My First Book Fair/Authors’ Expo – Part 2

You want to sell books? First make sure there’ll be people to buy them.

This thread is based on my experiences, conversations with authors and several years helping companies develop and execute marketing strategies. Part 1 introduced setting reasonable goals for attending book fairs and authors’ expos.


What is your reason for going to the event?

Determine your reason for going to an event before you sign up to attend. Come up with a reasonable goal. 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).

At this point, you’ve set a goal. Next comes making sure your expectations are likely to be met.

Do some research to determine if a particular event will reasonably meet your goal
A good way to make sure your goals are met is to research the event you’ll be attending. Ask yourself how likely you are to meet your goal at the event and be brutally honest with yourself when you answer. Personally, I’d rather be disappointed at missing an event than learning firsthand it was a waste of my time.

Example: You want to sell ten books. Great and good for you. Recognize that the amount of effort necessary to sell one book is inversely proportional to how well known you are. I offer three scenarios as demonstrations:

  1. Let’s say JK Rowling and Steven Baldacci also have tables at the event and you’re a self-published newbie (Rowling and Baldacci most likely have booths. Paid for by their publishers. And are paid to attend). You think you’re going to sell any books that day? Do you think your books will be noticed? Some might claim that the presence of named authors increases your chance of a sale, as in “a rising tide lifts all boats”.
    I’ll differ. The tide will rise, true, and mostly around Rowling and Baldacci’s boats. Your boat may end up beached because all the water will be going to their boats, not yours.

  2. Let’s say you’re a recognizable name. Not a Rowling or Baldacci but people have heard your name, perhaps on radio, perhaps on TV, perhaps in a magazine or online. Further, Rowling and Baldacci won’t be attending.
    In such cases, people are coming to see you. You are “the show” and yes, you’ll sell a good share of books (note: if an expo or con contacts you and wants you to appear, they buy your books and sell them, not you. You may sign them, but you’re not lugging around boxes of books, the con/expo is).

    Telling readers they’re stupid if they’re not interested in your book is not a winning strategy.

  3. How about this is your first book, it’s self-published, and the con is all self-pubbed newbies? Be prepared to work. You may have a killer story and be a gifted writer but people don’t know you. You’ll need to develop other strategies for selling your books. One woman at the authors’ expo I attended spent her day complaining about not getting on NPR, people’s lack of interest in her subject matter, how much research she put in and what an amazing story it was. She didn’t sell any books that I know of. She offered to trade books with me. I wasn’t interested.

There are other questions you should be asking and the fair/con/expo producers should be able and willing to answer:

  • How many book buyers will be attending? The expo I attended provided a list of all the authors and workers and presenters who’d attend. It came to about 130 people. The highest traffic moment of the day was about 150 people. This was not a place to sell books. Self-pubbed authors don’t (as a rule) buy a lot of books from other self-pubbed authors.
  • What’s the size of the floor traffic? For that matter, what’s the size of the floor? Is the vendor room separate from the presentation room? What were the attendance numbers like for the past five years (minimum. I’d prefer ten)? Was that paid or free attendance? Free attendance usually means higher attendance but not a buying audience. Paid attendance usually means lower attendance but a buying audience.
  • Is the audience specific to your genre or is it a general readership? An audience specific to your genre means lots of authors in your genre will be there selling their books, too. You’re more likely to sell some books but there’ll be more competition for each sale. A general readership audience means there’ll be less overall interest in your books because everybody’s competing for your sale. Find out how many competitive authors have attended, will attend, are repeating from previous years. This will indicate if your genre sells well at that general readership event.

Example: You want to make friends with a few authors. Look them up. Do a general search on Google. Check out their websites. Read anything available by them. Did they do an interview? Watch/listen/learn. Look them up on Goodreads and Amazon. What’s your goal in making friends? Decide who’ll be worth your time, who’ll suck the life out of you and give nothing in return, and plan appropriately.

But always be willing to be surprised. I had a hero (based on their work) whom I realized was a bigoted, fearful idiot when I attended one of their lectures. Eye opening! I once sat in a presentation merely to have a place to rest between sessions I wanted to attend. I had no idea who the presenter was. It was a life-altering event!

