This year is the first year I have been able to attend any author events. To date I have attended both large and small events, and will be hosting one in my home town in less than 6 weeks. For my first event, I count myself lucky because it was a very large event. The final ticket count to the public, prior to the event, was over 300 tickets sold, and that’s not counting the ones who strayed in because they were already at the venue and saw the signs. One of the smaller events I attended only had around 100 tickets to be sold. All in all, it’s been quite the learning experience.
Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to set some realistic expectations. If you think author events are all about selling books, I hate to disappoint you. It’s not about selling books, it’s about exposure. It’s about meeting readers, engaging with them, and hoping to connect with new fans. Most readers who attend these events aren’t looking to purchase books; they are looking for new authors and reading material for their kindles. They generally grab swag off your table and will look you up weeks or even months later to see what you are all about.
Most authors only sell two to four books at an event, I somehow managed to sell 8 at my first event (over 300 tickets sold) and 6 at the smallest event (only about 100 tickets sold). The girl whose table I was sharing at the largest event sold something like 28 books. That is not the norm. I repeat, selling that many books at an event is not the norm. And when taking into consideration I spent approximately $800 to make $16 in profit, selling those 8 books doesn’t look quite so impressive. Let me repeat that, I spent over $800 in books, swag, hotel rooms, food, and gas on just one event to make a measly $16 in profit. And I count that as doing extremely well for one of these events. Thankfully I had enough swag left over to carry me over for two more events, but that is still a lot of money to spend on handful of events every year. In total, I have spent over $1k between books, swag, hand-made swag, hotel rooms, food, and gas to attend just 3 events. So if you are going into these events thinking you are going to make a lot of money, sell a lot of books, or even break even, you are going to be very disappointed. I will say that I met a LOT of really great people, I made a lot of connections, I gave away a lot of swag, and I had a lot of fun with my fellow authors and readers. Hopefully in the coming months, all those people who took pens, bookmarks, and rack cards from my table will eventually look me up on Amazon and buy a book.
So if you are not scared off by now and still want to do this thing, let’s get started on what all I learned from the events I have attended so far this year.
- Be Prepared Part 1 – Table Presentation Makes the Difference
Upon setting foot inside my first event for setup, I quickly realized I had not prepared nearly enough. Even though I had spent months crunching numbers, deciding on what swag to purchase, and buying it a few pieces at a time, I still was not prepared.
When I went into this, I had only ever seen a few pictures on other authors’ Facebook pages in regards to what their tables looked like. Most of them just had their items spread out on it, and so I assumed that’s how all of the events looked. Man, was I ever wrong.
Nearly every table at this event was seriously decked out, like the authors had hired a professional party planner or table decorator to do their spread. I cannot possibly stress how important it is for your table to stand out in these events.
I suggest doing a dry run prior to going. Practice setting up your table, arranging your books and decorations so your table looks eye-catching. And don’t just depend on the event to supply a nice table-cloth. I suggest bringing another one as well. I didn’t make the same mistake twice. The next events I attended I asked the coordinators how large the tables were and measured that space out on my dining room table. I did a dry run with my table, and it paid off. I also brought a maroon table-cloth with me and used it, making my table at one of the events the only one with a table-cloth which was some color other than white. I’m glad I did this as at one particular event I was stuck in the very corner where no one could see my sign. I think the bright color drew people in.
Remember you are trying to pull in new readers and the best way to do this is for your table to be eye-catching and inviting. Think of a theme that surrounds your books and get to decorating! This is why I chose a maroon table-cloth, to go with the vampire and paranormal theme running through my books, and it also matched the color scheme of most of my books. Trust me, waiting until you get to the event to decide on table layout and theme is not the answer. I wanted to cry when I got to my first event and realized I had not really planned out my table appropriately. Thankfully I had so many things on my table I still drew people in at that first event, but you definitely want to have a theme and a plan for your table layout prior to the event.
Also, be sure to bring something you can prop up your books on, like a mini-easel or one of those little things you use to display decorative plates. If you have a lot of books, investing in a small, table-top book display is a very good idea. I didn’t have any of these things at my first event and so people couldn’t see my books unless they walked up to my table. I lost potential buyers and readers because of this. For my next events, I had a table top collapsible book shelf which people seemed to like. They didn’t have to worry about knocking over the books on display. I had a lot of people picking them up and actually looking at them and reading the blurb. At my first event, people acted like they were scared to touch the display.
