How to Sell More Books and Grow Your Fan Base at Author Events

How to Sell More Books and Grow Your Fan Base at Author Events

When we talk about building your author platform, the inescapable challenge every author must face is marketing. Particularly, email marketing.

You need an email list, not just to sell your book to subscribers, but to build relationships with readers and other writers so they’ll support your work and become fans in the process.

In-person author events provide a unique opportunity to get more email subscribers — but only if you take some time to prepare for the event. Here’s a checklist that will help you walk away from your next author event feeling like it was a success.

Don’t buy more than 20 books to sell

Let’s say you’re going to some book fair that’s insanely popular with an attendance list numbering in the thousands. You’d think it would be a smart move to stock up on physical copies of your book, right?

Wrong. If you’re an unknown author like me, the fact is you won’t sell many copies at an event. I had 20 books on hand for my event and only sold a handful.

Sometimes readers need to time to research who you are, and they aren’t committed to buying just yet. “But what if I sell out?” you might ask. That’s great! Now you can tell visitors your book is sold out and possibly create demand due to scarcity — not a bad position to be in.

So don’t order 100 copies of your novel just to be cautious, or you’ll be stuck lugging those books around for a while.

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Use bookmarks as giveaways

On the list of things every author should have on hand: bookmarks. Bookmarks are like business cards for authors.

You can put your cover art on a bookmark, along with your website and any other details for potential readers. Get really creative with your bookmarks by adding a character sketch or a synopsis of the book on the back. Utilize QR codes and make it even easier for someone to access your website or your book’s sale page.

Having lots of bookmarks to give away at your event is more important than having copies of your book. A visual reminder of you and your novel sticking out of someone’s book is an easy way to get more sales and reach more readers.

Bring a poster of your book cover

This one is optional, but it helped me get more visitors than I expected at my last in-person event.

Dozens of people who stopped by my table remarked on how the poster of my book cover drew them in. If you’ve got a compelling cover, get a poster made and tack that bad boy on the front of your table or on an easel that’s easily visible.

Images grab people’s attention, so take advantage of that to increase foot traffic to your booth.

Smile and engage

This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t look up from their laptops or mobile phones at these events.

You should always have your game face on when someone is remotely close to your table or booth. Simply saying “Hi!” can mean the difference between that person coming over to check out your book or skipping you altogether. Leave the texting and social media for later.

And finally: how to get those new email contacts

When you put all the tips above into practice, you’ll get an influx of people visiting your table, which creates a great opportunity for you them to subscribe to your email list.

But you’re not just going to tell them to do that… because they won’t.

Instead, you’re going to lay out an incentive. Create a compelling raffle where they can receive a free signed copy of your book, a gift card to their favorite bookstore, or a bundle of ebooks they can download. Create a sign-up sheet with spots for names and emails to contact the winner(s).

Don’t be spammy or shady. Explain in detail on the sign-up sheet that each entrant will be added to your email list and they can unsubscribe at any time. I added 100 subscribers to my email list at the event I attended.

Sure, there will probably be a few people who just want the goodies and then will unsubscribe when they don’t win the raffle, but to date, I’ve only had around five unsubscribes, which is pretty good.

Once you’ve wrapped up your time at the event, remember to pick a winner either through a drawing or a random number generator, then email everyone on the list with the results and send the prize promptly.

To minimize the percentage of unsubscribes, I also created a consolation prize for non-winners that included a free short story and a book marketing PDF guide. It’s always nice to receive a prize in a contest, especially when you don’t win!

Got any tips for getting the most out of an author event? Please share in the comments!

Filed Under: Marketing


  • Daniel,

    Thanks for the tips, as I have several author events coming up in the next couple of months. My goal is to work on increasing my email list and planning and sending out more informative, entertaining emails (perhaps once a month). You’re suggestion of not bringing too many books to a sale is spot on.

