Selling books at events is one of the most underutilized strategies used by authors.
We get it…
You don’t want to come off all salesly at an event with all of your peers.
But if it’s done in the right way, these events can be an extremely powerful method to sell more books and get your name out there.
That’s why we’ve teamed up with Leslie Gulvas, an established author with both traditional and self-published books, such as “Carnival Charlatan” and “Off the Reservation” to create this post on selling at author events.
Leslie’s had a ton of success selling her books at events and is sharing her knowledge with our audience.
So without further ado, let’s jump into our guide to selling books at events and writer conferences.
Table of Contents
The Research Phase
Before you attend any conferences, you’re going to want to do some research. Brainstorm what types of events will be the best fit for your genre.
Ask yourself what genre are my books?
Find your people. (If you are writing about Occult Devil worshiping zombies in search of brains you probably don’t want to set up at the church book fair.)
You can do this by researching online and asking other author buddies about conferences. December and January are good times to start planning out the events you’d want to go to for the year.
Some other important questions to ask:
“Do I have one book, a series, or a variety of genres? A memoir or other nonfiction sells better at different venues than fiction. Series will have a higher lifetime reader value.”
“How many books do I have to sell to pay for the table?” (Don’t forget to include the cost of the books in this estimation. If you have hotel or swag costs they need to be figured in too.)
Types of Events Authors Should Sell At
Book fairs occur at places like bookstores, churches, libraries, and schools. Even better, they are often free! Don’t pass them up if your type of book might fit in the venue.
Your local bookstore often does author readings. They are a great place to meet the people selling books who might promote your books in their store even when you are not there.
In Leslie’s experience, memoirs and Amish Romance have done especially well at church sales.
Leslie often goes to the main library in Findlay, Ohio which has an author fair every year where local authors set up and sell their books. You might encourage your local library to invite local authors in the same way.
Some unique venues like coffee shops, bookstores, or even breweries, often sponsor book events where authors can sell their wares.
For example, the Scareelastic Book Fair in Indiana is hosted by the Scarlet Lane Drewing Company which is devoted to horror authors.
Conventions are another great place for authors to sell their books in person. Conventions for genres like Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Mystery, and Business are all perfect places assuming they are designed for fans rather than authors.
You sell to readers, not other authors. You’ll have great conversations with your fellow writers but usually won’t sell a lot of books. These are good for nonfiction and if you have only one book or a series.
The fancons.com website is a resource to look for conventions that might have your readers. Police conventions and airshows would be great places to sell military fiction or mysteries. Penguicon held near Detroit is a great example of a convention where you can sell sci-fi and fantasy books.
Comic Cons can also work, and are great for Sci-Fi, fantasy, graphic novels, or books about gaming, cosplay, or art. Maybe not so much for memoirs or most nonfiction.
You can find comic cons in every state, like the Great Lakes Comic Convention in Warren, Michigan.
Around the holidays can be good venues because there are a lot of people looking to buy just about anything. Like the Makers Mart in Toledo, Ohio in May. County Fairs often have a vendor tent where you can rent a space. An example is the Pemberville free fair in Pemberville, Ohio.
Trade Fairs make a perfect place for authors to sell on-topic nonfiction. There are a lot of specialty fairs where you might find readers. If you have a historical set in American history you might try a log home or remodeling show.
If animals were a big part of your memoir you could try a reptile or pet expo. Your fantasy might sell well at a paranormal or psychic convention that they have in Mansfield, Ohio in May.
Flea Markets are not generally a good venue for new books as people are looking for bargains. If you have used books to sell you might sell a few new fiction or craft books but they won’t be your big sales.
Meigs County Trade Days in southern, Ohio is an example of a prosperous Flea Market that has a lot of people looking for bargains.
Presentation At Events
Now that we have an idea of what events will work for your books, let’s talk about how to present yourself at them.
The first tip Leslie has is to look tidy, business casual, or if it’s on brand, a costume. This will help make you more approachable.
Depending on the venue, your outfit might change.
At a trade fair wear office clothes as you want to at least pretend you have a clue. At comic con, a costume would make more sense.
Wear a name tag with your name and the word author or writer– get a nice professional looking with a clip-on or lanyard… not a paper patch.
Assuming you have a table, make your table stand out without being obnoxious, make it classy and attention-getting.
Here are a few other tips Leslie has to share:
- Have a solid color table cover so as to not detract from your book covers
- A poster or banner with your name and book covers, maybe even a QR to your website (this is a trick because you stand in front of it for any pictures and they get bumped to your website.) (You don’t have to make yourself broke on banners or posters- look for sales on the printer websites)
- Business cards and or bookmarks with links to your web pages, again use QR codes
- A stand to put the books upright so passers-by can see the covers and a pile of books
- A sign that you take credit cards. (get a PayPal or square – they are must-haves!)
- You could also add a nice crate or something to raise part of your display and get your book closer to eye level.
- Be sure you have a change and a nice pen for a potential book signing.
- Bring swag for conference attendees (for example of the books geniuslink brought)
- Be sure to account for the cost of the swag in your cost estimates for the venue.
For nonfiction, craft, or art books – have samples of what is made. Memoirs need nicely framed pictures – war stories can use models.
Last but not least, have a hook. This can be a bowl of candy, a prop related to the story, or something to draw the eye- like a vase with peacock feathers or flowers (if you have room). Leslie brings her well-behaved wolfhound when she can.
Getting People to your Table
Ok, so we know which event we’re going to, and how to set up our table.
Now we need to get people to approach us.
Leslie stresses that the most important thing is to get up and engage people. You need to be a situational extrovert for the duration of the book sale.
Whatever you do, DO NOT sit and look at your phone!
Find a way to put yourself out there – practice a few opening phrases. But don’t be robotic. Here are a few lines or moves Leslie likes to use:
- Just smile and say “Hey, how are you doing?”
- “What do you like to read?”
- “Hi, have you ever wondered” + something related to your story or skill
- Comment on someone’s cool shirt to start a conversation
- Getting babies to smile then talking to parents.
- Ask what authors they read or if they’ve read a story you know is comparable to yours.
It’s important to only ask these questions if they come from genuine curiosity or passion.
Once you’ve got a potential reader engaged, give your story’s elevator pitch.
“My story Carnival Charlatan is about a witch hiding in plain sight in a carnival because in a world where everything is fake, of course, magic can’t be real.”
Once you have their attention, hand them your book and say, “You might want to check this out.” If it is in their hands they are most likely to buy it.
If they mention a genre that you don’t have, refer them to books in that genre. Be generous with the authors selling around you.
People will remember you fondly when your next book comes out. Ask people for their email, so you can add them to your list and let them know when you have other books coming out soon.
Grab their email while you sign their book. (Personalize your signature and have a handy phrase to add to your signature.) Put a bookmark with your information or a business card in every book sold.
Reduce the friction involved in the sale as much as possible. Having a card reader ready for credit sales is ideal. Expect, half your sales will be on credit cards.
That’s all of the tips Leslie has for selling at author events for now.
Overall, it can be a great strategy to reach new reader bases you wouldn’t have otherwise reached from your online book marketing efforts.
Do you have any questions for Leslie or the Booklinker team?
Drop a comment and we’ll answer back!