- Be Prepared Part 2 – Book Sales
Thankfully I had the good sense to take my Square card reader and to get my account set up prior to the event. If you don’t have a Square account, you really need to get one, or some other type of POS service. There are no monthly fees for using Square and they charge just 2.75% of the sales to swipe the card. It is automatically deposited into your bank account each night.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough sense to think about all the people who would be paying with cash and would need change at my first event. Thankfully I only had to make change a few times, but coming prepared never hurt anyone. The author sitting at the table next to me came equipped with a locking money-box. Smart man. But if you can’t go all out on locking cash drawers, I do recommend you bring change for $100 to include ones, fives, and tens. For my next events, I invested in a small locking cash drawer ($16 at Wal-Mart) and brought change. I was glad I did. It made it a lot easier than digging through my wallet under the table.
- Be Prepared Part 3 – Information on Swag
Swag has to pack a big punch in a small size, so think long and hard about what you want to include. The most popular swag at my table was my business cards, my rack cards, and my bookmarks at my first event. I had postcards too, but people did not seem as interested in those. So when preparing your printed swag, keep in mind you want to make it super easy for potential readers to find and connect with you.
For my second event, people were more interested in the hand-made magnets and my bookmarks. I had business cards, business card magnets, and two sets of post cards as well as rack cards at my table, but the only thing anyone took were the hand-made magnets and bookmarks. You never really know what will be a hit at each event, so I suggest buying small numbers of various items, just make sure it includes some way for customers to find you. The hand-made magnets I had were just a tiny bit larger than a quarter and was one of my logos which had my website address on it.
For my rack cards, I included a list of all my book titles, all my social media links, and my website address. Unfortunately I didn’t have sense enough to put my Amazon author page link on it, but with my book titles and my name, I at least made it easy for them to look me up at Amazon.com.
For business cards, you have to include even less information, so besides your name and your tag line or “brand” (for instance, all mine have ‘paranormal fantasy author’ on them), I included my website address. It’s the one place where all my stuff links together – social media, my blog, my amazon author page, etc.
For bookmarks, I suggest creating a brand logo, like the one displayed at the top of this site. People really like the logo and it is why they kept picking up the bookmarks at all the events I have attended so far. I had several people tell me they loved the eyes and asked if they could take extras for friends or giveaways for their blog. Bonus!
As with your table, you want your swag to be eye-catchy and to stand out. Bright colors, unique logo, and an awesome brand or tag-line is a must. It takes some doing, and I’ve wasted quite a bit of money on items that I ultimately didn’t use because I came up with something better. I often use the pre-made designs at Vista Print and add my own little flair such as my tag-line or a small logo. Just don’t give up and if all else fails, remember to keep it simple. So long as the swag stands out on your table, you’re good to go.
I would like to add that proofreading the information on your swag is even more important than making it catchy. I had a typo on the back of my rack cards that I didn’t even notice until weeks later – after I had already given out several hundred of them at two different events. There’s nothing more sobering than having to trash a few hundred pieces of swag all because I didn’t take two minutes to double-check the sentence I typed. Yes, it matters, and if you are one of those who thinks something like that doesn’t matter, you have no business being an author. Sorry, but it’s the truth. Your swag is an extension of yourself as an author, just like your books. It all has to be perfect, even though perfection isn’t achievable. Double standard, and indies are held to an even higher standard than trade authors.
- Be Prepared Part 4 – Bring Your Wheels!
I thought about this the week of my first event, and by that time it was too late to really do anything about it. So my husband and I ended up making two trips to my car carrying very heavy boxes a half-mile and up two sets of elevators to the event room. Needless to say, after doing that for both the setup and the break down, my shoulders and back were killing me. So be sure to take something with wheels that is large enough to hold everything for the event so you are not making multiple trips. I saw authors with everything from large wheeled suitcases to large wheeled Rubbermaid containers. If you have tons of boxes, I strongly recommend a collapsible dolly as well. Whatever you choose, your back will ultimately thank you.
