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.
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?