Once you’ve got your book, story, et cetera published, it is time to move on to that third phase that relatively few of us introverted writer types bother to think about: marketing.
There are a number of ways to market yourself. Many will tell you social media is a good way to start, and this is certainly a viable strategy (I wouldn’t bother with this site every week if it weren’t). However, as attending MCC Longview’s now defunct literary festival used to remind me about this time every year, there is still no better way to really connect with readers than direct, face-to-face contact. And the best way to get in contact with large doses of readers is through live appearances.
As a youngster (and even today), I used to go all over the Midwest with my dad attending shows to promote our American Civil War miniatures to a wide array of people: from the old-time enthusiasts with their own ‘war stories’ about the good old days to the five-year-olds with their fleeting interest in anything with historical gravitas. Sometimes they are single-day affairs: other times, whole weekends. Now that I am starting off on the road of authorship, I realize just how blessed I was to receive this experience that I doubt many other kids ever did.
What has this got to do with selling books, one may ask? To which I must answer, everything! The elements of a successful live appearance are essentially the same regardless of the product. Things such as the event type/theme, placement, attendance, audience, etc. are all important when determining whether or not a particular event is right for you. And even when you’re sure everything is just perfect, it can still end up a complete disaster!
Now, which events should you attend? The easy answer is as many as possible. There are a number of festivals, shows, and conventions that host vendors of every kind, including authors. However, given the time, effort, and expense of some shows, it can really pay to narrow your focus. The first step in this process is to know your book (something I have talked about in earlier posts). Once you’re sure of who your target audience is, you can often rule out a number of places. If you’re a romance writer, for instance, then unless your book involves speculative elements, a fantasy/sci-fi festival is probably not for you.
There are costs to attending shows with a specialized theme as well as benefits, however. A fantasy author attending ComiCon may find competing with about a hundred other vendors selling a similar product in a similar genre rather a hopeless endeavor–especially if that author is not yet established and others there are. The decision of whether to risk the investment or not is yours alone.
Where you’re put in the show can make a big difference too. If you’re right up by the entrance, you have the distinct advantage of being the first thing people see when they walk in, and possibly the last thing they see if the entrance also happens to be the exit. This is a very ideal spot, and is usually reserved for those who sign up for an event earliest (which, in the case of annual events, are generally those vendors who return every year). Luckily, this is not the only factor. An author with an exciting or otherwise alluring display can still be a big success, even if placed at the very back of the event.
Another important element is your salesmanship. This is where a knowledge of the general public can really come in handy, though the approach can vary depending on the product. For some people, aggressive salesmanship is the way to go, practically dragging people into your booth by the collar and asking which product they like best. Others take a more discreet approach. The absolute worst thing you can do is sit there and do nothing: customers are less apt to approach a table where the vendors look like a brace of vultures waiting to pounce the moment they drop. One especially productive way to combat this is to work (or at least look like you’re working) on your next project. In the case of miniatures, we always demonstrate our painting right there at the table: in the case of books, it may be scribbling on your next rough draft or outline. This not only frightens fewer potential clients away, but sometimes even makes others curious enough to come and strike up a conversation.
How you do at a show depends largely on you, but there are naturally a multitude of factors that lie beyond your control. The weather can be a large determinant in dictating just how many people come, especially in the case of outdoor appearances. It does happen, and probably will once or twice. There’s nothing else to do in this case but accept the loss and move on.
Whether or not to attend live events is entirely up to you. For beginning authors especially, to whom spending a full day at a table in a local bookstore just to sell one or two signed volumes may seem a complete waste of time, it can be tempting to simply stay safely at home behind a computer and market online. Just remember: While it’s true that for every ten people who come by you might only get one who is truly interested, it is also true that that one dedicated fan is one more than you had when you came to the event. So take my advice and give it a try. You may find it more rewarding than you’d thought.