The festival ripple effect

I’ve been increasing the number of book festivals and other festivals I’ve been taking part in for book signings. Some are very successful for me. Some I just barely break even at, and others, are complete flops.

The flops can be soul-crushing, but I have realized something as I’ve increased my appearances. The number of page views of my books and online sales increase after a festival, even a festival that’s been a failure. That doesn’t mean that I’ll go back to the flop festivals. However, it makes attending break-even festivals more attractive to continue attending.

Another benefit that I’ve found in attending these festivals is that I get leads and offers for speaking engagements. These speaking engagements are always successful. Even if I don’t get paid a stipend for speaking, I sell my books afterward.

The third benefit of these festivals is that I sometimes get leads for future story ideas.

On the flip side, festivals take up a lot of time and cost money to attend. This summer, I have a festival every other weekend, on average. The costs definitely add up as I do more festivals.

Overall, I think writers should definitely put themselves out there in the public and doing book signings at festivals where your potential readers attend. Just remember that sometimes the best festivals aren’t book festivals. You may find a craft or street fair that draws in many people who like your books.

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Time to get busy!

20170624_092912It’s mid-March and my busy season has kicked off. For me, that means from now until right before Christmas, I’ll be selling books or presenting workshops three to four weekends a month. Plus, throw in a few presentations and classes during the week. This is on top of the normal writing, marketing, and research I do during the week.

I’ll be busy for the next nine months, but I enjoy it mostly (not counting all the rainy festivals I worked in 2018). It’s nice to get out and meet my readers and hear what they liked and didn’t like about stories. When the weather is nice, it’s wonderful to be outside. I also dictate a lot of notes and scenes between customers.

Getting ready for a festival is like trying to figure out a Chinese puzzle box in reverse. First, I have to decide how many copies of each title to take. As my son says, “You want to come home with one copy of every book.” That way, you know you didn’t miss any sales, but you don’t have to bring home excess inventory.

Then I have to make sure I have everything I’ll need for the event, such as a tent, tables, money to make change, signs, etc. I have forgotten things occasionally, and it can ruin an event. For instance, forgetting to take a tent when it is calling for rain. I did that once, and had to drive an hour and a half back home, load my tent, turn around and drive and an hour and a half back to my hotel.

Once I have gathered everything, I have to pack my Prius. Believe it or not, you can get a lot in that small car. It takes a lot of finagling to make it fit, but after years of doing this, it is second nature as to what goes where.

The loading and unloading of my car and set up is my workout for the day. Lifting and walking with boxes of boxes will definitely help you get stronger!

I have managed to carve out a summer vacation in the middle of all this activity. I’d much rather get away in the winter, but when you have a child in school, your window of opportunity is limited.

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Mother Nature vs. the writer

rain_drops_keep_falling_wallpaper-wideUsually, outdoor festivals in the spring, summer, and fall have been great places for me to sell books and meet fans. I get to talk to people about history or writing, sell lots of books, and enjoy being outside. (I also get to chow down on Italian sausage sandwiches and funnel cake. Yum!) Every once in a while, it will rain or be so beastly hot that no one wants to leave their air conditioning. Usually, those days are few and far between.

Not this year!

The East Coast is running an abundance of rainfall, particularly now that Hurricane Florence has passed. I’ve had a booth at a dozen outdoor events this summer. There has been significant rainfall at eight of them. Three of them were pretty much rained out. (I didn’t come back for the second day of two of the festivals and the third was only a one-day event.) One event even had very hot weather that seemed to be keeping people indoors.

With odds like that, it is hard to sell books. Not only are the people not in attendance, but the moisture is hard on my books.

Unfortunately, the weather is out of everyone’s hands. You have to pay for your booth space months in advance. That far out, you can only make the best guess at what the weather will be.

I’m hoping for a drier fall. Some of my biggest festivals are in October. If I can get good sunny, pleasant days for those events, then I should be able to weather the rough times Mother Nature is creating this year.

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Festivals can help your digital sales

20170624_092912When 2018 ends, I will have done 28 festivals, not to mention other book signings, talks, and events. I mention the festivals because, as expected, they are a great place to sell books. I enjoy talking to readers, and I’m thrilled when I meet someone who returns to see me year after year at the same festival to buy my latest books.

I have discovered another benefit to festivals. After the festival, I see an uptick in my digital sales. I check my online book sales and ebook sales regularly. I realized a long time ago that my online books sales jumped after festivals. Why? I don’t know, seeing as how I offer a better deal at festivals and I’m there to sign the book. Still, some people apparently look at my books at a festival and then go home to order the unsigned books online for more money.

It was just this year that I finally noticed a similar thing happening with my ebook sales. Some people just don’t read physical books anymore. I can understand that. I can usually recognize these people because they ask if my books are available on Kindle and then take my card when I tell them “yes.”

