When your book comes out, you need to market it. It’s a sad fact of life that if you eat 1000 cream cakes, you will get fat, and it’s also a fact that no matter how much you think it should, your book isn’t going to sell itself.
Much of your marketing and promotion will be done online, but that leaves your local resource untapped. You should be selling your books in your local area and homing in on the fact that you are a town resident. If your book is set locally, big it up in your advertising—people love to read about places they know.
In your first twelve months of sales, you should be taking a table at every event going. Never miss an opportunity to have a stall. Most schools have a summer fete, same with churches that might have several events throughout the year. Tap into all of them. Even your humble garage or car-boot sale, get in there and set out your stall to sign and sell. Approach your local library and every library within a fifteen-mile radius. Same with book shops. Ask for a book signing.
So, your diary is full of events, and your first one is looming.
Go big or go home.
This is where you have to decide what you are going to do. If you are only doing one or two events, there’s no point in stockpiling a mountain of books. If you get left with them unsold, you’ve forked out a lot of dead money in advance that you will struggle to recoup.
However, if you are looking at your marketing as part of your author business, it means an initial outlay. You may not have the funds to spend a lot on advance copies to sign and sell, in which case you can only do your best and take what you can afford. But, like any retail outlet, you need supplies of your product to sell—an almost empty stall is not going to draw crowds.
This article is aimed towards the authors running their books as a commercial business, but there are tips to benefit small-time sellers, too.
First, have plenty of books to sign. When I used to market at events, I regularly sold out and had to take orders. This is heartbreaking. Try to be in a position that you never run out of books. Yes, you can take advance orders and promise to get their signed copy to them, but you’ll find that a lot of people will walk away. They have the money in their hand now. They want to exchange it for a book, now. And the homemade cake stall and the plant stall are calling to them. People are far less likely to order for a week down the line when they want a signed copy immediately. These events are a see-want-buy way of doing business.
Do you plan to do more events, or is this a one-off? I cut the ribbons at libraries, did every summer fair, school fete, church table sale and even car boot going. If there was somewhere offering tables, I was there with my books all over it. If you plan to do other events, and if you can afford it, I’d recommend having a supply of 100 books for every title. I used to keep 100 copies of every book.
If you have a poor day, don’t be disheartened, you have books on hand for your next one. Try and use your profits to top back up to the magic 100 after every sale. As you produce more titles, the more interest your table will have—and the more books you will sell. I used to make a fortune at events, especially the school ones, because I taught creative writing in all the local schools.
Don’t pounce on people. It’s off-putting. Let them get to your table, smile, say hello and let them pick up your book and have time to look at it. Talk about them, and let them ask you about your book. Then away you go. You’ve made that connection and established rapport. People will buy from you if they like you.
This is the best marketing tip for selling books at events ever (it works for adult books, too). Go to the pound shop and make sure that every child that comes within fifty feet of your stall gets a free sweet. A chew or a lollipop. You can get a tub of them for a couple of pounds. Now the clever bit, for any parent that buys a book, their child gets a better gift. Again dollar store. A small stuffed toy or a lucky bag with a few bits in it, a pack of crayons or a colouring book. A necklace or a small truck. Cheap rubbish that draws every child’s eye. You use the children as a lure to get people to your stall. The children come for the sweets and the bright shiny—the parents have no choice but to follow.
Getting people to your stall is half the battle. Once they’re there, you have your window to engage them.
Remember: Engagement=interaction=relationship=selling your book.
Do a free bran tub with every sale. Have two tubs, blue and pink, filled with tissue paper confetti. Hide your wrapped gifts in them. The best gifts you can find for under a dollar. Trust me, every child in that fair wants what you’re giving away—but they only get to dig in the wonderful tub and root around for the biggest parcel if Mum and Dad buy a book. Go to the charity shops and thrift stores and pick up anything in immaculate condition that you can wrap for your bran tubs.
This tip is only for the very serious seller. When you’re doing well and the money is rolling in, you can invest some of your profits back into the business. If you really want to go the extra mile, have wrapping paper and bags printed with your book covers.
