Some authors have asked me before about how I sell so many books at conventions, so I thought I’d do a post here with some insights I’ve learned over the years for you all to pick through and see what might be helpful for you.
First of all, to understand my situation, I write a clean urban fantasy series that targets Harry Potter fans and cat-lovers (it has elements of cozy mystery and there’s a talking cat in it). So starting out I’m writing in a very popular genre targeting a very large fan base, so these methods aren’t necessarily going to get the same results as a book in some small niche genre.
Second of all, I’ve been publishing for 3 years and have 7 books out (5 in my main series, 2 spinoffs). When I first started and only had 2 books out, I still sold a lot of books comparatively, but keep in mind that the more books you have (specifically in the same series) the more books you will sell.
Third, I’m an extrovert, and have been selling things for a while. First it was Mary Kay, then it was art, now it’s books. There is a definite skill to engaging people face-to-face and pitching a product. If you aren’t an extrovert and you don’t like talking to people, that doesn’t mean you can’t sell books, but it does mean you will have to learn to put on your “engaging” face at an event and be willing to talk so that people have a reason to buy your books.
Okay, so keeping all that in mind, I just got back from the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention in Lexington Kentucky. It is a four-day convention, and this year they had about 20k people attending (which is down from 33k last year because the convention center is being renovated and has less space, but to my great surprise, I sold almost twice as many books this year as last year). In this weekend, with a total of 27 hours of convention time over four days, and with the help of my husband and one assistant, I sold 380 books for a gross profit of about $3800.
That is a lot of paperback books. How did I do it? Read on.
1. This is my third year at Lexington CC, and I’m a known entity there. A good third of my sales were from returning readers getting the next book/s in the series, and people who had seen me there previous years and finally decided now to buy a book. So, if you are just starting out, don’t feel bad if you don’t sell a lot of books. KEEP AT IT. Remember the law of 7 touches (it often takes a customer 7 exposures to a product before they buy, so the more you can get in front of eyes, the better).
2. I do a ton of bundle deals. Only about 10% of my sales were of just one book. Most of the sales were either the first two books (I do a 2 for $20 deal) or the first two books with my cat novella thrown in for $5 (so 3 books for $25). That is an easy deal for the customer, it is nice even numbers with clear savings (I have my individual book prices prominent so they can see how much they are saving with the deal). My other popular bundles are the 5 book series for $55, and all my books for $70 (though I don’t sell many full sets compared to just books 1 and 2). But a BIG help this year and upping my sales numbers was my novella about the talking cat in the series, which was normally $7 but I threw in for $5 if they bought any other book. First of all, my audience loves cats, and second, it is a very low amount to add on so it is easy to convince people to do it.
NOTE: I price all my books so that at a bundle discount, I’m making 50% profit (so sale cost is twice the cost of printing/shipping). That way when I do sell a few full price, I’m making some extra money, but if I do mostly bundle deals, I’m still able to profit and cover expenses.
3. I actively ask for sales. THIS IS HUGE! I. Ask. People. To. Buy. My. Books. I know that sounds super scary, or maybe super offensive and pushy, but if you do it right, you end up making a lot of people happy, and you make money. They key to this is asking questions to engage the con-goers passing your table and narrow down who is your target audience. Here’s my method. I could probably teach this method in a class and make a ton of money, but I just want to help other authors get the readers they deserve, so here it is free:
–1) Watch the crowd, and for anyone passing whose eyes linger on my table/banner more than a few seconds, I ask them “Hi there! Do you like to read?” (AND, anyone wearing fan material of my target genre, so people with Harry Potter t-shirts, robes, cosplay, etc as an example. I’ve also gotten good over the years at figuring out what my target audience looks like in terms of gender/age range/what type of clothes they wear, so I can usually spot them in a crowd. If that sounds creepy, it isn’t, I promise, it’s just paying attention over hundreds and hundreds of customer interactions).