Example: You want to get on an author interview show. Obviously, make sure someone at the event does author interviews, either at the event or after the event concludes. Are you the kind of author they interview (they do/don’t interview self-pubs, they do/don’t interview in your genre, they do/don’t interview single-book authors, …)? Larger events may have multiple chances to be interviewed or have one scheduled and, as above, larger events means there’ll be more competition for each interview.

Find out what interests the interviewer. Watch/Listen to some interviews they’ve done. Are you able to tickle their interests? Perhaps more important, are they good interviewers (both interviewer and interviewee enjoy the interview)? Do they ask good questions? Do they let the interviewee fumble? Is there a lot of dead air? As with all else, do your homework, choose wisely.

Check their social reach. Ask for numbers of watchers, listeners, subscribers and downloads (if applicable). Check their webstats. Do people drop off the page after two minutes of a ten minute interview? Do people never read below the fold? Then who cares if their numbers are great, nobody’s really paying attention. Do they offer downloads but nobody’s downloading anything? Don’t waste your time. Do they offer clickthroughs to your books? What’s that performance been in the past for other interviewees? How long before and after the interview goes live do they promote it?

The big question (to me) would be do they want you to pay for it? Is it a simple, text-based Q&A interview? They better have millions of active followers to make it worthwhile. Is it a video that gets posted to YouTube, Vimeo, iTunes on and on? Still check their active audience.

Not sure if the active follower count is good enough but still want to do it? Check the quality of their produced interviews. Remember, you get what you pay for.

Example: Learn what publishers and agents are looking for. This one can be tricky because (usually) publishers and agents don’t know what they want except in a general sense. Several people I’ve talked with said they went to some con, met publishers and agents and all the publishers and agents were interested in was finding the next Harry Potter. Forget that JK Rowling’s manuscripts were rejected by umpteen thousand publishers and agents before she got someone interested. Others tell me that it doesn’t matter how good your manuscript is, publishers and agents are only interested in whether or not they believe they can market – read “make money from” – your manuscript (which often means “Can they market you?”).

On one level I can accept this. They’re in business to make money, you are the risk and businesses aren’t successful (ie, making money) unless they minimize risk. I ran an international consulting firm for over twenty years and that experience causes me to think of the publishing business as entrepreneurs (authors) and investors (publishers). Investors don’t like to lose money, every entrepreneur believes they’d be a good investment.

However, investors are lousy at making good investments. Their success rate is low(!!!) single digits at best. In publishing this equates to the success of one King, Baldacci or Rowling paying for the investments in several hundred unknowns, little knowns and assorted other wannabe-knowns.

The other thing you need to appreciate is that King, Baldacci, Rowling, Michener, Bellow, Singer, Levin, Wallace, Ellison, Asimov, Heinlein, Burroughs, Merritt, (how long a list would you like?) established their careers long before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social networks existed, most of them before AOL, Genie, Compuserve and BBSes existed.

You, early 21st century author that you are, don’t have the luxury of making it just because you’re a gifted writer with an exciting story to tell. I’m hearing more and more that agents and publishers won’t consider you unless you already have a strong social network in place. That presents a conundrum (to me). Self-pubs tell me they’re working their networks anywhere from 24×7 (one self-pubbed has a mobile dedicated to social networking. Her phone’s set to wake her if someone tweets her so she can respond immediately. Really?) to a low of four hours a day.

That means there’s four hours out of the fifteen or so I’m awake that I’m not writing.

And I love to write.

Imagine how difficult that level of social commitment is for someone like me who’s professionally boring and dull!

One current (as of mid-late 2018) market demand (regardless of genre) is that you should have several books in you and the more that are ready to go into production the better. Series (as opposed to serialized novels) are best. A good runner up (provided you’re a prolific writer) is having several books (period) ready to go into production. This means the publisher can take up significant “shelf space” putting your name out there (this applies to online sales, too).

Consider it this way; the more titles you have, the more opportunities the publisher has to push you on the reading public because (remember) you’re the product, not just your books, hence many agents and publishers will only deal with authors with established, large social networks.

Next up – What do you need to help you achieve your goal?

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