Five Tips for Book Sales at In-Person Events

Independently Wealthy? Exploring the Alchemy of Self-Publishing

by Megan Haskell

Back in March, I had the opportunity to sell books at WonderCon, one of the major Southern California Comic Con events of the year. I went with a few other authors as part of Broad Universe, an international, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting, encouraging, honoring, and celebrating women writers and editors in science fiction, fantasy, horror and other speculative genres.

I’ve done live events, including small book fairs, book signings at independent bookstores, and of course, teaching courses and workshops around Southern California. But I had never been to a comic con, let alone sold at an event of that size and scope.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn!

Luckily, the Broad Universe booth had a fantastic neighbor: Neo Edmund and Russell Nohelty. These guys sell at cons all the time, and it showed. They knew the ropes. And I took advantage.

Day One

My first day on the floor was Saturday. Now, because I went with Broad Universe, I was sharing the table with multiple authors. About half of our eight-foot table was dedicated to a large book rack that featured up to three of each author’s titles. Another quarter of the table was marketing materials for Broad Universe, and the last quarter was set aside for the featured author. I had one, two-hour featured author time slot on Saturday, but I was there ALL DAY LONG.

What did I do for the rest of the time? I watched, and I listened. I stood next to our book rack and worked on my pitch. I chatted with Neo and Russell, trying to glean every bit of sales advice I could gather.

Saturday, I sold eight books.

On Sunday, it was time to put my education to the test. Due to some unfortunate health issues with one of the other authors, I was the featured author most of the day. Here’s what I learned.

1. Don’t Sit Down

When you sit down, you become less approachable. You end up either looking gloomy and bored, or busy. Even if those don’t apply, you won’t stand out (no pun intended). Your presence gets lost behind your books, and believe it or not, at live events your audience wants to interact with you. They’re not at a bookstore reading the back covers of dozens of books to anonymously choose their next great read, they’re standing in front of YOU, wanting to talk to YOU, deciding if they want YOUR book.

Plus, people don’t like to hover over you.

So, unless you have a health issue that requires you to sit, keep yourself on your feet as long as possible.

2. Don’t Expect Buyers to Come to You

This is a hard one, especially for us introverted authors. We want people to see our cover, or our banner, or something on our table, and be compelled to hand over the cash. The less interaction with living people, the better!

Sorry to break it to you, but that’s just not the way it works. People want to talk to you. (See #1.) If they don’t, they’re probably not your audience. Not if it’s a live event.

Worse, at big events with lots of booths and tables, there’s too much to draw the eye. If you’re relying too heavily on the table design, you’ll probably get lost in the shuffle. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a great table with nice decor, but remember, you’ll still need to work to get attention.

The question is, how do you do that? If visuals aren’t enough, how do you bring the readers to you?

3. Ask Questions

One of the first things I realized at WonderCon was that not everyone there likes to read. I know that might sound kind of silly because comic books and graphic novels are still books, right? You’d think selling fantasy at a convention where people dress up in costumes of their favorite characters would be an easy sell.

Compared to other events, maybe that’s true, but the fact still remains, many of the attendees don’t read novel-length fiction.

So how do you know who to target?

ASK!

Start simple: “Do you read fiction?”

Seriously, that was often my first question to the random people passing by.

The next might be: “Do you like fantasy?” Or perhaps “Do you like kick-ass heroines?”

Try to judge the person you’re targeting, at least a little. I know profiling can be a dangerous topic, but if my target audience is people who like action-packed epic fantasy with a female protagonist, who is more likely to buy; the eighty-year-old grandma enjoying the afternoon with her grandkids, or the twenty-something woman dressed as a superhero?

Right.

(Side note, if the grandkids are older, and look like they might be the right target, Grandma might be the perfect audience…gifts for the grandkids are great sellers. 😉)

My point is, you have to start asking questions to find the pitch that’s going to best resonate with that potential reader.

That said, if you get a “no”, don’t take it personally. Move on. If they’re not your audience, you’re unlikely to convince them to buy. Spend your time and effort on the easy(er) sales.

4. Have a Hook

What’s your hook? Not your log-line, not even your elevator pitch, what is the one thing that makes your book unique?

Here’s mine: Carnivorous pixies with attitude.

That’s right, these are not your average Tinkerbell fairies, these are piranhas with wings. What does that immediately tell you?

  • Fantasy
  • Action
  • Perhaps a bit dark and gory

Notice this is not about the story. It’s not about the plot. It’s not even about my protagonist. These are side characters who add a bit of comedic relief and an obvious twist on the old tropes.

But they are unique. They are most often what draws the reader to my table, once I’ve found her in the crowd. And they are what lets me put the book in her hands.

So now, when people ask what I write, I say:

Dark fantasy adventure with a kick-ass heroine, carnivorous pixies with attitude, enchanted knives, and an epic quest across nine faerie realms.

It’s quick, gets straight to the point, gives the reader the hook, and draws out more questions if they’re at all interested.

5. Let the Book Sell for You

Let me run through a quick scenario with you. I’m an author at a big event, you’re walking by.

I’m standing behind the table with a welcoming smile. “Hi! Do you like to read fantasy novels?”

You give a little half-hearted nod, but keep moving.