On that note, be sure to find out if the room where the event is being held is on the ground floor, and if not, if the place has an elevator. After my first event I invested in a wheeled repurposed tool box which I absolutely LOVE. It holds all my books and swag, leaving me to carry just my banner and stand, my new collapsible book shelf, and one more small container with my purchase bags and table decorations. Unfortunately, one of my events was on a second floor of a place which did not have an elevator. Getting my wheeled box up the steps was quite the challenge. It had to be carried down the steps once everything was over, and I wasn’t physically able to do it, which meant one of my fellow female authors carried it for me. Yes, I was embarrassed and forever grateful.
- Location, Location, Location – and yes, be prepared to feel like you are back in high school.
Understand your table location at the event is going to be mostly out of your control. Let’s face it, someone has to have the shitty spot no one wants, so if you are just starting out and are not a “big name” in the indie world, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the back of the room or shoved off into the corner somewhere. Like I said, someone has to end up there. If it’s not you, it will be someone else. It’s just the way things are.
The room I was in for my first event was oddly shaped and my table was almost in the corner. Thankfully the author whose table I was sharing was attracting a lot of readers, as was the table next to me, so I got lucky and got run-off traffic. Despite this, because of where we were located, I did notice a LOT of the attendees did not come down far enough to get to our table, resulting in possibly missed sales and people who did not pick up any swag to remember me by. I really believe the really bad table placement combined with me not being very well-known in the area attributed to the dismal number of book sales, especially considering I sold just 2 fewer books at an event with 1/3 of the ticket sales.
At another event, I was shoved off into a corner by the door. No one could see my banner, and the only thing I had going for me was the author whose table I was sharing seemed pretty popular and the fact I was sitting beside the door so those who came in that door stopped at my table first. With that in mind, this is why having a very eye-catchy table is a must. If you are unlucky enough to be seated where the foot traffic is not going to come by you by default, then you definitely want to give them a reason to be drawn to your table. For the event where I was shoved off into the corner, I was the only one with brightly colored table-cloth. I believe it caught a lot of people’s attention and set me apart from the rest.
- Smile – No One Wants to Meet a Grouch
I’ve never smiled so much in my life as I do at these events. Yes, I know by our very nature writers tend to be introverts, but at these events, those who are not friendly and outgoing will lose potential readers. At my first event, my table mate and I went so far as to wave people over to our table and ask them to come chat with us. If you see someone standing close by eyeballing your table like they are debating on whether or not to visit your table, give them a big smile, wave at them, and ask them to come chat with you. Seriously. Just smiling at them is not enough, but when you are chatting them up about their favorite authors and genres, then it puts them at ease and more willing to look at your titles. If nothing else, invite them to take swag from your table and remind them all your items are on Kindle/Nook/iTunes etc. Even if they don’t buy a book that day, hopefully they’ll go check you out at a later date.
On that note, I’d like to discuss a big key difference between large events and small events. For my first event, there were over 300 tickets sold. For the first two hours it was like Grand Central Station. People were zooming by my table so fast I barely had time to speak to them. I noticed some people bypassed my table completely because there were already people at it. And because there were so many people, everyone was lined up waiting to get to all the tables, so my time to chat with each person was severely limited. I got the feeling a lot of people may have felt rushed because of others waiting in line, which meant my time spent engaging and interacting with potential readers was greatly compromised. At that first event, I only sold 8 books, and I believe that low number was the result of many factors, not only due to the high amount of traffic, but also my table spread and location.
At one of the last events I attended, there were just a handful of authors and less than 100 readers who attended. It was very relaxed and I was able to chat with a lot of readers and pitch my books to them. In other words, there was a lot of author-reader interaction. I sold 6 books which was phenomenal considering the low number of attendees when compared to the number of books I sold at my first event and the number of readers who attended. People did not take as much swag from my table at the smaller event, or at least it didn’t feel like it.
- Sometimes Less is More
I will say that I went overboard with my swag at my first event. I ended up with pens, rack cards, two different types of business cards, bookmarks, and postcards. For my next events, I added in another set of business card magnets, hand-made magnets, and another set of postcards for my new release. Everyone was really happy to take them off my hands, but to be honest, it really wasn’t needed.
