While online marketing is the international indie author's friend, it's hard to stand out in a sea of thumbnails. Attending events in person can help you connect with other authors and sell some books in the process.
In today's article, Kyle Burbank explains how he has used events to sell more books.
Everyone knows that, over the past several years, there’s been a major shift in the publishing industry that’s taken us from print to digital. As a result, today there’s something quite quaint about not only having a physical copy of your book but also going so far as to sell it to people in person.
In addition to the small signings, self-published authors may be able to arrange at local bookstores, another venue for mingling among the people and spreading the word about your book is at the numerous conventions, expos, trade shows, and other live events that take place each year.
In 2015, I actually took my then-brand-new Disney-centric book to the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California to sell. To say this appearance was a learning experience would be an understatement, although the results were still positive overall.
Thankfully, I was able to return to the D23 Expo earlier this year and try out some of the lessons I learned two year’s prior, while still continuing to evaluate what worked and what didn’t.
Given those experiences, I wanted to share seven ways you can find success selling your book at a convention, expo, or similar event.
1. Partner with others
Attending an event and selling your book there can be quite an investment. In addition to purchasing supplies, stocking up on books, and any travel that may be required, you’ll also need to pay a fee to reserve your booth. However, you can help offset this cost by sharing your booth with another author or perhaps a company that compliments you and your title.
In my case, I had a few partnerships for both of my expo appearances.
Secondly, I invited my friend Aaron Wallace to sell his title alongside mine and hold special signings throughout the weekend. The bonus to having Aaron on board was that, while my book was self-published, he was working with a publisher. Thus, we had a little extra marketing power behind us, which helped get the word out.
My only word of caution here is to ensure that your booth doesn’t get too cluttered or confusing. If your table is trying to sell books while also hawking knick-knacks or talking up business services, passersby won’t know what to make of your booth… and will probably keep walking.
2. Invite your social media followers
If you’re active in a certain fandom or social media circle, there’s a good chance you have some followers that you interact with regularly but have never actually met. Well, your appearance at a convention or trade show is a great chance to finally connect.
Be sure to promote your appearance on your various social accounts as soon as possible. In doing so, you’ll also want to talk up some of the other features of the event (not that you’re presence alone isn’t reason enough to convince others to attend…) and link people to where they can buy tickets.
3. Use the hashtag
While you’re doing your best to bring current followers out to visit your booth, you should also try to raise awareness among those already planning to attend.
A really simple way to do this is to utilize the hashtag for the event on social media. If you’re not sure what the officially sanctioned tag is, check the official accounts for the event or try running some searches to see what others tend to be using.
Not only is it helpful to start tagging your tweets before the big day but you should also continue to practice throughout the event. This is especially important, as many convention goers will likely be monitoring that tag to see what’s happening around the show and planning where they should head next.
On that note, you don’t always have to be promoting your booth with every tweet; you can also share your adventures around the convention, which could gain you followers and, in turn, potential customers.
4. Have a flyer and craft your perfect pitch
I can’t tell you how much breath and energy I wasted on that initial day, only to leave guests empty handed. That night, Aaron and I drew up a flyer, featuring our respective books’ cover art, bullet points about each title, our pricing, and a TinyURL where they could buy the books afterward if they wanted to.
The benefits of having flyers to pass out are numerous. For one, it allowed me to “give people an out” when it was clear they weren’t ready to buy. Instead of standing there engaging in awkward chitchat (or silence), I’d give them a flyer to look over and take with them.
Secondly, by including those Amazon links, I saw a significant bump in sales that lasted weeks after the event, including both print and ebooks. Therefore, I will never try to sell my book at a signing or convention without a flyer ever again.
Of course, while it’s nice to hand a sheet of paper to someone and hope it convinces them to buy your book, selling at a convention will involve a lot of talking.
The number one question: “What’s this book about?” To that, you should have a short and concise answer that explains your book in an engaging way. I call this your “perfect pitch” and it too has a learning curve.
Try starting with a couple of sentences you think describe your book well and ask your friends for feedback on it. Then, practice spouting this synopsis as well as a few follow up details you’ll highlight if the reader seems interested.
