My First Book Fair/Authors’ Expo – Part 1

I A/B tested my poster and sold more books with version B…

This thread will be four to five posts long and will focus on marketing with occasional forays into related topics. Know now that I don’t think I’m qualified to write on such. Read my LinkedIn profile and you’ll see that lots of others consider me extremely qualified; I’ve written peer reviewed articles on marketing, published books on marketing, created marketing technologies, developed marketing strategies for recognizable brands, …
But I know my limits. I’m not qualified.
Then again, nobody who claims they are is.

Last week I attended my first “authors’ expo”.

Have you read my blog posts on Writing/Critique Groups? It all came down to “What is your goal/reason for being in a writing/critique group?”

The same is true (to me) regarding book fairs, author expos, cons and such:

What is your reason for going to the event?

I knew my reason and shared it with several people before attending; I went to learn about such events. Specifically, how to plan for such events so that I maximize my ROI (“Return On Investment” including emotional, mental, physical and spiritual return on investment, not simply financial).

I wasn’t disappointed. What a learning experience! I had a great day.

Not so lots of other attendees. I’m not sure if they had a specific goal for attending. I’m sure many of the attendees’ expectations were unmet. I know this by the number of people telling me they wouldn’t be back next year, the number of attendees who left early, the general conversation in the halls, the conversations as people packed up and got in their cars, the lack of previous year attendees, …

Here’s a nutshell marketing plan for those considering book fairs, author expos, cons and the like:

  1. Set a goal for attending an event.
  2. Do some research to determine if a particular event will reasonably meet your goal.
  3. Determine what you need to help you achieve your goal.
  4. Practice achieving your goal before you get there.

The rest of this post deals with item 1, setting a goal.

Set a goal for attending an event
I’m boring and dull so I tend to set my expectations low. Example: I went to learn about book/author events. I knew nothing going in except what I’d heard and read from authors I’ve interviewed, had no first-hand experience (the cultural anthropologist in me lives for participant-observer experiences) so the only way to go was up.

I went to learn. I did. Expectation met, job done. Yeeha.

What is your goal? Book sales (how many do you have to sell to make it worthwhile)? Peer recognition (pats on the back, make new friends, meet old friends)? Fan recognition (ditto plus ego boosts and more)? Make business/industry connections (networking with publishers, agents, publicists, authors, make book/publication deals)?

Attend with no goals and you won’t be disappointed. However, attend some event and feel disappointed and you’ve discovered you did have a goal, an expectation, and were unaware of it. Not good. The moment you recognize your goal is more than low hanging fruit (“I want to learn about these events”) the more you need to specify that goal. The higher the fruit, the greater the constraints on that goal.

Example: I want to sell 100 books.

Good goal!

Does it have to be 100 exactly or is 97 good enough and anything over 100 is gravy? How about 95?

Example: For myself, if I have selling 100 books as my goal, anything under 93 books is failure, 93 means I got on base, 94-97 gets me around the bases, 98-101 is a homerun and anything over 101 means I cleared the bases and won the game.

Anything else is nice and welcome but the goal is 100 books sold and if I don’t reach that goal then let’s hope I took notes so I’ll know why I failed to reach that goal and can avoid such expectational errors at future events.

What about peer recognition? How many handshakes connotes success? If Steven King actually chats with me and we enjoy a good laugh together is that better than twenty Elacrutz Flocknarks, author of Elacrutz Flocknark’s Book of Love? Especially if Elacrutz can’t write to save her life, is self-published (and CreateSpace charged her to publish it) and she gives her book away for free because nobody’ll drop a dime on a copy? Elacrutz may be a swell person and if you consider her your peer you’re success metrics are way lower than mine.

Are you going to meet your fans? Bring hand sanitizer. Who knows where their hands have been. Be prepared to be idolized. Be prepared to be idyllized. Be prepared to meet some truly neat and amazing people. Be prepared to meet some people who make you want to protect animals and small children. Be prepared to meet people you want to know better. Be prepared to meet people who refuse to be ignored (even when you’re giving them your full attention). Be prepared to hear bizarre anecdotes. Be prepared to hear intimate details about their lives. Be prepared to be hustled. Be prepared to be bribed. Be prepared to be propositioned (especially if you’re a known author). Be prepared to be annoyed. Just be prepared!

Business and industry connections? What specifically? A publisher? How good are you at pitching a) your manuscript and b) yourself? Ditto agents. Publicists don’t really care about your manuscript and yourself, both are raw material to them.

A suggestion re setting a goal is taken from investing as in “attending an event is investing in your future as an author”. Seasoned investors spread (diversify) their portfolio so a single loss doesn’t constitute a total loss, hence spread your goals out. Pick a little from selling books, peer recognition, fan recognition, and making business contacts, something like “I plan on selling ten books, making friends with two other authors, shaking hands with at least ten fans, getting on one author interview show and learning what publishers and agents are looking for now and over the next 12-18 months.”

You’ve set five subgoals that together define your event goal. Achieve four out of five and you’ve done well.

Next up – Researching events