–2) If they answer yes (which most do), I ask them if they like magical adventure, snarky humor, and talking cats (which are three “keywords” for my books, that is three things about them that my target audience like, so if you like them, you are probably my target audience). If they seem at all interested, I do one of three things:
–3a) Only slightly interested and looking like they want an excuse to keep walking, I hand them one of my flyers which is a picture of my book on the front and a blurb on the back, and say something like “Here, take one of my flyers, we’ll be here all weekend if you decide you’d like some really fun books signed by the author herself!”
3b) Somewhat interested but looking like they could easily move on if given a reason, I hand them one of my books turned so the back synopsis is facing them and say “great! well if you like those things you’d probably enjoy my books, would you like to read the back of the first one to see what it is about?” VERY FEW PEOPLE say no when you hand them something, so it is a great way to get them interested without seeming pushy salesy. This is also a GREAT method for introverts or people who are shy about talking/selling, you let your book do the talking for you.
3c) Looking excited and interested in the books (this is a fair number of people, especially when I mention a talking cat). For these people I give them my 15-20 second elevator pitch for the series and then hand them my first book and say 3b) because that gets the product in their hands and gets them thinking about buying.
–4) After they have read the back of the book, unless they ask a question and start engaging me themselves, I ask them “Does that sound like something you think you’d enjoy? Or “Does that sound like a fun story?” If they say yes, I go straight into pointing out my bundle deals. If they seem skeptical, I mention that the books are great for fans of things like Harry Potter, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, etc, and probe them a bit to find out what kind of books they like to read, looking for a way to relate that to my books (if applicable) so they can form a good comparison in their mind. Then I say something like “if you’re interested in taking home some books, I have these special bundle deals this weekend” and let them know about how they can save money while getting a fun book they will really enjoy.
Selling books is all about identifying your target audience, hooking them with “keywords” showing them they will enjoy what is in your books, then showing them the value they will get when they buy (a great story and book sales/bundles), as well as overcoming objections (taking card as well as cash, emphasizing the value of a signed paperback copy vs. getting an ebook online, etc).
4. This is sort of already covered in my selling method of #3, but UPSELL UPSELL UPSELL!!! No matter what they say they’d like to buy, always ask for that next sale up. So if they want Book 1, mention the value of getting Books 1 and 2 for $20, since “you know you’ll want the next book as soon as you’re done with the first” and “why torture yourself and make yourself wait for the next book” etc. Don’t be pushy, just make sure they are aware of the sale they are passing up on. At least half of my sales come from upselling. This is basic marketing, I’m not reinventing the wheel or anything. You know how at fast food places they always ask what else you want? And they always ask if you want to make it a supersize meal? That’s up-selling.
5. I have really pretty covers. Many, many people stop because my covers are colorful and eye-catching. I did my research of my target market, looked at bestselling books in my genre on Amazon, and hired a professional cover designer. I also put my book covers on all my banners, which can be seen from a ways away.
6. I buy TWO artist tables right beside each other (I’m in the artist section at conventions, I rarely buy the big 10X10 booths because that is extra space I don’t need and it puts me among comic book and toy sellers instead of among the artists and crafters where people are looking to buy indie type stuff.) That gives me enough space for all my books AND gives me space for two people to be selling books at the same time. I always do shows with either me and my husband, or us two plus a helper, sometimes two helpers so we can all get more breaks. You can only sell so many items an hour, so having two people pitching/engaging the crowd at the same time doubles the amount you can sell.
So there you go. That is all after, of course, I know I’ve written a good book that my target audience loves to read. Obviously some of the things I do won’t work for you, or you’ll have to adjust it to fit your books/situation. But everything I do is based on basic marketing strategies.
If you have any questions about anything I mentioned above, or other questions about how I do shows, feel free to ask in the comments. As long as you know your target audience, know what makes them tick, and you are willing to engage the people walking by your table, you can sell a good number of books. Good luck!
DO NOT STEAL CUSTOMERS FROM THE VENDORS ON EITHER SIDE OF YOU!! This is extremely rude and you wouldn’t want others to do it for you, so don’t do it to others. This is the exact reason why I try to make sure there is always a non-author vendor on either side of me so that I’m not directly competing with my neighbors. This is also why I prefer doing comic conventions as opposed to book fairs, where everyone else is selling books too. It just makes it easier to not accidentally steal a customer.
