15 Secrets to Selling More Books at Events

by | Oct 23, 2018 | Book Marketing Basics, Booking & Promoting Events

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Maybe you’ve done events in the past – whether these are book shows specifically, or book signings in bookstores, libraries, or even craft fairs. If you came up short on book sales, you’re probably not alone. So often we decide to do these events, without any kind of real insight into what it takes to make them successful. And that’s not your fault per se, because doing successful events takes time. People who do a lot of trade shows know this – it can be a lot of work, but also a lot of payoff if it’s done correctly.

As authors, we spend a lot of time online, or locked behind our computers. And while this has merit, there is nothing quite like an in-person event. And while getting a book event booked seems like half the battle (and it is), now it’s time to figure out how to start selling more books at events, regardless of the event you’re doing. In addition to this post, I’ve also recently published a checklist here!

Some years back, I was promoting a fiction book I wrote, The Cliffhanger. The book was set in Oregon and I traveled up there to do some events. But you know, factoring in the travel and the time it takes to do these, I really needed this to pay off in terms of book sales. As luck would have it, a major storm hit the area on the day of the signing. Though I had gotten some press for the event, the heavy storm kept the majority of people away.

I had also sent the bookstore a ton of swag to use, including a sign for the window, which they had never unboxed. So other than the article in a local paper, no real promotion had happened.
With the store all but empty, I started to panic and then I remembered my own guidance to authors: marketing is about message and movement. So instead of just sitting in a chair, I got up and walked around. People, seeking refuge from the storm were browsing the shelves and I politely introduced myself.

Several of them said: “Oh I read you were going to be here.” And I sold a book to each of them! I stayed way past my signing time and wound up selling out of the books I brought with me, which admittedly wasn’t a lot. I think I brought 20 in a box. But it was better than I’d initially expected to sell, which was zero. This signing taught me a lot about connecting with consumers in stores and selling more books at events.

If you have an event coming up, consider the below ideas while you prep, and if you haven’t contacted me yet and you’re serious about taking your book to the next level, let’s chat so you know what your options are.

1. Marketing

First and foremost is the marketing of your event. But I’m not talking about the marketing you do the media (though that is great too). I’m speaking of in-store marketing. This is what most folks seem to overlook. Because if you’re going to sell more books at events, it’s got to start with your marketing – which often starts well-ahead of the event. So supply things to the bookstore or venue (if possible) to help them promote your event. Make it easy for them to drive attention to your book signing. Here are a few thoughts:

Do bag stuffers. If you want to start with something simple, do fliers. Ask first if the store minds if you offer this, though most stores or events will be on board with this. If the event is a local craft fair, be sure to target any local businesses that are promoting the craft fair.

Bookmarks: While many in the industry see these as passé, readers still love them. You can do bookmarks as bag stuffers or fliers with bookmarks. I’d suggest that you have a series of bookmarks printed up with the event date and time, if you can. This helps become a handy reminder to anyone who gets handed one. If you have the store give them out with a flier, the flier will probably get discarded and they’ll keep the bookmark, so make sure it’s customized somehow. If you don’t have it in the budget to print up more of these – and you already have some handy, you could always print up a small sticker that you adhere to it. Regardless, bookmarks can be a fun way to bring more people to your event, and sell more books.

And, keep in mind, you can keep track of not just freebies, but everything you need to focus on for your book events using my free monthly book marketing planner.

2. Book signings are boring

Regardless of where you do the event, plan to do a talk instead of a signing. Sometimes, like with book fairs, this may not be possible. People are drawn into a discussion and are often turned off by an author just sitting at a table. A table often comes across as a boundary between you and the reader. Again, marketing is about message and movement so stand up and speak. And if speaking isn’t something that the venue allows, plan on standing a majority of the time. Sitting in a chair and checking your phone won’t help you start selling more books at events – engaging people will. If speaking in public is intimidating to you, Patricia Fry, author of 72 books, suggests going to Toastmasters or some other local networking/speaking group and see what you can learn: “Toastmasters, in particular, is especially helpful in giving an impromptu speech (or communication), such as is required at a book festival or signing.

3. Unique places

If you want to get more attention for your event (and sell more books!), consider doing events in unique places. We’ve done them in Hallmark stores, electronics stores, gyms, and even restaurants (on slow nights). Doing outside-the-bookstore events is a great way to gain more interest for your talk. Why? Because you aren’t competing with everyone else at the bookstore. When you do an event at a local venue that doesn’t normally do events, you’ll gather more people just because it’s considered “unique.”

4. Show up early and talk it up

OK so let’s say you’re in the store and there are a ton of people in there shopping (a book event dream, yes?). I suggest that you take your extra bag stuffers or custom bookmarks and just hand them to the people in the store. Let them know you are doing an event at such and such time and you’d love it if they can sit in. You’ll be surprised how many new people you might pull in this way and, because of this – sell more books.

5. Customize

Regardless of what your talk is about, poll the audience first to see a) what brought them there, or b) what they hope to learn if your talk is educational. I suggest this because the more you can customize your discussion, the more likely you are to sell more books at your event. If you can solve problems (and this is often done during the Q&A) all the better. You’ll look like the answer machine you are and readers love that. If you have the answers they’ll want to buy from you. I promise. Here’s another clue: listen closely to questions you get during your Q&A, these questions can offer some great insight into future books you may want to write or maybe spike some ideas around blog posts or future talks you could do!