Now it’s time to look at your stall. It must be;
Put some time and effort into decorating your stall. Decorate your table with fresh flowers or a couple of plants. Drape brightly coloured material. Use any quirky decorations that tie in with elements of your book. Use your imagination and be creative–think outside the box. The more attractive your space is, the more people will want to approach you.
Invest in some good quality banners and sigage.
If you have a small, gentle,friendly dog and you can take it along–do. It’s a people magnet, everybody wants to pet the cute pupper.
The more books you have published, the more copies you will sell. People want choice and variety. A stall selling a single product is going to have difficulty drawing the crowds. However, don’t be disheartened by this. With one product, you just have to work harder to sell it. And we all start with just one title.
These days one of the big buzzwords is merch (merchandise). As a serious seller, you will have a constant run of 100 copies of each title of your book. I found it best to top the numbers back up to 100 from the profits of every event.
Kids love badges. Have some button badges made of all your books. I used to buy a print run of 10,000 for each new title. The printer will keep your design on file for running off future orders, and be sure to knock them down on price because they have no design or typesetting to do after the first run.
Other merchandise you can have printed:
- Button badges
- Yoga mats
- Duvet sets
- (character) figures
How much does all this cost, bearing in mind that every pound you spend is a pound that’s coming out of future profits? It can be as little as a few pounds to have 100 postcards printed to thousands of pounds having a company run the prototype for branded plastic figurines, toys and dolls.
Most of us will never advance from the lower rungs of the merch ladder.
T-shirts are good. To begin with, I would try to have one of each of your cover T-shirts on a coathanger at the front of your stall. Wear one to all of your events, and you become a walking talking advert of your own product. You can take orders until the profits come in. Remember, the same applies with merch as the books themselves. People don’t want to order—they want to buy now. So as the money comes in, try to increase your holding stock.
What I did was at the end of every event, I’d count up what I’d sold and re-order that many of each product in different colours and sizes—plus one item of everything. When I had enough of each colour and size. I’d buy a jacket or a hoodie and start building stocks of those.
Your stall should be attractive. Have a pile of each novel with another book propped against it. Have a fan of five of them to complete the display. If you do button badges, don’t put them all in one pot …spread them in five containers per design. You are creating the illusion of having more products to sell. Same with bookmarks, don’t put them in one box, spread five of them in a fan and then have some piles of five in each. Fill in the space you have. Make sure the big tub of lollipops is front and centre so that every passing child sees them. Have your bran tubs at the front of the stall clearly visible to all the children.
Check out the gambling laws at your event and ask if you can have a Name the Teddy card. Never do more than fifty on a card…and if you think you can sell more than that, run several with different teddy’s to depict different characters from your books. It doesn’t have to be just for children’s books. On your card, use all your character names and your pen name before going to randoms. …As well as the teddy, give a pound off one of your books if a character name from that book is chosen as the winner.
If the event you’re attending is outdoors—be prepared. Make sure you have a canopy or a gazebo—a sudden downpour will damage your products and make them unsaleable.
It sounds obvious—but take care of the basics, Have a good pen that feels comfortable in your hand. Different writing implements will affect the quality of your handwriting. Have a pen that suits you—and a couple of spares to cover all eventualities.
Above all, Remember, engagement=relationship=booksales.
Enjoy your event—and smile.
Katherine Black / Susan (Sooz) Simpson
Founder of Best Book Editors
Katherine has held almost every single job imaginable, from painting gnomes to zookeeper. She spent most of her life in the caring profession and has managed both a nursing home and a care agency. But her passion for the written language always brings her home to novel writing.
Born in Tyne-and-Wear, North-East England, she has settled in the beautiful Lake District, Cumbria, with her partner, two dogs, a cat, an iguana and a python (just don’t ask her which of those six things is her favourite!).
She specialises in content creation and social media outreach, and has been a developmental editor for hundreds of clients. She owns and operates bestbookeditors.com where she helps foundling authors polish their skills. However, after being diagnosed with a dramatic brain condition in 2022, she has had to let 23 staff go, and scale back the business. BBE is still very much open, we are just fewer and can’t take as much work on.
Katherine Black is the author of psychological thriller/detective/fantasy adventure novels.