If you’ve ever done an author event and come up short on sales, you’re not alone. And that’s because authors often commit to these events without taking time to consider what makes them successful. If you do them right, author events can really pay off.
As authors, we spend a lot of time working alone. And while this has merit, it’s a huge contrast to what we experience at an in-person event. Although booking an author event is half the battle in and of itself, it’s worth your time to explore how to make these events pay off. I encourage you to take a look at my checklist here.
Some years back, I was promoting a fiction book I wrote, The Cliffhanger, which was set in Oregon. Since I traveled there from Southern California for some events, it was critical that my investment of time and travel pay off in terms of book sales. Naturally, a major storm hit the area on the day of one of my events. Even though I had gotten some press, the heavy storm meant that a lot of people didn’t venture out.
Moreover, I had sent the bookstore a ton of swag in advance, including a sign for the window, which they had never unboxed. So other than the article in a local paper, no real promotion had happened.
The store was practically empty, and I started to panic before I remembered my own guidance to authors: marketing is about message and movement. Instead of just sitting in a chair, I walked around and introduced myself to people in the store who were seeking refuge from the storm.
Several of them said: “Oh I read you were going to be here.” Believe it or not, I sold a book to each of them! I ended up staying way past my signing time and ultimately sold out of the books I brought with me. This signing taught me a lot about connecting with consumers in stores and selling more books at events.
If you have an event coming up, consider some of these ideas as you prepare. And if you haven’t contacted me yet and you’re serious about taking your book to the next level, let’s chat so you know what your options are.
- Marketing materials
First and foremost is the marketing of your event. I’m not talking about the marketing you do for the media (though that is great too). Instead, I’m speaking of in-store marketing, which is something most authors seem to overlook. If you’re going to sell more books at events, it’s got to start with your marketing – often significantly in advance of the event. Offer marketing materials to the bookstore or venue that make it easy for them to drive attention to your event. Some ideas include:
Bag stuffers. If you want to start with something simple, do fliers. Ask the store first, but know that most places will be on board. If the event is a local craft fair, be sure to target any local businesses that are promoting the craft fair.
Bookmarks: While many in the industry see these as passé, readers still love them. You can do bookmarks as bag stuffers or fliers with bookmarks. I’d suggest that you have a series of bookmarks printed up with the event date and time, if you can. Or add a sticker with your event info to existing book marketing you have. Bookmarks can be a fun way to bring more people to your event.
And, keep in mind, you can keep track of not just freebies but everything you need to focus on for your book events using my free monthly book marketing planner.
- Focus on speaking over signing when possible
Regardless of where you do the event, plan to do a talk instead of a signing. Sometimes, like with book fairs, this may not be possible. People are drawn into a discussion and are often turned off by an author just sitting at a table, which can become a boundary between you and the reader. Again, marketing is about message and movement, so stand up and speak, or if speaking isn’t an option, at the very least, stand
If speaking in public is intimidating to you, Patricia Fry, author of 72 books, suggests going to Toastmasters or some other local networking/speaking group to see what you can learn: “Toastmasters, in particular, is especially helpful in giving an impromptu speech (or communication), such as is required at a book festival or signing.”
- Unique venues
To get more attention for your event, consider unique venues like Hallmark stores, electronics stores, gyms, and even restaurants (on slow nights). Doing outside-the-bookstore events is a great way to gain more interest for your talk, and you’ll gather more people just because it’s considered “unique.”
- Show up early and talk it up
If you are in the store early and it’s packed with people shopping, I suggest that you be prepared with your extra bag stuffers and bookmarks and just hand them out to people. Tell them about your event and that you’d love it if they are able to come. You’ll be surprised how many new people you might pull in this way.
- Customize your talk
Regardless of your topic, ask the audience first what brought them there and/or what they hope to learn (particularly if your talk is educational). The better you can customize your discussion, the more likely you are to sell books onsite. If you can solve problems (and this is often done during the Q&A), all the better. You’ll look like the answer machine you are, and readers love that.
Here’s another clue: questions asked during your Q&A can offer some great ideas for future articles, books, and talks!
