Out in the ‘Verse

Selling your book in person – Part Two

This is part II of my quick guide to selling your books in
person. You can find the first part here.

Rule #4 Know your Audience

This applies to your book AND the event you want to attend.
We’ve already talked about your pitch and such. You have to
know who your book is aimed at: Young Adult, Horror readers, SciFi fans,
Romance readers? A combination of genres? That
should already be deep in the back of your mind before you go out and sell. If
you write urban fantasy and a reader come up and says something like “I love
Jim Butcher. Is your book like his?” (It’ll happen.) You should know that Jim
writes urban fantasy and his most famous work deals with a supernatural
detective series, and you should be prepared to compare and contrast your work
with the expectations of that reader. Yes, it’s tough to know EVERY writer in
your genre, but you really should know the top 3-5 writers in the field. That
way you have a benchmark the reader can relate to.
More importantly here, know as much about the event’s
attendees and your fellow authors as you can before committing. Are they a
general con with mystery writers next to horror writers, next to poets, next to
nonfiction authors, etc, etc? Just authors in your wheelhouse? It’s important to know how receptive the audience
will be to your work. Will it work in your favor if you’re the only scifi
writer there, or hurt your sales?
Find out as much as you can about the history of the event
itself. How many years has the con (or whatever) been going on? How many
dealers are usually in the dealers’ room? Can you get a figure on the general
attendance at the con for the last year or two? Can you get in touch with an
author who attended and sold at the last event? Ask them if they’re going back.
Why or why not? Don’t come right out and ask how much they made, that’s not
cool. But, most authors I know will be candid with me about whether they “did
alright” or if “the whole thing was a disaster.” It’s good recon and you should
really listen if someone warns you away.

Did I mention sales? Rule #5 Do the Math

Yeah. I know, you’re an artist and all of this business
stuff sucks. But… You still have to pay attention. Is the event you want to
attend going to make sense for your bank account? How much is a table going to set you back? Does
that table include admission to the con? Will you have to pay for an overnight
stay at a hotel? How much will travel cost? Can you/should you drive, or will
you have to fly? Food is good. How many meals will you have to pay for?
Yes, as I mentioned, there can be more important things than
money involved. Are you meeting new readers/editors/authors that you can learn
from? Is that compensation enough? Are you doing a signing for a cause that is more
important to you? For instance: Do you want to support libraries or schools by doing an
appearance or a signing or something? Factor all of that in, but be realistic.
Bring it down to this equation – If a train leaves Chicago
at 30 mph… and a second train leaves Seattle
going 56 mph… How many books will you have to sell in order to pay for that
trip? It might be an over-simplified equation, but it’s a decent rule of thumb.

Which kind of brings us right to my last rule… The dreaded Rule #6… (Hold on to your butts)… No One is Going to
Buy Your Book.

That’s right; no one is going to buy your book. If you’re
prepared for that possibility, you should be fine. I’m not saying it’ll happen to you, but it could. You can do all the prep you need, do everything
right, have a great book and they STILL might not buy your novel from you.
Maybe they spent all their money before they got to your table. They could be saving
their $15 bucks specifically to buy the next book in a series from Tim Waggoner or Jonathan
Maberry (my money certainly goes there). Maybe they’re saving that $15 to eat all weekend and just want to
browse and meet authors. You don’t know. I’ve been to many events with 100+
authors signing and selling their books. An individual obviously can’t buy
every book from every author. That gets expensive. Be prepared. And don’t get
desperate. You’ll have readers browsing the aisles that will stop and chat,
others that won’t say a word, and occasionally the ones who won’t meet your
eyes and pretend you’re not there. I’m pretty sure it happens to every author
at some time or another. It isn’t because they hate you.
I’ve heard stories from several New York Times best selling
authors about signings that were set up and well-publicized, but had no
turnout. One author told me he loves personal signings because it gives him a
couple of uninterrupted hours to work on his next book. It’s a crapshoot, and
it might not be your fault. But it could happen. It’s tough, but don’t let it
freak you out. You can go to a con or signing or whatever with hopes of selling
out all the stock you bring, but if you keep in mind you many not sell any at
all… you’ll keep your sanity a lot longer.
Those are my personal rules for selling at an event. I’ve
seen authors at events look for someone or something to blame when their sales
“The weather was horrible and no one came out.”
“The weather was awesome and everyone went to the park
instead of to the book fair.”
“The organizers put me way back in the corner and nobody
could find my booth.”
“People just weren’t buying.”
“They didn’t publicize the event/me enough.”
“Last year’s event was better organized.”

I can’t deny any of those things could have an effect on
your sales. If you step back and make sure you’ve done everything you can to be
ready for the event, you can bitch about why your sales were in the toilet. But
if you just show up with no plan and no prep, pipe down and use your free time
to practice your pitch!