Last Updated on September 16, 2022 by Ben Oakley
This guide goes into detail about how to sell books at conventions, with tips, advice and what does and doesn’t work.
For many years, conventions were the bread and butter of many an author. Then the big Covid hit, and the world went into lockdown.
Conventions shut their doors, ended their runs, and moved to digital programming. Many events shut their doors for good. Only a handful have reopened as they were.
However, from the ashes of lockdown, the new age of convention appeared, hungry to cater to millions of people.
For an author, there’s nothing better than setting up your stand, proudly displaying your books, and meeting real-life people.
Writing is a solitary endeavour, with minimal real-world interaction. Conventions aim to change that. Here’s what to expect in this 22-step guide:
- Convention or trade show?
- Understanding the total cost.
- Bring enough books.
- Stand up!
- Have more of book one in a series.
- Special event prices.
- Display prices clearly.
- Accept cards.
- Offer event-only bundles.
- Gifting a free eBook.
- Collect emails for your list.
- Bring a second person.
- Don’t shy away.
- Running out of books is not bad.
- Make your table look amazing.
- Hand your books to customers.
- Have lots of bags.
- Be vigilant.
- Know your product.
- Enjoy yourself.
Convention or trade show?
A tradeshow is a business-to-business exhibition for companies in a specific industry. It’s a platform to highlight a business, demonstrate their offerings, and connect with industry people.
A convention is a business-to-customer exhibition for individuals and companies across various industries. In this guide, the focus is on fan conventions, including general pop culture, genre events, and creative shows.
Understanding the total cost
It’s easy enough to book a table at a convention but there are additional financial costs to consider.
- Books to sell.
- Promo material.
- Travel to/from event.
- Time off work or writing.
- Card payment machine.
- Additional tables.
- Money lost due to low sales.
A two-night stay in city locations can be upwards of £150/night. Factoring in everything else you need; you could be looking at a hefty sum.
However, the more events you do, the more streamlined you will become. You’ll learn how to sell books at conventions by being at the events in the first place.
Bring enough books
If you’ve paid for a table at a show, make sure to bring enough books to cover the cost of the table. The aim is to sell books at conventions to cover the cost of your outlay.
There is a high probability you won’t break even at the event itself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you used the right promotional methods with people interested in your stall.
There’s nothing worse than walking past a stall at any event to see the person behind it sitting down and looking grumpy.
This is your chance to make an impression and stand out. If you struggle to stand for extended periods, then stand when someone approaches your table. It makes a world of difference.
It sounds obvious but a smile goes a long way. There might be hundreds of other tables trying to sell books to readers, and from experience, they won’t all have a smile on their face.
Being polite, making eye contact, standing to say hello, and being welcoming can go a long way.
Have more of book one in a series
If you have a series, then you will need more copies of book one on your table. You’ll only need a handful of the subsequent books.
At events, you’re mostly selling to people who don’t know you or your work. What’s easier to sell, the first book in a series or the fifth? The first, every time.
Special event prices
If your book is £15 on Amazon but you can sell at £10 and make a profit, then sell at £10. Selling lower is easier because you’re not having to ship the book.
Your only outlay with your stock is the price to print and ship the books to you. You will be able to sell at a lower price than Amazon at the event.
Display prices clearly
You know the drill. You walk up to a stall or table, become interested in the product, but then realise you must ask for the price. Immediately, the experience is a negative one.
You might question whether the price is right, whether it’s a high price aimed at you, or if you need to barter. These are questions that a customer should not be asking themselves.
If you want to sell books at conventions more easily then ensure to have your prices clearly displayed for the customer.
We’re in the 2020s, not the 1980s, accepting card payments in today’s world is necessary. Accepting cash only is one way to lose sales.
Want to stand out from the crowd? Explore the world of cryptocurrency and other digital payments.
Offer event-only bundles
This could include two of your books, merchandise, and other promo material. Remember to display the pricing so it is easy to understand for the customer.
Some authors giveaway their books for free at an event, but it’s not for everyone. This works if you have a huge overstock and are collecting emails for your list.
Small promotional items, like flyers, bookmarks, postcards, posters, badges, and stickers, are easy to produce and easy to hand out. Even bottles of water and candy go a long way!
Gifting a free eBook
If a customer is not interested in purchasing your book at the table, they might be interested in a free eBook. Here’s how it works:
- Lower the price of your eBook on Amazon for the event.
- Offer a free eBook in exchange for their email.
- Gift the eBook to the customer via Amazon.
- Ask for an honest review when they’re done.
- Add their email to your list the day after the event.
If you’ve lowered the Amazon price to £0.99 for the event, then you’ve paid no more than that for a subscriber to your list, less 30% royalties. In the marketing world, that’s a bargain.
You can also make your eBooks free for the event period, but there is no incentive for the customer to provide their email.
Collect emails for your list
Even without gifting a free eBook, you can giveaway promotional items and ask for an email in return. That way, you can keep them up to date about other events, releases, and offers.
Bring a second person
If you have no one else with you, you might have to shut down for a break or lunch and leave your table with no one on it.
This leaves your table open to theft or loss of sales. You can’t always rely on nearby sellers to look after your table for you.
Don’t shy away
Invite people over to your table, let them know what you’re selling. Show them what you have and share your exclusive event-only deals.
You’ve paid enough to be at the event, so make the most of the opportunity and don’t shy away. Convention attendees don’t often remember the stalls where the owners sat down and said nothing.
Running out of books is not bad
If you’re lucky enough to have run out of books, don’t worry, it can be a good thing.
Make sure to have some printed cards or flyers with all the information about where customers can buy your books.
Make your table look amazing
Be creative, have different height levels, good displays, and easily accessible information. There’s no need to go over the top. A simple, easy to understand layout can prove fruitful.
Remember you’re selling your books. It is obvious that your books should be front and centre of the display. At the very least, you should have single book holders like this one.
Hand your books to customers
A great sales tactic is to put your book into the hands of a customer who shows interest. This way, they’re more likely to read the back and make a purchase.
As they’re holding your book, you can tell them all about it, and the special price you have for the event only.
Have lots of bags
These can either be printed with your brand, or general shopping bags. Ones with your brand on also act as a promotional tool.
Another tip is to hand out free bags to people who are carrying lots of merchandise in their hands. Not only will they thank you for it, but you might also gain a customer.
Any large-scale event will have its negatives, and they usually come in the form of low footfall or shoplifters. Though, ‘table lifters’ would be more suitable.
Watch out for people who put down their bags and other items on top of your books. It’s a known tactic to simply take the books underneath with them.
More importantly, don’t treat people like they are shoplifters. 99.9% aren’t. If you’re treating people negatively, they’ll feel it.
To sell books at conventions, you should have basic customer service skills. It is a business after all, and you need to make the most of it.
- Show what you have.
- Speak positively.
- Don’t ignore a customer.
- Don’t chat with friends when a customer is nearby.
- Be patient.
- Be polite.
- Be professional.
Know your product
In addition to the tips above, you need to know everything about your product. From the idea stage to the day of the event, and everything in between.
An elevator pitch doesn’t cut it here. You should have the answers to every question a potential reader asks about your book.
There’s no point trying to sell books at conventions if you’re not enjoying it. Conventions are not for everyone and if you don’t enjoy it, then maybe it’s not the avenue for you.
Customers know if you’re having a bad day. The good news is that conventions are one of many book marketing tactics.