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How to Rock a Book Event – Part One

Taking your book babies on the road can be the most fun – or frustrating – thing you do once your book/s are out in the world. The author career is a closet full of hats, with “writer” being only one of several you will wear over time. There’s “publisher” and “editor” and “marketer”, yes, and book events fall under the “distributor” hat.

Barnes & Noble is a distributor. Amazon is a distributor. Draft2Digital is a distributor. They each have an audience of shoppers who are lured to their shiny shelves via advertising and though you may be tempted to think of them as “stores”, you must think again. A shopper has a store. An author has a distributor. And when you schlep your books to an event, you are a distributor, too.

Get Your Hat on Straight

Are you participating in a book event as a hobbyist or a business? A hobbyist shows up to interact with their craft and the focus is on the craft of their craft, inspiration from fellow crafters, and the joy of discussing their craft with passers-by.

A hobbyist is holding a glorified garage sale at book events. They don’t collect sales tax.

An entrepreneur shows up as a professional. A business person has a plan, a goal, and a process and the focus is on growing their brand, making sales, networking with other vendors, and learning from the experience.

A business person has a Seller’s Permit, a Business License, and takes Visa.

The first thing you want to ask yourself is which one are you and what your expectations are for the book event. One is no better than the other, but identifying yourself ahead of time will fundamentally change your experience.

Perspective is Everything

All things being equal, if you have one book for sale at your table, you will make fewer sales than a person with multiple titles on the next table over. If you are selling a memoir, you will make fewer sales than the romance author next to you. If you wrote the most compelling content ever and have a plain cover and the author next to you has a fascinating cover with absolute drivel in the middle…guess what? They are going to sell more books.

Not fair? Then you are a hobbyist. And you are correct.

Fair? Then you are a professional. And you are correct.

But also, you will do something about it.

What you need is industry perspective and until you stew in it long enough, how could you possibly have any? Stats are the first way to begin to understand what you are seeing. How people shop and why they will come to your table and pull out their wallet. The second is a crash course in the fine art of peopling. Something that can make introverted writers hide under a rock.

We will never get to see their sparkling smiles. And very likely never, ever realize they made a book, let alone read it.

All is lost, then? Not remotely. But without perspective, you will end up hot under the collar. Knowledge is power, and perspective makes your author career a happier one.

Yin and Yang

A hobbyist thinks a book event is about selling books. They wouldn’t mind getting business results, but they behave like a hobbyist. A professional does not get distracted. They aren’t thinking that if they spend “x” amount of dollars for a table at the event and don’t make that money back they have wasted “x” dollars. Those dollars were in a marketing budget and planned ahead, regardless of sales.

The cost goes up for a live event when you add up your supplies, book printing, and merch ahead of time and (sometimes) shipping everything to the venue ahead of time.

While it is possible to be profitable at live events if you optimize, doing so takes practice and a good understanding of the genre you sell. For some genres there is far less margin for error and a much smaller audience. You might be a natural-born salesman. Or sometimes, your target audience discovers your table and you suddenly sell out.

A romance author may sell few books during the event but rake in plenty of online sales after, as readers order to their heart’s content in the privacy of their home… because free bookmarks were handed out.

A professional is very aware of the other things their dollars purchased. ROI includes:

  • brand awareness
  • networking
  • connecting with superfans
  • testing your pitch options
  • later purchases
  • education
  • inspiration
  • experience

There are tangibles and intangibles to consider. Whether they have fun or not isn’t necessarily on the list because a job is a job. It isn’t the priority, nor is it personal. They are representing their brand, not themselves, and conduct themselves accordingly when they’re on the clock.

What to Expect from Organizers

The company that organizes the book event is just that: a business. They take your table fee and use it for the venue, marketing, rentals, insurance, and the myriad of things that go into holding a sizable event. They have employees to pay, volunteers to direct, and tangles to smooth. They have a hotline. The larger the fee, the more they can do. It’s their business where they decide to spend your fee, not yours. Your book does not matter, your fee does.

When a fee is low or non-existent, your expectations from the organizers adjust accordingly.

And they should include things like a BYO table/chair/canopy arrangement and a DIY style. A venue with public restrooms not necessarily monitored. If there is a tangle, it may not be smoothed. Your book still does not matter, but then again, they aren’t getting paid to care.

For a taste of perspective, securing your 10×10 booth at ComicCon is $3,000 and a 6′ small press table runs $500 this year. The San Diego Writer’s Festival is $325 for a 10×10 booth with a 6′ table in it. Occasionally, various writer’s groups like San Diego Writer’s Ink or local independent bookstores will host member tables for free.

You cannot expect the organizers of your event to usher a hundred shoppers per hour past your table on limited resources and budget. Hobbyists who want a fun experience should expect fewer sales than professionals who paid a bigger table fee. They could expect to spend the day alone, doom-scrolling through social media. But they could also be content doing so.

Again. Your expectations of a book event are equal to what you are willing to invest in it. A bigger fee does not always guarantee a professionally run event. But at least you know what you’re looking at.

Once you’ve decided on a book event, you need to know how to prepare for one.