Of course, every reader is different, so sometimes your perfect pitch might not live up to its name. But don’t fret — as long as the passion you have for your book shines through in your pitch, most people will still be receptive.
5. Bring people to your booth
Nearly as difficult as trying to convince a customer to buy your book is getting them to approach your booth in the first place. Like I mentioned earlier, booths that are cluttered or where the theme is unclear can keep visitors away. So how do you draw them in?
During my two tours of the D23 Expo, we’ve tried a few different things to bring people to our booths. This includes setting our books out front and center on the table for people to see, creating a Disney trivia PowerPoint that displayed on the corner of our table, giving away free stickers, and more.
Again, since every person is different, it’s hard to say which if any of these techniques worked best overall. But, in each case, we were able to bring people over long enough to either engage them in discussion about the books we had for sale or at least supply them with a flyer.
By the way, this is also where another partnership I set up came into play. One of my friends who does a Disney fan podcast arranged to distribute flyers around the Expo that would lead guests to our booth to claim a prize. These rewards ranged from bracelets to gift cards, all of which were supplied by him or furnished through additional partnerships he worked out.
This turned out to be a real win for everyone as he was able to promote his podcast, we received increased traffic to our booth without paying anything, and attendees got some free swag. Hey — whatever works.
6. Let people know you’re the author
One of the best feelings when selling your book at a convention is watching people’s faces light up when you inform them that you’re the author of the book they’re holding in their hands. It really is a special moment, to be sure, but it’s often better if people can make the connection from afar.
We’ve found that people are far more interested in purchasing a book if they can meet the author and have them sign their copy. Therefore, we saw good results when this (admittedly self-indulgent) flyer was added to our table.
In fact, beyond convincing attendees to purchase a copy of our books, we encountered many who ended up buying multiple copies to give to friends and family since they could have them personalized on the spot.
7. Try combo pricing and flash sales
Lastly, while your perfect pitch and status as author can go a long way toward someone buying your book, nothing gets them to a sale faster than a nice discount.
The good news is, if you’re buying your books in bulk, you likely have a good margin to play with, allowing you to offer some creative discounts and still make money.
The first discount structure that I’ve employed is combo pricing. For example, at our first Expo together, Aaron and I allowed guests to purchase each of our books separately for $15 or together for $25.
As a result of this discount, the combo was by far our best seller, boosting sales for both of us and making the cut in margin worth it. This year, things got a little more complicated as we added several titles to the line-up (six in total), but I’d say some 90% of buyers took home two books or more.
Another trick to try is offering flash sales using your social media. To do this, you can tweet out a message like, “Stop by booth C2007 and whisper the promo code ‘BestExpoEver’ to get $5 off any book purchase! Hurry, this deal is only valid until 3 p.m. today.”
This sense of urgency and perceived exclusivity can help bring people who were on the fence about buying your book back to your table to seal the deal. Of course you also run the risk of angering those readers who purchased your book at full price. For that reason, you should be thoughtful about how you implement these flash sales and be willing to bend in order to make it right with anyone who might be upset about them.
If you are going to try a flash sale, one great time to do it is in the final hours of the convention. Not only is this when attendees will be making their last sweeps through the floor to see what they want, but it’s also a chance for you to unload some more merchandise before having to pack it up and ship it home.
I say take full advantage of these closing moments and try to sell as many books as you can — at whatever price you can — as long as you’re not upside down on the transaction.
Selling your book at a convention might not make sense for every author or genre. However, for those in certain niches, having a booth at relevant events can help you raise your profile as an author in that field and, of course, move some units.
Keep in mind that’s hard to hit it out of the park on your first time at bat, but with these seven tips in mind, you’ll be on your way to having a grand slam of a convention appearance. Best of luck!
Are you interested in selling print books at conventions and other in-person events? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Kyle Burbank is a freelance writer and author living in Springfield, Missouri. He is an avid Disney fan and traveler who has visited all 12 Disney theme parks around the world. These adventures were shared in part in his first book, The E-Ticket Life. His latest ebook — Write, Print, Publish, Promote — shares his experiences with and tips for self-publishing. Kyle can be found online at his personal finance site Money@30 as well as Dyer News and on Twitter @KyleBurbank