Case in point, my table mate at my first event was only giving out small bookmarks and a piece of hand-made buyer swag for anyone who purchased a book. Despite this, she nearly sold out of the 30 books she brought with her PLUS she gave away all the bookmarks she had. If it’s on your table, they WILL take it, but it’s a lot of money to waste on something that they may or may not keep up with. As someone who has walked around at these events, when faced with tons of swag choices, I feel really bad about taking one of each. I know that is what it is there for, but there is something about authors sitting behind those tables eyeballing you that is just unnerving. It’s why I try to talk to people and invite them to take things off my table. I want them to take it, it’s why I bought it, but I don’t want them to feel guilty about it.
My suggestion is to keep things simple. I like pens because it’s something the readers will actually use. And if they use it around others, even better. However, most people are really particular about their pens, so the cheap ones generally get tossed out pretty quickly. Unless you are splurging on really expensive, gel pens, skip them. Bookmarks, however, seems to be something people love picking up, but then again, why wouldn’t they? They need them for the books they are buying, they like using them, they like sharing them, so bookmarks are a staple product to have at your table. My next favorite thing is rack cards. You can pack a LOT of information into a rack card, and they double as bookmarks as well. Business cards are handy and they are fairly cheap, so I would definitely keep those around.
Postcards, in my opinion, were a waste of money for me. Sure, I like them, and they can be used as a bookmark or even mailed. But let’s face it. Readers who go to these events collect these items, which means it goes into a scrap-book or a bag or a drawer and they never look at it again. Bookmarks and rack cards, however, tend to get used. Despite this, I still have a weakness for them, and tend to purchase them when I can get them cheap.
In all honesty, I spent way too much on swag for all of my events. The only good thing is I won’t have to buy more swag for the other events I’m doing later in the year. I had enough of it left over I was able to donate some to my co-author for her event, and may even have some left over to donate to a few other event VIP bags. But if you are starting off, I suggest finding out how many tickets have been sold to the event previously and use those numbers as a basis for how much swag to order. One or two pieces of swag, along with a special “buyer” swag for buyers is really all you need.
- Pricing is A Factor
The first event I attended had a FB group just for the attending authors. Someone had asked how much everyone was charging for their books. It’s a great idea to get a feel for this and if it is possible, ask the other authors who are going how much they are charging. You do NOT want to over-charge or under-charge when it comes to your books. However, selling them at a loss may not be an option either.
I’ll be honest. My books were priced where I lost money on the one through my publisher because it costs me so much to order them. The rest I had priced at the same price as they were on Amazon. Despite this, my table mate at my first event was offering huge discounts when buying both of her books together, and these weren’t small novellas either. To be honest, there is no way I could have sold my books for the same price, not without taking a hit on them. I feel it put me at a disadvantage as those who visited my table thought I was over-priced. Despite this, I feel my books were reasonably priced for their size and the lack of sales could have been from a variety of different reasons. However, I do strongly recommend anyone attending the events to ask what others are charging and plan accordingly. Even if you have to sell them for what you have in them, it’s better than having to drag all those books back home and missing out on a potential reader leaving with one of your books in their hands.
At my other events, I knocked the price way down. Books I had been selling for $10 were knocked down to $8 and those which had been $12 were knocked down to $10 and when buying them together I offered large discounts. I had went through and changed a lot of the covers, so I wanted to get rid of them. Pricing may have been a huge factor on why people were buying more at this event.
With that in mind, I strongly recommend having your book prices in plain sight. It took me two events before I realized I should have had the price on them. Most people ask, but there were some who may have not purchased simply because the price wasn’t posted anywhere and they didn’t want to ask. And if you are selling other items such as mugs and tshirts, always have the prices of those items clearly marked.
- Take Photos
Seriously, take photos of not only your own table, but the tables of authors who have a really catchy table spread. Learn from your peers, and take photos so you’ll have something to look back on later to improve your own design layout.
All in all, being prepared is the number one thing. You have to think about the event from start to finish, what all is happening, and what items you will need. Learn from others, ask questions, don’t be afraid to fail, and most importantly, have fun! You can’t expect readers to come to you if you don’t look like you are having an absolute blast.