How to Sell Books: Get Offline and Meet Your Readers IRL

How to Sell Books: Get Offline and Meet Your Readers IRL

When I first started promoting my novel, I went in with the assumption that my promotional efforts would take place online, and only online.

After all, social media promotion is something I already know a lot about from my professional life. And where could I possibly have access to a larger audience?

In addition, like many authors, I am profoundly introverted, and I don’t love the feeling of being a sales rep for anything, particularly my own art.

But then, I made an unexpected discovery: There is a limit to what you can do, even on the internet.  

Connections over quantity

As my sales flatlined post-launch, I pulled my head out of the sand and took a look around.

To my shock, some of my peers were having great success with in-person events, which forced me to face a terrible reality: An effective platform is about making meaningful connections, not just fleeting touchpoints in front of as many eyes as possible.

Online promotion is great, and it definitely has its place, but nothing can replace the meaningful connection of talking to readers in person.

To sell my books, I was going to have to do more in-person events, too.

Getting started

I like to quantify my outreach efforts to help me measure whether I am moving forward or not– otherwise, outreach just becomes a giant black hole.

I decided to start with a goal of participating in one author event per month, or 12 over the first year. This seemed like a good balance between maintaining forward momentum and respecting how much energy events take from me.

I started in August, and have secured events to meet this goal through February along with an additional three booked for later in the year.

But the hard part isn’t the scheduling. It’s the events themselves.

I did not realize until I got started just how much strategizing and thought goes into how authors present their work for hand-to-hand sales.

But by asking some authors and other publishing pros I know, and by observing what works for other authors at events I have attended, I’ve picked up a number of methods to improve my sales.

Tips to Sell Books at Events

  • Let go of shyness. It’s common to feel intimidated when pitching your work to strangers, but you really just have to snap yourself out of it. There are no short cuts for this. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
  • Stand up. Standing behind your table instead of sitting tells people you are paying attention. It will also help you talk more easily with passers-by. Wear comfortable shoes!
  • Smile. Because we are humans.
  • Make eye contact. Again, like a human. Don’t be a creep about this by staring at each person who walks by with killer laser eyes, waiting for them to glance over so you can latch on. But do keep your head up and look around as people pass to create the opportunity to connect. (Put the phone away — no texting!)
  • Ask a question. When you do make eye contact, or if someone slows to look at your books, have a question ready to start a conversation. An open-ended question is best.

    I like to ask, “What do you like to read?” because I can use what they say in response to make a connection to why they might enjoy my book.
  • Have a hook and spiel ready to pitch your book. A hook is that five-second teaser that generates interest in your book. Once curiosity is whetted, the spiel is a longer follow-up to give the reader more information about the plot.
  • Have a display. Signs, tablecloths, tchotchkes, this really comes down to personal taste, but do something to visually reinforce your brand and make your space inviting.
  • Put your book in their hands. I noticed other authors doing this at a recent event, and it blew my mind. I started doing it myself, and guys, it works. My theory is, putting a book in someone’s hands triggers a sense of familiarity and ownership over the item. And no one likes to have something that is theirs taken away from them.
  • Give something away. If someone stops to chat, don’t let them leave your table without something in their hands. If they don’t buy immediately, you want something to remind them to do it later, with all of your website, book and social media information on it for easy reference. I use bookmarks and quote cards.
  • Have a goal. One author I talked to considers an event a success if she sells an average of one book per hour. Since I’ve decided to focus on building a platform rather than selling for now, I set a goal of about 20 new addresses for my email list per event day (depending on the event size).

The Multi-Book Difference

At one event I attended, I was stationed with three authors who were miles ahead of me in their writing careers. They each had at least six books to sell, compared to my one. Unsurprisingly, this led them to make a proportionally larger number of sales at the event.

The key was, they knew the differences between their books’ selling points. Not a horror fan? The tamer, no-violence thriller you will enjoy is over here. More into sci-fi than fantasy? Try this, not that. Knowing these differences, and how to relate them to different reader preferences, was a key aspect of their sales tactics.

This reaffirmed my penchant to write broadly within my genre, speculative fiction. Hopefully I can use this tactic to my advantage in the not-too-distant future.

Go make some connections!

Once I hit my stride, talking to readers in person at events is actually a lot of fun, even if it does steal my energy away. I always make sure to plan recovery time into my schedule after an event, and that helps make frequent events more manageable.

Getting in front of readers one on one creates a personal connection nothing else can replace. Don’t you care more about a creator you have met in person? So do other readers.

Don’t be afraid to get out there! Take a chance and try it out for yourself.

What do you do to connect with readers at events?

Author Marketing Club

Featured resource

Author Marketing Club

Want to sell more books? With tools that help with everything from formatting your Amazon description to finding more reviewers, Author Marketing Club can help you share your book with more readers.

24 comments

  • Deanna says:

    Emily, this is so helpful. Thank you. But, I was wondering how you get these events as an indie author whose books aren’t carried by stores?

