I have some experience in sales and did a lot of pitch-work for a company and ran a company’s booth at all of our conventions back when I used to work in real estate. I thought I’d share some things I’ve gleaned over time that I feel help me sell books at these kinds of things.
Walking around, I saw a number of other authors at a recent event–I always try to network when possible. One was pretty busy doing his setup and so didn’t have much to say (plus it was early and the coffee hadn’t kicked in, I assume.) Another mentioned that “it hasn’t been a very good weekend for him.” I interpreted that as book sales and personal contacts based on the languishing number of names on his mailing list signup sheet (my second page had half filled up by that day) –I can’t think of a good reason to spend your day at a vendor booth unless you want to sell as many books as possible or do some solid networking.
I realized that not everyone has much experience as a vendor and so I thought I would try to give some basic advice. Bear in mind, then, that I do make assumptions. Regardless, here are my tips to running an author’s booth at events.
- Recognize that people didn’t come to buy your book. You will have to sell them on it. Have ready a three sentence elevator pitch, a longer version for those you’ve hooked, and a positive comparison to a well-known best seller, but with a twist. “My book is similar to Harry Potter, except that the main character is a girl with a speech impediment so she has trouble casting spells.” (yes I just made that up–yes I just might write that story).
- Do not sit down. This is basic sales 101. Nobody buys something from someone in a chair. There’s a lot of psychology behind this. Feel free to disagree with me and sell fewer books, but if I’m talking to you at a convention about your book and you’re so unenthusiastic about it that you can’t stand (disabilities are an exception) then there’s less than a 1% chance I’m going to take it home with me. Along with this, put the book in their hand so they can feel a sense of ownership and possession on your book or item (it means they have to intentionally give it back and “say no” to buying it)–that’s harder to do from a seated position.
- Greet people and look them in the eye. Often this means people stop and accidentally get sucked into a conversation you can and should steer towards your book (look for openings to shift the conversation). It’s fine if they walk away–often just drawing a crowd attracts other more likely buyers. They see 1 or 2 others at your table and say “what’s this interesting thing? I think I’ll take a peek.” Feel free to jump to the person with genuine interest and/or steer the conversation to include them in the sales pitch while the original party walked away. You can’t sell to everyone, so try to determine which person is more likely to buy: it’s usually person #2 in my experience.
- Have a way to engage with people who walk away. A lot of people don’t buy anything until they’ve seen it all and many might become interested but still have no intention of buying. Even if you know this, those people can still have some value: try to get them interested in joining a mailing list–I often run a giveaway; each person who enters must give you enough info that you can add them to your mailing list after the event.
- Make sure your family and friends understand that if they drop in on you at your table and an interested person comes to the table you’re going to drop them like a hot brick. You are there for a purpose. It’s like having a job: no personal phone calls when you’re on the clock. Yes, you’re the boss, but small talk with family and friends are not the chief priorities when customers come. they won’t wait for you, make sure your friends and family know that… they’ve got to know they should take a step back but return to the conversation later.
- Network with others. Arrive early and budget a little time to meet your neighbors and other similar artists and authors also working the same event. They may or may not buy from you but that’s not the goal. Networking is immensely valuable. You might have to opportunity to guest-blog, trade reviews, or work on other projects in the future that blow open huge holes of opportunity in the future. Don’t pass up that chance.
- Don’t leave! It should go without saying, but the less you are your table, the more likely you are to sell. Over a recent weekend I finally took a five minute break to hit the restroom when someone I’d connected with the day previous came looking for me (luckily, I’d gotten her onto my mailing list so I connected after the event). Try to time your restroom trips and snack runs accordingly. If you can get something delivered or come prepared so you don’t have to leave then all the better.
- People don’t ever come back! except when they do… but it’s better to cut a deal and sell them something now than wait around expecting they will return and buy. From my sales training days in pitch-work I’d been told that something like 4% or less of those promising to return and buy a product actually do. Bird in the hand and all that… don’t hold your breath on people coming back. Before they ever leave, ask them to put their info on your mailing list.
- Market yourself: make sure you have an appealing setup. Money spent on professional banners, postcards, and marketing materials that will catch the eye are worth it. Nobody will buy from you if they never see you. You’re an introvert and don’t want to engage people? Tough, role-play as an extrovert. Either fake it or hire someone to do it for you. You’ve got to grab attention in the three second window you’ve been given. At the last con I attended my booth-mate had his amazon sales page up so he could show interested people his reviews. That worked for him. There is no sure-fire set of materials to have, so find what works–the only wrong choice is to forego them entirely.
- Connect with readers. Ask everyone to leave a review in the usual places (Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, etc.) Spend extra time with those you are sure will read and review and seem to really be engaging with you. Remember that those readers you connect with are more likely to read through your entire back-list, buy your new titles, and recommend you to friends. Readers are awesome. Readers for life are better!
Do you have a book and have found something that works for you at festivals and conventions? Comment with more advice! Like this list? Share it with your friends!
Christopher D Schmitz is an author of sci-fi, fantasy, horror (SF/F/H), nonfiction, and just about any other genre in between. In addition to his blog you can find his stories and novels at http://www.authorchristopherdschmitz.com.