I have always been a fan of festivals as a place to sell books. This just adds one more reason to why authors should use festivals as part of their marketing plan.

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A life-long publishing learner

18077251_10155179628818290_9156547952808988124_oLast month, I participated in the Kensington Day of the Book, my first outdoor festival of the season. It can be an iffy time for an outdoor festival, but the weather was perfect this year. I always enjoy book festivals because not only do I get to meet people who like to read books, I get to meet other authors.

I’m always interested to see what other authors are producing. I expect mainstream published books to look great, but I feel a bit sorry for the author if they only have one or two titles to sell. Knowing how little mainstream publishers pay in royalties and how much the booth space costs, I know those authors need to sell a lot of books to break even.

For this festival, my guess is that they had to sell between 25-30 books to break even. I only had to sell four books to cover my booth costs. I also had a lot more titles to offer. With this combination, I can make back my booth costs with one sale, and I did.

I’m more curious to see what the indie authors are doing, especially if they have multiple titles. This means they have been writing for some time, and hopefully, have learned some useful things about publishing and marketing. These are the authors who I try to talk to. I want to pick their brains for things that I might try.

It’s always interesting what I learn. Some authors don’t believe in doing e-book giveaways. Others have seen its benefit in boosting sales. Some authors only work in a single series while others write stand-alone books or in a variety of genres. Some publish hardbacks, and others only publish softcovers.

If I see a great cover on a book, I question the author about who designed it, and I get contact information.

I ask about other shows the authors attend and things they have done to promote their books.

I have been a published novelist since 1996 and an indie author since 2001, and I am still learning new things about the process. I hope that I always continue to do so.

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The types of writers I meet at events

20170624_092912            Writers need to network. It’s necessary to help improve your ability to write better and sell books.

One of the places where I’ve been able to grow my writers’ network is at the festivals and other events where I sell books.

I usually two or three writers at these events. Some are other writers like me who are selling at the festivals. Others are writers who are visiting the festival.

Unpublished Writers

The first type of writer I meet is someone who has written a book but is not published. Some of them are afraid to put their books to the mercy of the public. Others just don’t want to put in the time to do the marketing that books need. Others still think that it’s very expensive to publish a book.

Published Writers

The second type of writer is one who has a couple books published but they aren’t selling. If they were published by a mainstream publisher, they often feel that it’s the publisher’s job to market and sell the book. If they are indie published, they aren’t putting in the marketing time.

The result is that the books aren’t selling. These authors are cutting their own throats because publishers aren’t going to want to publish their next books if they can’t show a strong sales history on their previous books.

These authors believe that a successful author just has to be lucky. They ignore the fact that they need to work just as hard at the marketing as they did at the writing. When talking to these authors, I always tell them that they need to spend just as much time marketing as they do writing.

I’ve learned about new festivals. I’ve gotten the names of businesses and organization to contact about speaking or carrying my books. I’ve gotten tips to improve my sales. For instance, I learned about selling additional product lines from a fellow author.

Entrepreneurial Writers

The third type of authors are writers who are doing better than me. I love these authors because I get to pick their brains what they’re doing, what they like, and what kind of results they are seeing.

Yes, I do festivals to sell books, but I’m always looking for new ideas and new techniques to try and see what works and what doesn’t. I keep what works until it stops working for me or until I find something that works better with which to replace it.

This persistent move forward has allowed me to grow my business. It might not be happening as fast as I would like, but I am moving in the right direction.

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Selling books is exhausting

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Here I am at The Book Center in Cumberland, MD, on Nov. 19. I’m the one on the left, in case you couldn’t tell.

I have entered my busiest time of the year. For the next few months, I have virtually of my weekends booked up until Christmas. I’ll be doing book signings at retail stores, selling books at festivals, and selling books at holiday festivals.

It’s an exciting time because I get to meet a lot of my readers and, hopefully, future readers. It’s also exhausting, and I have to wonder why. I have to admit that I’m not highly active at these events. I exert some energy setting up, which takes about an hour and also taking down my booth, which takes about the same amount of time.

In between, though, I’m just standing and sitting and talking to people. I rarely even get to leave my booth because I’m the only one there.

So why am I exhausted by the time I get home?

I’m not unique in this, either. I’ve talked to other writers and festival vendors who feel the same way. So it can’t just be because I’m getting old. (Which I’m not, by the way. I have a younger sister who passed me in age a few years back and now she’s my older sister.)

I have a trip in November to Ohio where a historical society is bringing me in to do five events in two days. I’m excited about the opportunity, but I’m also wondering how I’m going to feel at the end of each day, especially since I’ve got a six-hour drive to get there and get home.

It will definitely be an adventure. I just hope that I’m awake enough to enjoy it.

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