    Sadly, the more recent stand-alone community book sales that I’ve particpated in actually netted very few, if any, sales for any of the authors involved. However, I have found that when I am selling at an event that includes workshops, panels, or speakers of one sort or another, those speakers/instructors sell many more books during the book sale times than the rest of us. Of course, they would! They’ve already made connections with potential readers through their workshops and panels. So I am also working on getting invites to present/teach at workshops, conferences, and writers institutes, as well as library author panels. I’ve done a few already. Mostly they require a proposal very early in the event’s planning stage.


    • Hi Peggy,

      Thanks for commenting! Yes, I think book sales for speakers/instructors would generally fare better than fiction authors like myself. Non-fiction tends to lend itself well to better ROI at events because speakers can incorporate the message of their books to the audience and thus, readers are more open to hearing more so they buy. Not to say this can’t be done at a fiction workshop where an author is a keynote speaker or something, but I think it’s still to move units for genre fiction.

      Best of luck on your efforts to grow you email list and your future events!


  • You’ve got a lot of great advice here, but I have one (probably) lame question…

    So many people talk about how important it is for writers to have a mail list. I can see the importance of that to a degree, but what type of information are you supposed to put in it? For example, I’ve already got Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest followers, not to mention a small list of subscribers to my blogs. What do you put in a mail list that is different than anything else that’s already in a variety of social media platforms?


    • Hi Jason,

      That is actually a very good question! For a mailing list consisting of readers of non-fiction work, I would send out emails 2-3 times a month on subjects related to your books that can provide additional value to your subscribers. For example, if you write non-fiction books on dog training, then you could send an email each week or so with tips on how to train your dog to do a new trick. Additionally, with a non-fiction email list, you can ask readers what problems they’re having with dog training and when they answer, you have a subject to address in your next email or blog post.

      Emails for a list consisting of fiction readers is a bit trickier. I would recommend less frequent emailing for such a list because those subscribers primarily want to know about an upcoming release, a sale you’re having, or anything specifically related to your fiction. For this list, I’ve sent sneak peak chapters of my next book to build anticipation or written free short stories exclusively for them to download as a perk of being a subscriber. You can get pretty creative, just remember to add value whenever you can or else readers will quickly turned off and unsubscribe.

  • Tom Adams says:

    Some great advice here. Thanks for sharing. One question I have – can anyone sign up (and presumably pay) to have a stall at some literary events? I live in the UK and was under the impression that these things were by invite only.

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Tom, it depends on each event. Sometimes it’s invite-only, sometimes there’s an open call to sign up, sometimes it’s a completely different method. Daniel may be able to provide more insight.

      Thanks for reading!
      TWL Team

    • Tom,

      Lisa’s right, this really depends on the literary event you plan to attend. Some events are put on by traditional publishers and their sponsors, so only traditionally published authors are allowed to attend.

      For the event I attended it was open to self-published authors and independent presses, but there was a fee to pay to get a table or booth. Some events are events more exclusive where it is invite only or there’s a small number of spots open to authors. I’m dealing with the latter for an event put on by my library for local authors. I’m on a 100+ list of people hoping to be accepted for an event that will only feature 40 authors. I had to fill out an application for that event and provide free copies of my book for review, but the upside is there are no fees to worry about if I get accepted!

      Best of luck,

      • Tom Adams says:

        Many thanks for the quick reply on this, both of you. Guess I’ll have to do a bit of research on events in my area.

        • You’re welcome, Tom! I’d encourage you to check out events at your local library that you can participate in.

          All the best,

          • Barbara Underwood says:

            Start by looking for small local events. Where I live, in southeastern Michigan, there are a couple of local fairs for which you just have to sign up. My town — 2.5 square miles and population 14,000 — has two such events:

            One, called the Author’s Fair, is in the large central city park. Most attendees are self-published, but a few are local news casters and newspaper columnists who have compiled into books collections of their human interest stories of essays, respectively.

            The second is in a store that sells all high end handmade goods. It has an Authors Night ever fall, with the same sort of participants as above.

