I preface this with noting I live in an area that is essentially covid-free.
I wanted to share a success (for me) story from a couple of weeks ago. I hope you can take what I’ve learned and apply it to your own experience and have equal – or better! – success.
Last year, when I was in the process of finalising my first novel, my dad called and mentioned he’d heard a woman talking on the radio about an indie book fair in my state. He told me I should get in touch with her, so I did some digging and I found out that this was a new annual event. Last year’s was cancelled due to covid, but I followed the event on Facebook and kept an eye on things for the next one.
Later last year, things started to move. The entry fee to get a stall was just $50, and this seemed an easy thing for me to gamble on, having reached a bit of a lull in book sales locally (and online, to be honest!) I expressed interest and as soon as possible, I paid my entry fee to secure my place.
About this time I was wrapping up an intensive session writing my second book, and I thought I could plan to maybe even launch it at this book fair if that was possible. Of course, life gets in the way, and my second book was definitely not ready – and I decided I didn’t want to bust myself rushing when I could just focus on the newly rebranded first book.
As the months started to tick down, I started researching what other similar events looked like, and began planning what I needed for my stall. Books, obviously. And business cards. A way to take people’s money. I spent those months leading up to the event designing promotional materials, buying items to decorate my stall, and getting organised. It certainly helped that I’m a project-oriented person who likes to plan out everything.
My research had indicated a popular author would likely sell eight to ten copies at an event like this. I was hoping to cover the price of my stall. Nevertheless, I bought a box of books and figured if, against all odds, I sold out, I could wing it with taking orders. Not a bad problem to have, if it came to it.
The book fair was going to be situated at a very good, high traffic location, not far from a famous weekly market. The event organisers had obtained sponsorship from a local TV station and had done excellent promotion. All I needed to do was turn up. Which I did, along with 61 other authors. But more on that later. Let’s talk about the preparation I did first.
The first and most important thing was to finalise my rebranding, get a test print done, and then order my paperback copies. Due to some issues with cover design, this was quite stressful but I made it with time to spare. The same couldn’t have been said if I’d tried to finish another book at the same time!
Once I had that bedded down, and had done research about the sorts of things people usually have on their stall at these things, I started working out costs and where to procure them (and how long it would take).
These are the things I landed on:
- Business cards (my second set, designed and printed using Canva – about $30 with shipping for 200)
- Promotional flyer for my reader magnet (with a QR code) (designed using Canva and printed using Officeworks for under $1)
- Sign up sheet for my newsletter (designed using Canva and printed using Officeworks for under $1)
- Display stands for my books (bought off eBay for about $20 each)
- Table runner to dress up what I found out would be a plain white stall (I bought two colours to try out, at about $6 each from eBay – as it turned out there were ten of each in the packet, so now I have spares if they get stained or damaged)
- Credit card reader (I went with the Square reader, and got the free marketing pack with it too, which gave me a sign to say I accepted various payment methods – cost was $59)
- Receipt book for cash receipts (bought for about $3 each off eBay, I got two – just in case haha)
- Lock box for cash (about $15 from eBay. Plus I put a float of $5, $10, $20 and $50 notes to make change)
- Chocolates to lure people (I wanted individually wrapped ones in colours that matched my book cover, and I got these off a chocolate wholesaler for about $50)
- Pull up banner of my book and synopsis (opted for an A3 desk one rather than a standing one, about $30 from Officeworks)
Other things I needed but already had:
- Pens for the newsletter sign up
- Pens for signing books
- Fake ivy to decorate the front of the stall
- Pins to hold the ivy down
- Price tag and holder
- Jar for holding the chocolates
The night before I realised I didn’t have anything to link people to the eBook of my novel, in case they didn’t want to buy a paperback version, or wanted to think about it for later. So I quickly threw together a small flyer with the details and a QR code linking to the Amazon listing. This I just printed at home, four to a page, and cut myself. It worked well, and I could see that a couple of weeks after the event, people had used it to buy the eBook.
On the day
Being a detailed-oriented planner, I worked out in advance what exactly I would wear, where I would park my car, how I’d transport all my gear, and what time I needed to be at what point in the day. My husband suggested using a rolling suitcase to pack everything and this was absolutely the perfect idea (thanks, hub!)
I spent a few hours the night before, trying out different looks and deciding how I wanted to present myself. I ended up going with a classic black dress and heels, understated so that I didn’t clash with my very purple stall. A purple belt tied it all together.
I got up at 6.30 (after setting two alarms), a time practically unheard of for me, had a quick breakfast and then started with hair and makeup (nothing fancy, but I wanted to make an effort). I was ready to leave on 8am, which is what I’d planned for.
I got a car park and was at the venue just after opening at 8.30am. I signed in, and was taken to my stall. A quick hello to the neighbours and then I began my set up.