- Make friends
Get to know the bookstore or venue people in person well before your event. Introduce yourself and maybe even hand them your flier or bookmark (or a stack if you can). Getting to know the people who are selling your book is a great way to help gather more people into your event. If your event isn’t in a bookstore but attached to a shopping area or mall, go around to the stores (and perhaps you did this when you passed out the bookmarks) and let them know you have an event and ask what can you do to help them promote it. If you can rally the troops to help you market your talk, you could triple the numbers of people at your event.
- Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees
Sometimes events aren’t always about selling more books. Sometimes they are about relationships. Get newsletter sign ups, make connections, talk to folks who came by your table or booth, etc. Building these connections can be as important as an immediate book sale.
- Take names and build your list
While you may not always sell more books at events – or hit your book sales goal for each event – you may sell a lot of them post-event. It’s especially true if you collect their names and email addresses for your mailing list . It helps you stay on their radar. And if you can offer a giveaway or drawing, that will really help you collect names
- Remember your elevator pitch
If someone asks you what your book is about, what will you say? Kathleen Kaiser who heads up SPAWN, a fabulous group dedicated to authors and publishers and based in Southern California, says that elevator pitches can often be key to selling more books at events. Pitches should be short and sweet, 2-3 sentences, and really motivate a potential reader to buy your book. Take some time to practice this before event day!
- Price your book to sell
Make sure your book is easy to buy. This is easy if your event isn’t connected to a bookstore. In my experience, a nice, round number like $10 or $20 makes for a quick and easy sale. If you can round your price up or down without adding or losing much , then definitely do it.
- Book bundling
You might be able to sell more books at events if you bundle your book with a freebie. When I paired Red Hot Internet Publicity with a second, smaller book, I bumped the $18.95 price to $20 (so 2 books for $20), and my book sales skyrocketed. I called it an “event special,” which really helped readers feel like they were getting a deal! Keep in mind you don’t have to bundle your primary book with another book. Maybe you want to include special report or even an eBook to be sent out after the event.
- Product and placement
As you’re doing your talk (especially if it’s in a non-bookstore venue), make sure that you have a copy of the book propped up in front of you so attendees can see it while you are speaking. Use the book as a prop, holding it up as much as is appropriate for your talk. Better yet, use it as an example when possible. This directs people’s eyes to the book, which ensures it stays on their radar during your talk. For book fairs and trade shows, Kathleen Kaiser of SPAWN recommends putting a cover of the book on an 11 x 17 foam core board: “Add reviews to the board, maybe your logline (elevator pitch), and whatever else will entice a new reader to buy.”
- Make purchases easy
Pricing is a great incentive, but so too is the ease of purchase. Square, PayPal, and other remote devices allow you to take credit cards, but have change on hand too for the people that want to pay with cash. That happens more than you might think!
- Dressing up
If your book is about a time period, or a particular character – like a pirate – why not dress up as your character? It will really help engage with readers. Sandy Murphy, author of From Hay to Eternity, offered the following advice: “One author wrote a kid’s book that had pirates. She wore an eye patch, had a toy parrot on her shoulder, and a gold painted treasure chest for kids to dig through and choose a small toy.”
- Post event wrap up
After your event, make sure to send a thank you note to people that attended. You’ll have collected emails when they signed up for your newsletter. Offer them the opportunity to still get your event special, and you may find your post-event sales go really well!
Don’t forget to thank the event host too. A well-placed thank you goes a long way towards securing future events at other venues. An in-person thank you is fantastic, but don’t forget the power of a handwritten note and sharing the love on social media. People talk, and you want them to remember you favorably, especially since opportunities can really build on one another.
Speaking and book events are great ways to build your platform, sell more books, and build your connections. For many of us, our book is our business card, and thus, if we can sell our “business card,” we can keep people in our funnel.
Even if this isn’t the case for you, you still want readers, right? Of course. This means that your event-related marketing (before, during, and after) is key to growing your readership.
The reality is that not every event sells books. But by putting some of these practices into play, you can work to make sales happen. The more events you do, the better you get, and you will start selling more books at events and beyond. Look for opportunities, take advantage of them when they are offered, and then maximize them so that they really pay off in every sense of the word. You’ll be glad you put in the effort!
Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book-marketing and media-relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. To learn more about Penny and AME, visit www.amarketingexpert.com.