  • Adam Colwell says:

    You are absolutely correct on your advice to smile and engage. When I am at events with my booth for my writing, editing, and publishing business – or when I train my writers how to perform at events like book fairs (we have a huge one every year in Tucson at the University of Arizona) – my rule of thumb is that if someone looks toward my booth for more than a second, I take a small step forward, make eye contact, and say “Hi! How are you?” About half of the folks ignore me (and that’s okay and expected), but most the other half will answer the generic question with an equally generic response of “Fine” or “Pretty Good,” at which point I’ll ask a more specific question depending on my purpose for being there. If it’s for my business, I’ll ask, “Are you are writer?” If it’s one of my authors, I’ll instruct them to ask, “What is your favorite thing to read?” Most folks at this stage will engage in a brief conversation, and the next key is to listen to them – don’t jump into your elevator speech. Let their conversation tell you if they are a prospective customer for your services or book. If so, offer your product; if not, still engage with them, and always thank them for taking a moment to meet you. This approach is friendly and takes their pressure off of you to “make the sale.” Then, if they like you and you indeed have a drawing, they’re much more likely to give you their email address – and those folks can become future customers or, just as important, sources of referrals to others they know who do need your services or want your book. The key thing is to establish a relational conversation with the person.

    • Absolutely spot on, Adam! Having that friendly conversation with no strings attached is the difference between a sale and a cold shoulder. Providing value should always come before any pitch. There were dozens of people who asked me for advice about writing and publishing when visiting the booth and I gladly gave it to them without going into my elevator pitch.

      Surprisingly, most of those people would thank me afterwards then either buy a copy of my book or grab as much info about me as they could to connect afterwards. Just being approachable and friendly can make a huge difference!

      • Adam Colwell says:

        Excellent – and they respond to you that way because you have given them value according to their needs, not yours. People appreciate knowing they are more important to you than making a sale. Well said, good sir!

  • JazzFeathers says:

    A lot of fantastic advice in here. Thanks so much for sharing, to everyone 🙂

  • Don’t forget to look for “mutual promotion” opportunities. I am a freelance editor, and I have recently started a Testimonials page on my website where I not only include a quote from the author’s acknowledgment page (the part acknowledging my work, of course), but also a link where website visitors can buy the book. I like it if my clients include a link to my site from their own websites, too. Don’t be afraid to ask about such an arrangement with your editor (or your typesetter, or proofreader, or cover artist …) After all, many hands go into making a book, and all have a stake in seeing it reach its audience.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC

    • Very good point, Trish. I have my cover designer’s info and website within my book, but a separate acknowledgements or related links page on my website would be an excellent idea.

  • I had an author client that I did promotions for. In order to maintain anonymity for those signing up for the newsletter, and to keep the maintenance down, we provided the sign-up through a tablet at the table.

    They could also sign up for it by hand if they so chose, but some people feel uncomfortable with their first name and email address in plain sight. So if you have a tablet or small laptop (or borrow one from a friend), and free wifi at the venue (or you can use your mobile as a hotspot), you can have them sign up directly there.

    You can turn off double-opt-in during the conference, or keep it on so they can confirm on the go or next time they read their email.

    I also ran a contest for her, and used a QR code on the inside of a mini-booklet (rather than a bookmark). The mini-booklet had the book cover on the front, the author info on the back, and you opened it up to a book description over two pages. Then, it folded out to four pages for a sample. It was pocket sized, and folded up. It was very small. We had it professionally printed and it looked fabulous.

    People could scan the QR code and pop to a mobile friendly contest entry site and enter for the contest.

    I also pulled the map from the conference site and put a giant “we are here” on the map, and put it on the mobile version of her site and promoted that as well.

    Just a few other ideas. 🙂

    • Those are all excellent ideas, Michelle! 😀 For the event I went to, we actually had a fishbowl where the entries could be inserted for the sake of anonymity. It’s always recommended to give people peace of mind about that stuff, especially with all the identity theft and cyber hacks these days.

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