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18892965_10213701312467317_221280445819670687_nI’ve been looking at ways lately to increase my sales from festivals and other events where I sell books. I have been attending some of these festivals for years and have seen my sales plateau. Since these events cost money for the space and sometimes hotel and travel, I want to be able to maximize my sales.

Events like a festival are also great places to sell because you are generally selling at retail. You are keeping the retailer, distributor, and wholesaler cuts. I usually use some of that to create a deal that the customer can’t get in a store while still giving me more profit than if I sell the books through other channels. I make it a win-win to give them incentive to buy at the event rather than going home and buying the book off Amazon.com (which they still do sometimes).

So here are some things that I’ve tried or am in the process of trying to improve my event sales.

Keep Writing

My main purpose in attending these events is to do direct selling to my customers. It works, and I am happy to say that I have many customers who return year after year to see me at events and purchase my new books. That being the case, I’d better have new books to sell them.

You can’t rest on your laurels. You need to be continually working on a project. I work on multiple projects. I might be writing one book while researching my next. You want to have at least one book a year being released. Indie authors can generally do even more because they are not held hostage to their publisher’s timetable. 384472_10150370255946867_270838901866_8795042_317292409_n

Expand Your Genres

I generally write in the history and historical fiction genres, but I have ideas for other books. Two years ago, I decided that I would write some of these books under a pen name (J. R. Rada). The pen name wasn’t to hide who I am but to create a separate brand so my history readers wouldn’t be shocked to read a fantasy or horror novel.

Part of the reason that I finally made this jump was because I would often see potential customers looking over my titles and then say, “I don’t read history.” Now, when they say it, I have an alternative to point out to them.

I have to say this has been more successful for me online than at festivals. Festival attendees like the local appeal of a topic more, but I have been selling my horror, fantasy, and YA works. I expect the sales will continue to grow as I work more under the pen name.

Impulse Buyers

I’ve spoken with two other authors in the past few months who offer more than books at their festival tables. One told me it was profitable, but not a major part of his sales. The other one said that the additional products that he offers are the reason that horror conventions where he can sell 50 books are profitable for him.

I even saw an example of this in action this past weekend. My son attended a WWII weekend with me. On the afternoon of the last day (the slowest time), he decided that he wanted to go into business. He found a vendor at the event who also sold wholesale. He bought some Lego-style minifigure sets at wholesale prices and began selling them at retail prices ($3). He quickly started making sales. My estimate is that he could have made $400 if he had been selling during the whole event.

So I will also start offering $5 copper coins with a historical theme on them. In addition, a friend who deals in coins offered me a small box of tokens made from pieces of the Statue of Liberty. I’m hoping that this will add about $300 to my gross sales at my next festival. If it works, I will be expanding the variety of copper coins that I offer.

The key to offering other products is that it should tie into your genre. One author I know writes about the Civil War and also offers small lead busts of Civil War generals. The horror author I know offers horror character t-shirts and horror scenes in snow globes.

Other Buyers

Some festival attendees will walk right past an author tent because they aren’t interested in books. I can capture the impulse buyers with a low-price line of products. These products have a small profit margin, though.

I wanted something that could really help my sales while tying in with my books. I won’t say what it is now because I want to try it out first, but the retail prices are $5 to $25 for the products of which half is profit.

The big feature of a festival is traffic. You have thousands, even tens of thousands of potential customers. I want to attract as much of that traffic to my tent as I can and have something that will appeal to them to buy.

That’s how I plan on continuing to make festivals a profitable venue for my books.

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gaithersburg-book-festival-gaithersburg-mdI recently met another author at a festival where we were both doing signing. I was impressed when she mentioned the number of books she had been selling at some of the festivals in the area. Then she told me that she only made an average of $2 a book, meaning after she deducted the cost of the book and any promotions from what she received, she was left was $2.

She also said that her goal was to be able to be a full-time writer. I asked her why she didn’t raise her book prices then. She said she wanted to get the books out to as many people as possible.

I was struck by this. I am a full-time writer and I would like get my books read by as many people as possible. However, if I reduced my paperback prices so that I was making only $2 a book, I doubt that my sales would increase enough to make up the difference.

