Last Updated July 2019
From indie authors to traditional–unless you’re JK Rowling–a big part of being an author is figuring out how to sell more books. Marketing, social media, etc…. I have found that for me, my biggest return on investment is in-person book events.
I’ve learned a lot of the logistics of doing book events in the past several years, and I want to share with other authors, so here goes!
1. The Basics
To do a book event you absolutely need two things in hand:
and a way to accept payments
Whenever I’m on my way to an event, and I’m experiencing that last-minute “what did I forget?” moment, I just ask myself: Do I have my books and my change? If the answer is yes, I pull out of the driveway.
The books: The hardest part is knowing how many books you will need, because you never know how many books you might sell. This is something you will only learn from experience–I have sold anywhere between 1-30 books at a single event, but for the most part average 10. Just try to prepare as best you can. Purchase them through your print-on-demand services (KDP or IngramSpark) if you’re an indie author, or through your publisher.
Budget how many books you can afford to have in your inventory. Books don’t go bad, but you’ll probably also be reporting them as inventory on your business taxes. You’ll also need to physically lug them to the event, so you might want to invest in some sort of cart. I have this one. And, of course, you’ll need to store them in between events.
Accepting payments: Part one of accepting payments is to first look into your state’s tax laws, and any other laws pertaining to selling items. Obtain any permits or licensing before doing an event. I won’t give you any advice on taxes.
Part two is the actual payment. You will want to have change on hand for cash purchases, so calculate how much you will need beforehand and go to your bank and get as many 1’s 5’s or 10’s you might need.
Accepting credit cards is exceedingly easy these days, and is likely to get you more sales than if you only accept cash. PayPal and Square both make card swipers you can plug into your phone. Generally, you’re getting hit with a small fee for each transaction, so make sure to factor that in with your recordkeeping.
2. Finding Events
The first event I ever attended was at my alma-mater: they were hosting an art show, and were looking for alumni who were authors to be part of it. I happened to get an email about it. The second event I attended was at a local library, with several other authors doing book signings–I found out about it from a newspaper clipping someone found for me.
The point here is that you can find events through almost any channel. These days, I find most things through Google, or Facebook to be honest. Join mailing lists, groups, and search for “local author event” or fairs in your area.
Libraries and book stores are the first places that probably come to mind for a book signing–Getting people to attend a single-author event, however, is a whole ‘nother topic. But feel free to branch out depending on your target market. I’ve even done flea markets, craft shows, anime conventions and renaissance faires. Those work for me because I write fantasy. Ask yourself, what events do you think your readers attend?
There is the table fee to consider. How many books do you need to sell to cover it? Are the event hours worth your time? If you know any other authors in your area, try partnering with them and sharing a booth to split the cost if it’s high.
3. The important part: Logistics
The amount of things you may or may not need will depend on the type of show, and how much or little you want to bring. Places like libraries and bookstores will generally provide tables and chairs, at the very least, whereas at an outdoor craft show you might need a pop-up tent to go with your setup.
No, you don’t need all of these things below. But maybe you want some of them. Figure out what’s important to you, and make your own list that you keep for each event so you can check things off while packing!
Here’s a list, in no particular order, of things I suggest to have (besides your books & change):
- Table Cloth
- Folding Chairs
- Tent/Tent Weights if needed
- Tarp for outdoor events (useful for saving books in the rain)
- A backdrop, if you want to get fancy
- Business Cards
- email list sign-up sheet
- Other promo materials, if you have them (postcards, bookmarks, etc.)
- A way to track sales, even if it’s just a designated piece of paper or notebook
- A receipt book, in case someone wants one
- Stands to prop up your book(s)
- Signage: banners, posters, flyers, stands, etc.
- Pricing- stickers for the books, or small signs indicating prices
- If it’s going to be a long day, bring food, snacks, water, caffeine, etc.
- A spare battery, to charge your phone.
- Various supplies: tape, duct tape, rubber bands, binder clips, Purrell wipes, tissues, hand warmers, scissors. (Can you tell I used to be a Stage Manager?)
4. Event Day
Now, you’ve been getting ready for this day for a while now, and it’s finally here! First: be early. Whether it’s the library, or the several thousand people market, there are many reasons to be early, and you certainly don’t want to get stuck in traffic, parking, or be late setting up. I like to pack my car the night before, if I can. Second: do you have your books and change?
A few HONEST tips, for once you’ve set up:
- Try to look approachable. Smile, if that’s your thing. Stand, if that’s your thing. Don’t play with your phone a lot. Be aware of how you seem–would YOU want to approach your table?
- Take pictures of your setup, or event signage, and put it out on all of your social media channels to let everyone know you’re there. Hopefully you have also shared and posted that you’re attending this event a good amount before the actual event as well.
- Prepare an “elevator speech”–a quick, 30 second synopsis explaining your book.
- Don’t be disappointed. Not everyone likes to read, or not everyone may like your genre. Or someone who might love your book might not be able to afford it. So hand out lots of business cards or postcards.
- Make friends with the other vendors/authors/staff. Useful for when you need to leave your table to go to the bathroom/get food/go to your car.
- Don’t pack up early. This is a big pet peeve of mine because it drives customers away from all the vendors. Besides, you might miss out on those sales! Even when I’m packing up, the last thing I pack is the books. I’ve had other vendors buy books from me when it was breakdown time.
If you do an event outside, plan to deal with the weather. There are some things you can do to prepare, but sometimes there is nothing you can do. If you have a tent, you can get walls to attach to it, to keep out rain and sun. You can also get weights to keep your tent from leaving the ground (highly recommend!). You can wear rain boots.
There is a lot that goes into doing an in person event, but I have to be honest, that feeling of signing your book and handing it over to a reader is awesome. Isn’t that why we all do this?
I will be honest and say that I am better with words coming out of my hands than my mouth, BUT sometimes you just need to get yourself out there if you want to get your books into more reader’s hands!
Do you sell at markets and events? What kinds of things do you bring?