I lean forward slightly, a book in my hands, the front cover showing. “Do you like stories with kick-ass heroines?”

You shrug your shoulders but turn, a little more interested now.

“How about carnivorous pixies with attitude?”

I’ve surprised you. An eyebrow lifts, intrigued. “Carnivorous pixies?” You ask.

“Uh, huh. Think piranhas with wings, who can camouflage themselves like chameleons.”

You step up to the table. I’ve got you now! I hand you the book, back cover up so you can read the description.

NOW it’s time to let the book sell itself. You don’t have to tell the reader the story, don’t bore them with the details, you’ve got your best sales copy on the back of that book already!

(Right? If not, check out our book description workshop with Bryan Cohen on the Facebook group.)

You’ve already captured the reader’s interest, so you’re 80% of the way to the sale. By putting the physical book in their hands, it’s harder to say no. Give them a bit of time to read the blurb, then highlight anything extra.

  • Awards and recognition
  • A quote from a favorite review
  • Interesting backstory, or something else that might be unique about your book
  • Pricing and sales promotions: if you’re offering a discount when they buy the first three books in the series, or any other deal, now’s the time to talk about it

Let them touch and hold and feel that book, even smell it. Let them read the first page as a sample. If you’ve done your job in the writing and production, if you’ve crafted a high-quality product designed with your target audience in mind, then they’ll see with their own eyes that the book is worth a read.

The Result

After implementing these tips in my own sales pitch, I sold 34 books on Sunday.

That’s a grand total of 42 books over the two days I was at the con.

Broad Universe said it was a record for their event tables.

(As an aside, Russell told me he sold about 150 books over the three days of that weekend, at a higher price point than my own. 😮 Yeah, I still have some work to do.)

Now, I’m not saying that you’re going to sell a book to every person that comes to your table. You’re not. Even if you get them all the way through your sales funnel to stand at the table with a book in their hands, some people will still put the book down.

That’s okay. They’re not your audience.

I’m also not saying it’s not a ton of hard work. It took me three days to recover my energy after that event.

But if you’re trying to sell books, this is a good start toward a profitable event.

Bonus #6: Swag is good, but be careful

Another tip you’ll often hear is to have free swag on your table with your logo or book cover on it. The idea is that this will draw people to your table—potential readers—giving you an opportunity to sell. Even if they don’t buy today, if they take your bookmark maybe they’ll buy it later. And even if that never happens, maybe they’ll pass it along to someone else who will.

It’s a good strategy. I set out bookmarks with my covers and website information. I display postcards with a setting illustration I commissioned on one side, and my cover and blurb on the back.

The thing is, if you put out anything too fancy, you’re going to get a lot of freebie seekers who are not your target audience AT ALL. They just want the pin or the pen or the sticker and have no intention of ever following up. The item sits in their junk drawer until it hits the trash pile.

And maybe that’s okay.

But be careful how much money you’re spending on these items. They can quickly eat into your profits, and if you’re doing your job selling at the table, the higher-priced items shouldn’t be necessary.

(But DO have SOMETHING on your table with your cover and website information that people can take if they’re interested…bookmarks or inexpensive business cards are ideal.)

Wine, Women, and Words Festival

If you want to see me in action, stop by Orange County’s first ever celebration of women writers at the Wine, Women, and Words Festival on May 12, from 4-7 pm. Hosted by Giracci Vineyards and Farms, and O.C. Writers, it’s going to be a fun afternoon filled with author panels, book signings, live music, wine tasting, and booths featuring local female authors and entrepreneurs.

The event is free (you do have to pay $5 for parking, but you get a $2 coupon for wine tasting). I hope to see you there!

***

Megan Haskell, Author of SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT

Megan Haskell, Author

Legend has it, I was born with a book in my hands. Thirty-ish years later, I’m a stay-at-home-mom who prefers a good story over doing the dishes. Only now, I’m building my own fantasy worlds! I’m the Award-Winning author of the Amazon bestselling series, The Sanyare Chronicles, co-author of Aspiring to Author: A Guide for Your Publishing Career, and Program Director of O.C. Writers. You can find me on my website at www.meganhaskell.comFacebook, and Twitter.

*O.C. Writers is a member of Amazon Affiliates. By clicking the book links on this site, the network will earn a small commission from your purchase.

12 thoughts on “Five Tips for Book Sales at In-Person Events

  1. Wow, what a great improvement from Saturday to Sunday — great job observing, learning, and then stepping up your game! And thanks for sharing what you learned with the rest of us.

  2. I was there Sunday for a bit, and I can attest that you did a great sales job. While it wasn’t the right audience for my books, I have found that cons are where I get the most sales. Your tips are right on, especially about standing as much as possible. And don’t cross your arms, because that can be off-putting as well.

    These are great tips!

    1. Thanks Lisanne! And the tip about crossing your arms is spot on, too. Body language is incredibly important!

  3. Great post, Megan! I’ve also learned not to neatly display your books. People are hesitant to “mess them up.” So I fan them out on the table and keep a few displayed. Also, I found that if you put the book in an interested readers’ hands, it is hard for them not to buy it. It tends to work on me!

    1. Ooh! That’s a really good tip, and not one I had considered! I’ll add that to my own personal event list. Thanks! 🙂

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