Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Belea T. Keeney
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Having sold books at dozens of events over the past decade, I've developed a recipe for success and working a booth to your advantage. With some basic ingredients and a generous dash of high spirits, try mixing up these tactics at your next event and see your sales go up.
1: Make eye contact and break the ice.
Your first goal is to simply get people to stop walking and look at your booth and your books. A simple "good morning or hello, how are you?" is one way to start. If you're at festival of some sort, ask how they're enjoying it. Say it with a smile and try to be genuine. Vary your greeting -- you'll get sick of saying the same thing all day long, so try variations. When you do get someone to stop, ask an open-ended question that can't be answered with a "yes" or "no". "What do you like to read?" is much better than "Do you like to read?"
If this is hard for you (and for some writers, it really IS hard), work yourself up to it by greeting every tenth person, then every fifth, then every other one. Most folks at events travel in pairs or groups so you'll have wider coverage by letting your gaze encompass everyone. You'll be able to tell the serious reader by how quickly they come up to the table, whether they grab any books right away, what sort of questions they ask, and how much they talk back and forth with you.
Some folks will ignore you and just keep walking. Don't take it personally; besides, you'll probably never see any of these folks ever again!
2: Try to stand up most of the time you're "onstage."
Standing and moving shows a bit of interest and energy. Of course, if you have to sit, work on projecting your voice (events are often noisy) and good spirits in your greetings. Smile, be enthusiastic, engage the people across the table from you.
3: Steer them toward your books!
Once you have a sense of what your prospect enjoys reading, you can steer them toward your books, remind them that friends and family may enjoy your book(s), or steer them to your fellow author(s) at the booth.
Get a book into their hands! Hand them one. (Most people will take something handed to them.) Give them a sentence-or-two synopsis--"this is about a dressage rider who falls in love with a cowboy"--then watch their eyes. Once you see them start to skim the back cover copy or interior blurb, shut up! Don't distract them from focusing on the book.
4: And, since you're probably standing, don't loom!
It's natural to lean forward and want to flip pages for people but try not to invade their personal space bubble. Even though you'll probably have a table between you, make the conscious effort to step or lean back as visitors are reading so they don't feel crowded and pressured.
If they're really interested they'll start flipping through the pages. When they look up, they may ask how much the book is. (Even if you have signs up on the table with prices, most people ignore them.) Tell them the price, (and it's always a sale price for whatever event you're at), let them know about any discounts you can offer (three for $40, no sales tax, etc.), and smile. And ask, "May I inscribe that for you?" Always double-check how to spell the name and sign away.
5: If they don't want to buy right now, that's fine.
You can still make a good impression and make a connection. Give them a business card, a chapbook, a brochure, a postcard, whatever you've brought with you to give away. It should have your name, website, book title(s), and e-mail on it so you can be contacted. Shake their hand if that feels appropriate, tell them how they can order your book online or through a bookseller, and send them on their way with a warm feeling about you and your books.
6: If you're sharing a booth with other authors, mention their books.
Maybe you've written a historical romance and your fellow author has a science fiction story. Cross-sell each other's work if the person you're talking to doesn't seem enthused about your title. And as a reminder, if your fellow author is talking with someone, don't interrupt and try to pitch your own book. Let your fellow writer hand off folks to you. Of course, if either of you make a sale; it's a nice touch to slip a postcard or bookmark from the other author into the book you've sold.
7: Make friends with the vendors next to you.
Especially if you're working an event alone, having someone keep an eye on your booth while you take a bathroom break is a big help. Offer to bring them drinks if you're making a food run. Plus, just having someone to socialize with during the inevitable lulls is pleasant. At the end of the day, get some of their business cards and pass on their info to others. They may do the same for you. If you find yourself attending events over time, you may see many of the same faces year after year. Get to be buddies with your fellow vendors!
8: Eat away from the booth or at least out of sight.
At the bare minimum, move your chair to the rear of the booth and take small bites so you can swallow quickly and respond to someone stopping by. People will feel awkward about interrupting your meal, so try to keep the food out of sight (behind a chair or something), and be ready to greet the public when needed. Remember, you've only got the booth space for X number of hours so make good use of the time you have access to the public walking by.
9: Make notes about who buys the book.
What are the demographics? Jot down gender and age range, whether they've got kids, what their interests are. If you've inscribed books to folks, keep track of their names so you can thank them on your blog/website/social page later on. The point is to educate yourself about your market and your audience, give you ideas on other ways to reach that market, and to make that personal connection that helps you win readers and fans.
10: Try to enjoy yourself!
Make up stories about people walking by, eavesdrop on conversations, make quick notes for story ideas, snatches of dialogue, etc. You've paid good money to be in attendance; you may as well have a productive time while you're selling books.
By using these tips, working a booth can be a much more profitable and enjoyable experience for you. Done well, working a booth will earn you book sales, new readers, and good word-of-mouth. Combine your enthusiasm and sales tactics with some energy and gumption, garnish with sincerity and enthusiasm, and you'll have a recipe for success at events!
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Belea T. Keeney is a native Floridian writer whose short stories have appeared in such varied venues as WordKnot, Sniplits, Boundoff, Florida Horror: Dark Tales from the Sunshine State, and Lycanthrope: The Beast Within. She has received two Artist Enhancement Grants from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and works as an editor for Torquere Press, Samhain Publishing, and select private clients. Time away from the keyboard is spent in the riding ring trying to pick up the correct diagonal at the trot, collecting caladiums, and pondering the beauty of tigers. Visit her website at http://www.beleatkeeney.com/.