    • Well, first, I am published by a small press. This means I somewhat fall into “indie” by some people’s definitions, but it’s also a traditional publishing model, which for people who still have a stigma about self-publishing, can make a big difference.

      However, the panel I mentioned here was one I did with a mix of authors, from individually self-published all the way to a Big Five imprint author. I think the key is just to handle yourself like a professional. The more you can point to reader reviews, sales numbers, awards, previous speaking engagements, etc., the more credibility you will have, regardless of how you were published.

      Start small to build up those speaking credentials – look around your own town. Good luck!

  • Lisa Evola says:

    Great post, Emily! Where do you find the events that you are attending? Are they book events, art shows, trade shows? I was an artist for many years so I get the art show circuit, but not sure where to focus for novels…any help would be awesome!!

    • Where do I find events? Google. Community calendars. Asking around and keeping my ears perked. Sometimes I look at the websites of authors I respect and see what events are listed on their calendars 🙂

      Where you should be is a bit different for everyone. I’ve been trying a mix of publishing events, local festivals/craft fairs, and events oriented toward me sci-fi/fantasy fan base (like Comic Cons).

      One author friend of mine, who is REALLY good at the selling stuff, swears by holding your own special events in non-book stores. So for example, she will host a signing at a local restaurant or coffee shop.

  • Great ideas and suggestions. I’ve only managed to promote my novels and poetry anthology on a local writers group stall. That’s apart from the Amazon listing.
    My 2014 novel, a sea adventure, however, has built interest, this year, on a a Kindle promotional site. My recent 2016 Romantic Thriller is Number One most popular novel on this American site-but only in Kindle format. I’m hoping to promote my novels and achieve print sales in Britain- not just North America. I have gained confidence from positive replies from this American Kindle site. Your suggestions and ideas are very encouraging for new authors, like me, trying to meet up with future readers. amazon.com/author/grantsam

  • Here in Nigeria, I am not aware if there are arrangements of regular events of your sort. I walked about to sell my first book to schools and bookshops. A publisher that saw and admired it plus the unpublished titles listed on the back cover traced me out. He bought two of these which have hit the bookstand since last year. Online or not, one-one promo will sell books forever.

  • Rachel Evelyn Nichools says:

    Hmm. Maybe one of us should write about in person events where authors can market their books. This really puzzles me when it comes to fiction.

    • If you research online, local bookshops are a great resource for this, as are a number of local events. There are also all sorts of book festivals all over the country, so research what’s going on in your area. Also, think about where your readers are, and go there – it doesn’t have to be directly book-related.

  • Rachel Evelyn Nichools says:

    Here’s an article I found informative.
    Publishers Weekly-The Indie Authors Guide to Organizing Author Events

  • Great advice and great timing. I’ve got my first author event and signing next month, and while I wouldn’t say I’m nervous, I definitely don’t feel as prepared as I should be. Your post helps a lot.

    On a sort of related note, while it is great to know how to act at an event, it’s just as important to know how to find more author events to participate in. Anyone have any ideas?

    • Lisa Evola says:

      Hi Jason, congrats on your first event! My thoughts on where to find additional events to sell your book is this: go to where your people are. For instance if you write Sci-fi fantasy with elves and fairies, you might want to try a fairy festival or Renfaire. Or if it is a non fiction book on exercise, maybe a bike rally or a 5k would be a good fit. Think about the kinds of things your audience likes to do, where they congregate and do life. This is where you will probably sell the most books, by focusing on the needs and desires of your audience. Only you can know where that is…

      • Thanks, Lisa! It can be scary to put yourself out there, but I did build up enough courage last year to contact a couple of local sci-fi conventions and get on their panels. It was great sharing what I could about writing and publishing.

        It’s also fairly inexpensive to put up a table at events like that and hope to sell enough books to pay for it.

  • Waletta Dunn says:

    Thank you. This article is packed with useful information.

  • Great article Emily. I agree that face-to-face contact is great for establishing a reader’s relationship with your book. I just released “Air Born” last month and while on vacation in Indiana and NY, I visited almost 20 different book stores to introduce myself and show off the book. I like the goal of doing one even per month. I’m on track so far with my first major reading/signing event in 2 weeks, another bookstore reading in December, and a table at a Con in January. Having excellent reviews on Amazon is not enough. You have to put yourself out there.

  • Ashri Mishra says:

    WoW, What a great Post it is.

  • opal says:

    I was looking for this topic for quite some time, as I am planning to publish one or two books in the future. Your blog has given me a basic idea about how to start with it and move along for more. Thank You!!

  • Colin says:

    Great appreciation of how to promote your novel. I will refer to all the points made, when there is an opportunity to promote my novels, short stories and poetry to a physical audience. I have one online site that is very supportive. It was like a life raft when I received positive replies from readers.
    Unless you are a celebrity or have friends in the publishing industry you really need a literary agent.

  • Colin says:

    Amazing article, Emily. The points you make- keep on giving- on each return read.