.
“I want this.”
“You’ll have to use your money.”
He immediately pulled out some bills.
He didn’t want the book signed. He didn’t want to put it down.
What he didn’t know was I was fighting back tears.
What dear sweet Wiley didn’t know was that inside of that cover that drew him in is a story that contains a very special character named Ducky. He didn’t know that Ducky is just like him. Kind. Intuitive. Special. Precious. A guy who just happens to have Down Syndrome.
Because I was fighting back tears, I didn’t say all of that. I didn’t ask if he’d be willing to take a picture with me. I didn’t say more to the kind man with him than, “I think you will really love my character Ducky.” What I wanted to say was how much watching Wiley with my book made my day, my year, my life. I didn’t have the spoken words for that in the moment.
So, if by some Wiley/Ducky-like miracle, that sweet man or Wiley or someone who knows them happen to read this, I have the words now.
Thank you for buying my book, Wiley. I sure hope you still like it. I’d be happy to sign a bookmark for you to keep your place in the book. Would you take a picture with the book? I’d like to tape it to my computer—for Ducky and the other characters like him who will use my pen to write themselves into our world. See, Ducky didn’t come from me; Ducky came to me, speaking his story into my ear. I’m so happy you’re part of Ducky’s story now, too. Happy reading, Wiley.