I’d actually planned it out a week before, drawing what I wanted it to look like, and so I just referred to this and was set up quite quickly. I was very proud of how it all looked, and through the day I got remarks about how eye-catching and professional it looked.
Doors officially opened at 10am, but people had started to trickle through beforehand, some looking around while they waited to board a ferry to another venue (the world famous MONA Museum).
There was a steady stream of people through until close at 3pm. I had very little downtime, and took just the one break (having a friend mind my stall while I bolted to the bathroom).
Out of all the items I used for my stall, just about everything I chose was spot on, though next time I won’t bother with the chocolates (even though they were delicious). The sign up sheet was a nice touch, but not overly necessary. People were really more interested in buying books than connecting with me as an author at this stage, and besides all that info is available here on my website which is referenced in the back of the book.
Against my own expectations, I sold 17 copies of my paperback that day. I believe I was one of the more successful authors for that day, and here’s what I attribute that success to:
- Be open to opportunities and run with them, especially if the investment is low.
- Research what similar events look like, and plan accordingly.
- Treat it like a project, prepare a plan, and use activity scheduling or work breakdown for the various tasks.
- Procure supplies that can be reused or repurposed.
- Remember, that you aren’t just selling a book. You are selling a brand – you.
Besides the general points above, here are some other things I discovered and learned. Perhaps these will help you!
Stock and promotional items
Make sure you have enough books but don’t go crazy. My one box of books (22 copies) was just perfect. Do have a plan for if you sell out though. I suggest you take orders, with postage added, and provide receipts to keep track and make sure you touch base with your customers as soon as you get more copies.
Promotional materials can be cheap if you use somewhere like Officeworks. The sign up sheet and reader magnet promo poster cost a couple of bucks on really nice card stock. The banner was only $30!
Pricing and payments
Consider your prices. You can sell at a discount if you want to. I made mine a nice round figure of $20 per copy, though retail price is $20.99. I think if you can sell a bit cheaper, people are more likely to take a risk on you as an unknown author. However, I did run into a problem later (more below).
Definitely prepare to take cash payments but importantly offer credit card/eftpos facilities. Be prepared to sink the cost of the commission because it’s worth it for the ease of transaction. I used Square, and they charge a flat rate of 1.9% in Australia. So on my $340 sales for the day, I paid about $6 in fees. Totally worth it. Oh and btw, I have a referral link to Square – if you sign up with my link you get free processing for 180 days and I do too!
Branding your stall and you
Design your stall and make it stand out – I planned out mine and drew out what I wanted it to look like and followed it. It was remarked several times how professional and striking it looked, and it certainly drew people over. I used a mix of colours that were from my new book cover, so everything tied together nicely.
Once you have people lured to your stall, be prepared to talk to them. Engage anyone who lingers but do let people look in peace if they don’t want to chat. Importantly, smile, look approachable and be genuine when talking to people. Your enthusiasm will be infectious – and even if they don’t want to buy, they may know someone who will. This all helps spread your brand awareness.
This one is very important: don’t spend the quiet down time on your phone or chatting too long with neighbours or visiting friends and family. Always have one eye on the crowd, ready to talk to a potential buyer. I saw this a lot with the book fair – many people had their backs to the crowd, or their heads down, potentially missing a new reader. I took one break for 5 minutes through the day, and during that time, I had a very enthusiastic friend stand in for me.
And finally, a big tip from a communications professional: have key messages prepared for your elevator pitch. Write down the key elements of your book such as the one sentence description, the genre, the age range, and so on. Also do the same for yourself, as the author. Get comfortable saying these things at home, before getting out and working the crowd. I took these printed out with me, and had them behind my banner to refer to if I needed to, and I ran through them quickly before doors opened. It helped so much!
Inspired by the success of the day, I contacted a bunch of local book stores asking if they’d stock my book. A couple got back to me with a positive response and asked me for my wholesale rate and retail price, which I gave them. However, because I’d be doing either consignment or ordering the books myself and on-selling them (which includes the cost of shipping to get the books printed and sent to me), I have ended up making a loss. Lesson learned, and I’ll take it as a marketing experiment. If they sell all the copies, I’ll renegotiate. It’s fine if booksellers buy direct from my wholesaler, but in this instance, I messed up and will have to wear the loss.
I have enough copies leftover from the book fair to arrange the consignment copies for the first local book shop, but for the other I am trying to work out how I can send them direct to my book with the wholesaler (IngramSpark) – that will be a matter for later this week, when I need to make some calls!
Once I have those two book stores sorted out, I will increase my retail price by a dollar or two, so that I no longer make a loss in this instance. So the tip I have for you is this: work out your compensation well before you engage in selling your book to retailers!
After the event was over, I’ve made sure to subscribe those people who signed up to my newsletter on my sign-up sheet. And of course, I needed to write a blog post too.
I hope you’ve found this useful. Here’s to many successful book events in the future for the both of us!