When I started writing, little did I realise I would have to sell the books as well.
Somehow, I thought that was something other people would do for me, but in this brave new world of book-selling, modern authors have to be able to do it all. Or risk losing their readers.
So I set up my stall.
And failed miserably.
Even book signings were a disaster with little old me sat in the book store window like an unkempt mannequin, as customers avoided me, actually going out of their way to stay well out of reach. Author as leper. I was doing it all wrong.
My top tips....
- Venue - the when, where and how to get there are easy. But the location of your stall within the venue can make or break your chances of talking to anyone, so know your venue and the human traffic very well. Companies pay thousands for the right location in the big events, so be prepared. You might not be the organiser of your stall, or get to choose your location, but keep the location in mind. You may find yourself mingling to distribute leaflets - if it's allowed - just to get anyone to notice you,
- Equipment - know what you'll need to bring. The professionals have gazebos and huge expensive displays, but as an author, this is likely to be outside your budget. For most of my events, I just need a table (and my checklist below), though this can leave me outside in the rain. And not all events will supply a table; you may have to bring your own. A chair can come in handy too! I prefer standing, but not for ten hours straight.
- Stamina - at a good event, you will be talking all day, so be prepared. Even if there's local catering, you'll need to take a drink and some food because you won't be able to leave the stall. And sensible footwear is a must. You will be on your feet a lot. And you will be exhausted at the end of a long day.
- Clothing - even inside, it can get cold, so make sure you have a jacket. But there's more to appropriate clothing than that. My friend and wonderful author M J Logue is a writer of 17th century historical fiction and wears period costume - it definitely attracts her readers! (see image below) So think who your readers want to meet. Chatting to a colourful character is more fun than chatting to me, the rather unkempt old lady.
- Don't go alone - having a second person with you is ideal. I've sat alone like a sad case on too many stalls, and no-one wants to chat with a sad case do they? Having a second person there to handle the money while you chat to your readers and sign books looks more professional too. Your stall buddy is someone to chat with while it's quiet. People chatting at the stall looks much better than the author sat alone, reading their own book (yes we've all done that! Just don't - it looks awful.) You can also give each other a break to stretch your legs. Also, invite friends to turn up at the stall throughout the day - it breaks up the day, and makes you look more popular.
- Be prepared not to sell a thing - If you sell a single thing, that's a bonus. Loads of sales is great. But be prepared - often, you won't sell a thing. However, the stall is a great opportunity to chat with potential readers, give out information and let people know you exist. Even if you meet just one person all day, that can be a good thing, so don't despair.
- Talks and presentations - if the event gives you the opportunity to give a talk or put on an exhibition of any kind, do it. Offer it for free if you have to. A talk can be a real ice-breaker and get people coming to your stall for more information, or even better, to buy something.
- Free giveaways - freebies can draw people in; bookmarks, posters, keyrings. Not sweets though - parents will pull their kids away! A raffle can work with the right crowd, but don't leave the draw until the end of the day as the crowd won't hang around that long. Think of displays that draw people in for a few minutes at a time - relevant local newspaper articles are good, maybe a display board of images and fascinating stories.
I've found myself alone in an empty exhibition hall while all the crowds were enjoying the displays in another building! Disaster!
I've also not sold a thing, repeatedly, but I've made some fantastic contacts. Don't forget this is a promotions opportunity for future events too.
So what else do you need?
Well, take a look at the list of things I always take with me:
- Business cards - I get mine from Vistaprint, but there are loads of cheap options online. Keep the design simple.
- Flyers - Vistaprint also do flyers, but I get mine free from my publishers.
- Posters / images - the more visual the stand, the better. I haven't got the money for the big display stands, but they can be a good investment if you do a lot of events. Posters can be a fun hand-out especially for kids.
- Books (of course) - a good supply of whatever it is being sold/promoted, even though I don't expect to sell many books at each event. If you have professional display boxes, so the books/items can be upright, all the better, but not essential.
- Change - many early buyers will present you with a £20 note, so make sure you have some big notes as well as plenty of small change. A cashbox looks more professional and is more secure, but it's not essential unless you expect to sell hundreds of items.
- Table covering - surfaces on offer can be poor quality, so a cloth can really brighten up a stand, even if I'm just doing a quick book signing.
- Pens - can't forget those! Simple black biros are best for book signings, as other ink can smudge when you close the book.
- A notebook - I always take one because it's amazing how often I need to note down some information or contact details.
- A sign-up sheet - my friends at the Ships Project do this brilliantly, with a simple form on a clipboard, letting people give their contact details for newsletters etc.
- Bottle of water - I'm not always permitted hot drinks at the stand, but when talking I really need a drink handy!
- Free giveaways - a good supply of free items can attract many customers to your stand. Some stands offer sweets, but parents often don't approve! Bookmarks are good, also pens, keyrings etc. Also, offer free books to the other stall-holders. Authors often do 'book swaps' at these events, and it can get you some good reviews.
Selling books can be hard work, and heart-breaking if you are an author and no-one seems interested. But don't take it to heart. Learn from each experience, repeat venues and you may find customers buying on a return visit, and enjoy the day! Sometimes it's fun just getting away from the writing for a bit.