Here’s why.

My average gross profit per book is $10. So the author who I met would have to sell five books for every one that I sold. During our time at the festival where we met, I sold 17 books. Now I don’t know how many books she sold. It may have been more than 17, but I doubt that it was 85 or more.

Plus, we’re only talking about gross profit. You still have to consider booth costs, transportation, hotels (in some cases) and other business costs. No wonder she can’t make the jump to full-time. It’s doubtful that she’s making enough to cover her costs.

It also sounds like her publisher is making more per book than she is, which is sad, because it doesn’t sound like the publisher is doing much promotion for her books. She said that one title had sold 1,300 copies in a year, but she had hand sold 1,200 of them at festivals.

She definitely has the energy to do the marketing and is doing it. It has also paid off in more reviews for her books on Amazon. She is also getting her name out there.

I have a festival promotion that  I use, which is “Buy 2, get 1 free.” I’ve tried a lot over the years and that one works best for me. It encourages more purchases and I’m offering a better deal than the reader can get on Amazon or in a bookstore. Not to mention, that it’s a signed book. It definitely moves more books than I see other authors selling who offer no discount.

What are your thoughts about pricing of books? Should it be very low or competitively priced? Does selling physical books at deep discounts lead readers to expect all books to priced at that level?

The odd thing is I am all for using low-price promotions for e-books. For one thing, there’s no base cost that needs to be covered by the sale when you sell digital versions. Plus, low-pricing along with strong marketing has shown sales not only for your promoted book but also back list books at the regular price.

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With the supposed arrival of spring, my busy time starts. I attend a lot of outdoor festivals to sell books. These can be enjoyable events when the weather cooperates. However, this year, spring has been slow in coming. The temperatures have been cool and rain has soaked to ground. Not the optimum conditions for an outdoor festival.

gaithersburg-book-festival-gaithersburg-mdI attended the Gaithersburg Book Festival this past Saturday. It was my first time there so I didn’t have any past experiences to draw upon for how I would do. I had heard that the festival had very good crowds and I could see that they had extensive and well-known roster of speakers. I went with great hopes.

The day before the festival was bright and sunny and I crossed my fingers that weather forecasters would be wrong.

They weren’t.

It rained all day during the festival. At least it wasn’t a heavy rain, but it was still rain, which keeps people inside side. On top of that, it was cool all day. I found myself shivering most of the day.

I was disappointed with the turnout, although I expected it when I saw the rain. I did manage to sell a decent number of books. This gives me hope enough to return next year and hope for good weather. If so, I should do a brisk business.

I have found that outdoor festivals are great places to sell books.

  • They get a lot of traffic. I attend not only book festivals, but craft festivals and Christmas bazaars, too.
  • People like to get an autographed book as a gift for friends and family.
  • Since I’m not a household name (like J. K. Rowling and Stephen King), my books tend to stand out as unique to festival visitors.
  • I’m independently published so I can offer great sales at festivals, which helps increase my sales. I experimented with different offers over the years and have settled on one that works best for me.
  • I always see an uptick in online sales and e-book sales after a festival. I understand the e-books, but I’ve never understood why someone who can get my autographed books at a great price at a festival, pass on that, to go home and buy an unsigned book at a higher price. I’m glad they do, though.

I’m always on the lookout for how to make my booths more attractive to pull in more passersby. Then once I get them to stop, I’ve got to find a way to get them looking at my books and interacting with me.

  • I have definitely seen big banners catch people’s attention. They stop walking to read the banners and look at the pictures. That gives me a chance to step outside my booth and speak with them.
  • I have expanded the types of books that I offer. For years, I sold only history and historical fiction. I have started offering a historical fantasy novel and I will be offering a young adult novel later this year. This should increase my potential pool of buyers.
  • I keep experimenting with counter displays. I am going to offer a larger book display rack that should hopefully attract more attention.

I know authors are always looking to do book signings, and they can be great. For independent authors, you can make more money and sell more books if you make the most of festivals. Don’t let the rain discourage you.

 

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