The way to avoid accidentally stealing customers is to make sure to wait until a person looks at your booth before engaging them. If someone is standing in front of your booth but looking at your neighbor’s booth, don’t say anything! Wait until they look your way. If they are standing in front of your neighbor’s booth and looking at yours, you might even want to wait until they are in your space before you speak, just to be safe.
Also, if you ARE around other authors and the person you are talking to happens to mention they like a genre you don’t sell, then immediately point them to your closest author neighbor who sells that genre. You might even ask the authors around you for some of their bookmarks so you can give them out to people who might like their books. Also, once you are done with your sale, you can tell your customer, oh by the way, if you like these sorts of books, you should totally also check out XYZ author over there because her books are also amazing!! This is NOT a zero sum game, readers love reading tons of books, and the more books they buy, the more books they will read (including yours). So support your fellow authors and share the love!
Someone wrote how they have trouble asking for sales because they hate it when other people sell to them, and I thought my response might be helpful since it is a common problem:
I am the exact same way, I hate it when people try to sell me stuff! So look at it this way: if you follow my instructions, you will be weeding out the people who A) don’t like to read and B) don’t like reading your type of book (because you are fishing for what they like with your keywords and figuring out if they like reading your genre, etc). So if you get to the selling part, all you are doing is showing them the benefit and joy they will get from an awesome product that you can provide them.
Let me ask you this: you buy stuff you don’t need, right? Of course you do! You buy things for your enjoyment, things that will make you happy and bring you pleasure. Everyone does, and it is a good and right thing to do. It is good to find joy in life. So, why wouldn’t you encourage people to buy one of your books if you know it will bring them joy? That is why knowing your target audience is so important. I’m not “cold selling,” where I’m just trying to get everyone to buy my books regardless of whether or not I think they will like it. I KNOW my books are good, and I know the kind of reader who likes them, so when I find those readers, I do my best to encourage them to buy my books because I KNOW they will enjoy them. See? You are helping the reader find something they like and convincing them to pamper themselves a little. After all, it’s only $10-20 bucks, right? That’s like, a meal. Nobody’s life is going to be hurt if they splurge a little and get a good book that they are going to like.
Now, one thing that is hard to do is believing in your book and believing that it will bring your reader joy. I have imposter syndrome just as bad as the next author. I squirm inside every time I tell people my books are good and that they will enjoy them, and a little voice tells me “liar, your books suck and nobody should waste their money on them.” But, I have over 400 five-star reviews for my series between Amazon and Goodreads, and THAT MANY PEOPLE CAN’T ALL BE WRONG about my books being fun to read. So, instead of listening to that voice in my head, I smile and tell people they are great books and if they like XYZ (in my case Harry Potter, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Supernatural), then they will like my books too.
So, maybe you struggle with imposter syndrome and have trouble selling your books because deep down a voice is telling you your books aren’t good enough and no one should spend money on them? Only you can answer that question, but if that IS the case, that is certainly a hard struggle to overcome. You can do it though. You have to, and you will, because if you don’t believe in your books, nobody else will either.
BELIEVE IN YOUR BOOKS. BELIEVE IN YOU.
Award-winning and USA Today-bestselling author of magic, tea, and snark-filled fantasy, Lydia Sherrer knows the world is built on dreams and aims to add hers to the mix. When not writing she loves to play her ocarina (think Zelda), and also enjoys traditional archery, cosplay, larping, and art.
Growing up in rural Kentucky, Lydia was thoroughly corrupted by a deep love for its rolling countryside, despite the mosquitoes and hay fever. Having been instilled with a craving for literature early on, and her parents had to wrestle books away from her at the dinner table, and hide them from her so she would go to sleep at night. Though she graduated with a dual BA in Chinese and Arabic, after traveling the world she came home and decided to stay there. Currently residing in Louisville, KY, she is supported by her wonderful and creative husband and their two loud, but adorable, cats.