Live events can be a part of every author's marketing strategy. But how do we make the most of those events? John Sibley Williams shares seven tips for doing just that.
As any publicist will tell you, in-person events are crucial to networking and meeting new readers. There’s nothing so intimate as a cozy bookstore, library, or other literary space for strangers to first encounter your work.
They have the opportunity to not just read but feel your words, and they have the rare treat of asking the author questions. And you never know who may be in an audience: other authors, bookstore owners, local media, bloggers.
Events are as much about giving a real human voice to your work as forging social connections.
But the book sales from an event, especially a festival or conference, don’t always cover your costs. Events can be pricey when you add up the books, travel, meals, swag, rented table, and anything else the event requires.
Also, there’s the issue of competition: there may be dozens or even hundreds of authors at a book festival. All are vying for attention and doing everything possible to stand out. So finding inexpensive and unique ways to reach your audience and sell books is essential.
Here are some tips on specific sales strategies to garner attention and sales.
1. Publicize your event
Although the venue will likely provide a certain amount of event publicity, likely including social media posts and in-store signage or, if a festival, a brief write-up in their brochure, don’t leave all publicity in their hands.
Send a press release to all local media, from newspapers to radio, and submit your event to local media calendars (the online component to most newspapers have one). Create a Facebook event and invite local friends. Ask your friends to spread the word, sharing your link.
Research local literary organizations and send them a personal invitation. Build up to the event on social media by consistently posting pictures, excerpts, blurbs, and videos that highlight your book, ensuring the event details are always clearly labeled.
2. Make purchasing easy
Have you ever wanted to purchase a book at an event but the author only accepted cash? Nowadays authors have a wealth of selling options with Square, PayPal, and other devices that can allow you to take credit cards.
Do make sure that you’re ready with change in case folks want to pay with cash, but also carry a remote card reader, or your phone with a point-of-sale app installed. Whatever you do, make it easy to buy your book!
3. Bring swag
Always have professional author business cards on hand everywhere you go. But what else can your bring to catch reader interest? Bookmarks, postcards, well-designed posters and signage are all common, perhaps even expected.
But think outside the box too. What about pens or small notebooks with your name blazoned upon them? And think about your themes, setting, and characters. Are there extra special freebies you can offer that directly connect to your book’s content? The more unique, the more likely new readers will want them.
4. Price your book to sell
I find a round number like $10 or $15 makes a purchaser more comfortable. And don’t forget to include the discount on your signage so readers know they’re receiving something special.
5. Collect names and contact information
Always have a newsletter sign-up sheet at your event table, allowing new contacts and readers to volunteer to receive your regular e-newsletters. To further entice them, you can offer a small gift for those who sign up. If you don’t already have a newsletter associated with your website, create one now!
[Note from Joanna: Don't forget about GDPR regulations; make sure to follow the guidelines and in this instance, where people are signing up to your newsletter list offline, be sure they understand what they are signing up for. You can find more help with GDPR here.]
6. Provide free copies
Don’t be shy of gifting copies of your new book to other authors, media, bookstore owners, or anyone who may be able to assist your publicity in the future. If this isn’t your first book, include with purchase of your new book a free older title. If this isn’t economically feasible, have cards on hand with a code for readers to acquire a free ebook.
7. Follow up with your network
So the event is over. Now what?
Contact the person who hosted you expressing your gratitude. Although you should do so in person too, a well-placed thank you goes a long way towards securing future events and leaving a kind impression.
Also, email people who signed up for your newsletter thanking them for attending. Include any pertinent personal remarks about conversations you had with them, and if they forgot to purchase your book in person remember to extend to them the same discounted event rate.
What strategies do you use to sell more books at live events? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. A nineteen-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize.
He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as an educator and literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Southern Review, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, TriQuarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, and Third Coast.
His upcoming book, As One Fire Consumes Another, is available for preorder at Orison Books.
For more information, visit his website.