6. Make friends

Get to know the bookstore or venue people, but not just on the day of the event. Go in prior and make a connection – if at all possible, tell them who you are and maybe even hand them your flier or bookmark (or a stack if you can). Often stores (and libraries) have Information Centers, so see if you can leave some fliers there instead of just at the register. Getting to know the people who are selling your book is a great way to help gather more people into your event. If your event isn’t in a bookstore but attached to a shopping area or mall, go around to the stores (and perhaps you did this when you passed out the bookmarks) and let them know you have an event and ask what can you do to help them promote it. If you can rally the troops to help you market your talk, you could triple the numbers of people at your event – and sell more books at this event. No kidding.

7. Remember the bigger picture

Sometimes events aren’t always about selling more books. Sometimes they are about relationships. Get newsletter sign ups, make connections, talk to folks who came by your table or booth, etc. Building these connections can be as important as an immediate book sale.

8. Take names

While you may not always sell more books at events – or hit your book sales goal for each event, you may sell a lot of them post-event. That is, if you have a way to get in touch with people once the book event is over. This is why I always, always recommend that you get names and (email) addresses from the folks who attended. Signing them up for your mailing list is a great way to stay in touch with them and stay on your reader’s radar screen. If you have a giveaway or drawing, great! This will help you to collect names.

9. Remember your elevator pitch

What’s your book about? I mean, really about? What’s your elevator pitch? If you’re at a trade show, or big book fair or even a local craft fair and someone asks you what your book is about, what will you say? Kathleen Kaiser who heads up SPAWN a fabulous group dedicated to authors and publishers and based in Southern California says that elevator pitches can often be key to selling more books at events. Pitches should be short and sweet, 2-3 sentences and really motivate a potential reader to buy your book. Take some time to practice this before event day!

10. Pricing

Make sure your book is easy to buy. If you are doing this outside of a bookstore, this is easy to do and will help your sales. I find that a rounded number like $10 or $20 makes for a quick and easy sale. If you can round up or down without adding or losing too much to the price, by all means do it.

11. Book pairing

One way you might be able to sell more books at events is to pair your book with a freebie. When I paired Red Hot Internet Publicity with a second, but smaller, marketing book I took the awkward pricing of $18.95, bumped it up to $20 (so 2 books for $20) and quadrupled my book sales during the event. I called it an event special – so new readers felt like they were getting a deal! Now the pairing doesn’t have to be a book, it can be a special report or even an eBook that you send to them after the event.

12. Product and placement

As you’re doing your talk (especially if it’s in a non-bookstore venue), make sure that you have a copy of the book propped up in front of you so attendees can see it the entire time you are speaking. Hold up the book when appropriate and use it as an example when you can. This will help to direct the consumers eye to the book – and making eye contact with the product is a good way to make sure it stays on their radar screen throughout your talk. If you’re doing a book fair or trade show, Kathleen Kaiser of SPAWN recommends putting a cover of the book on an 11 x 17 foam core board: “Add reviews to the board, maybe your logline (elevator pitch) and whatever else will entice a new reader to buy.

13. Ease of purchase

While pricing is a great way to incentivize people and sell more books at events, so is the ease of purchase. Nowadays you’ve got a lot of options with Square, PayPal, and other remote devices that can allow you to take credit cards. But also make sure that you’re ready with some change in case folks want to pay with cash, because that happens at a lot of book events I do! Whatever you do, make it easy to buy your book!

14. Dressing up

If your book is about a time period, or a particular character – like a pirate. Why not dress up? A fun and really engaging way to bring in more readers and sell more books at events is to become the character. Sandy Murphy, author of From Hay to Eternity offered the following advice: “One author wrote a kid’s book that had pirates. She wore an eye patch, had a toy parrot on her shoulder, and a gold painted treasure chest for kids to dig through and choose a small toy.” This is the kind of thing that can really help engage readers and push more book sales.

15. Post event wrap up

So the event is over, what now? Well, if you got attendees to sign up for your newsletter (you did do that, right?), now it’s time to send a thank you note for attending. Be sure to offer them the opportunity (if they missed the chance at the event to buy a copy of your book at the “special event price”) to still get the same deal post-event. You could find that you’re still making book sales, and selling more books – though now more post-event.

Also, don’t forget to thank whoever hosted the event, too. A well-placed thank you goes a long way towards securing future events, not just at that venue, but also others. Saying it in person is fantastic, but don’t forget the power of a handwritten note and sharing the love on social media. People talk and you want them to remember you favorably.

Speaking and book events are great ways to build your platform, sell more books, and build your connections. For many of us, our book is our business card and thus, if we can sell our “business card,” we can keep consumers in our funnel. If your book isn’t your business card you still want readers, right? So the marketing both post and during an event is crucial to building your readership. While it’s easy to say that all events sell books, they often don’t. You have to work them to make this happen. But one thing I’ve learned both from personal experience and from authors we’ve worked with is that the more you do, the better you get, and you start selling more books at events and beyond. Seek the opportunities when they are made available to you and then maximize them. You’ll be glad you did!

Do you have a book event success story you’d love to share? Whether it’s about tips you learned for selling more books at events or another type of event success, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you! Please share in the comments!

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  1. Roshan Jha

    Wow. Really wonderful tips shared. This can help anyone if used wisely.

    • Penny Sansevieri

      Thank you for your comment, Michele. So glad you found them helpful and I know you’ll put them to good use at your next event.



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