If you’ve ever done an author event and didn’t sell many books, you are far from alone. And it’s probably not your fault, because it can take time to develop the strategies to have successful events. And, while yes, events can be a lot of work, there can also be a huge payoff if you do them correctly.
As authors, we spend a lot of time online, or locked behind our computers. And while this has merit, there is nothing quite like an in-person event. It can seem like half the battle these days to book an event, but now that you’ve got one on the books, it’s time to make a plan for selling more books in person. This post will give you lots of tools to do this, but this checklist will also be a big help!
Several years ago, I was promoting one of my books, a fiction title set in Oregon called The Cliffhanger, and I traveled there from Southern California to do some events.
Not only had the bookstore never unpacked the promo swag I sent, and done very little in the way of promotion, but a heavy storm kept lots of people indoors the day of my event.
So even though the store was virtually empty, I remembered my own guidance to authors: marketing is about message and movement. So I walked around and introduced myself to people browsing the shelves while seeking refuge from the storm.
I ended up staying way past my signing time, sold a book to each person, and actually wound up selling out of the books I brought with me. It wasn’t a lot, maybe 2 dozen or so, but it was better than I initially expected to sell, which was zero. I learned a lot about connecting with consumers in stores and selling more books at events.
These ideas will come in handy for your upcoming events, so I definitely encourage you to consider them as you plan!
1. Market Your Events
First and foremost, you must do marketing for events. And I don’t necessarily mean marketing to the media, although that’s something you should consider. Instead, you want to be sure to devote some time to in-store marketing. And this should start well in advance of the event, and you’ll want to make it easy for the bookstore or venue to promote the event and drive traffic to it. Here are a few ideas to consider:
A simple place to start is fliers. You’ll want to ask the store first, but most will likely be game for this strategy. If you’re appearing at a craft fair, reach out to any local businesses promoting the event.
Regardless of what some in the industry say, these are not passé, because readers love them. These can double as bag stuffers or be used alongside them. Either way, be sure to customize them to call attention to your event, whether you print them with your event day and time or add a sticker with event info to each bookmark. Bottom line: , bookmarks can be a fun way to bring more people to your event, and sell more books.
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.
2. Don’t limit yourself to a signing
Regardless of where you do the event, plan to do a talk instead of a signing if at all possible. People are drawn into a discussion and are often turned off by an author just sitting at a table. In fact, a table can feel like a boundary between you and the reader. Again, marketing is about message and movement so stand up and speak. Even if the event isn’t conducive to speaking, plan to stand instead of sitting most of the time; it makes it easier to engage with people, and ultimately sell more books.
3. Appear at unique places
If you want to get more attention for your event (and sell more books!), consider doing events in unique places. We’ve done them in Hallmark stores, electronics stores, gyms, museums, senior centers, and even restaurants (on slow nights). Doing outside-the-bookstore events is a great way to gain more interest for your talk and helps you vault past the competition, getting more—and different people—to attend because your event is so unique.
4. Show up early and talk it up
Be sure to have extra swag on hand. Because in the best possible scenario that there are lots of shoppers in the store before your event, you want to have a way to connect with them. Let them know you are doing an event at such and such time and you’d love it if they can sit in. You’ll be surprised how many new people you might pull in this way.
5. Customize your discussion
Before you dig into whatever you’re talking about, take a few minutes to poll the audience first. You’ll want to find out either what brought them there, or what they hope to learn if your talk is educational. The more you can customize your discussion to your audience’s wants and needs, the more likely you are to sell more books at your event. This is even more true if you can solve their problems. It makes you look like the answer machine you are. And your readers will eat it up!
Here’s another pro tip: listen closely to questions you get during your Q&A. These questions can offer some great insight into future books you may want to write or maybe spike some ideas around blog posts or future talks you can offer!
6. Make friends with people putting on the event
Get to know the teams at the bookstore or venue well in advance of your event. If possible, connect with them, tell them who you are and ideally ask if you can give them a small stack of bookmarks or fliers for their information center (if they have one) as well as at the register. Getting to know these folks is a great way to help gather more people into your event.
Or if your event isn’t in a bookstore but attached to a shopping area or mall, go around to nearby stores ask if they’re willing to help promote your event. This could help you triple the number of people at your event. No kidding.
7. Don’t forget the bigger picture
Events aren’t always about selling more books. Sometimes they are about relationships and give you the opportunity to get more newsletter sign ups and make connections. This can sometimes be more important than an immediate book sale.
8. Get people’s names and contact info
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. That’s why it’s important to have a way to contact people after your event. That’s why I always, always recommend that you get names and (email) addresses from everyone in attendance. Signing them up for your mailing list is a great way to stay in touch with them and stay top of mind. And a giveaway or drawing is a great way to collect names.
9. Remember your elevator pitch
If you’re at a trade show, or big book fair or even a local craft fair and 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!
10. Price your book to sell
A round number like $10 or $20 makes for a quick and easy sale. If you can round up or down without adding or losing too much to the price, by all means do it.
11. Bundle your book
One tip for selling more books at events bundling your book to make a deal your readers can’t refuse. When I paired Red Hot Internet Publicity with a second, smaller, marketing book and bumped the $18.95 price to $20 so that buyers got 2 books for $20 for my “event special.” This ultimately boosted my book sales during that event by a factor of 400%! People love a deal, and that’s really what they got. Keep in mind, you don’t have to bundle your book with another book. It can be a special report or even an eBook that you send to them after the event.
12. Use prominent product placement
As you’re doing your talk, make sure that you prop up a copy of your book in front of you the entire time you are speaking. Hold up the book when appropriate and use it as an example when you can. This helps direct your attendees’ eye to the book, which helps ensure that it stays top of mind as you talk.
13. Ease of purchase
While pricing is a great incentive, it also helps if you make it easy to buy. With Square, PayPal, and other remote devices, it’s now easy for you to accept credit card payments. But you need to have some change on hand for people who want to pay with cash, because that happens more than you think!
14. Dress up in character
If your book is about a specific time period or character type (think pirates or Scottish highlanders), why not dress up? Becoming the character is a really fun and engaging way to bring in more readers and sell more books.
15. After the event
What happens after your event? Ideally, you’ve captured names and email addresses, so now is the time to send a note that thanks attendees for coming to your event. Offer them the opportunity to still get the same special event pricing even though the event has concluded. You could find that you’re still making book sales post-event than you did while it was happening.
While we’re on the topic of thanking people, be sure to thank whoever hosted the event, too. A well-placed thank you goes a long way towards securing future events, not just at that venue, but also others. Saying it in person 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.
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. By that token, if we can sell our “business card,” we can keep potential clients in our funnel.
But if this isn’t you, and your book isn’t your business card per se, you still want readers, right? This makes marketing both during and after an event crucial to building that readership.
And, while I’d love to say that every event sells books, it’s not always the case. It sometimes takes a lot of work. However, the one thing I’ve learned both from personal experience and from authors we’ve worked with is that the more you do, the better you get. So start booking events, and practicing this craft, and you’ll find out what works well and what you can put a little more effort into, and you’ll find that it pays off as you start selling more books at events and beyond.
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.