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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Unpublished Writers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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I’ve been a professional writer for 30 years (Wow! Seeing that number applied to something I’ve done freaks me out a bit.), and I’ve done a lot of different types of writing. My first novel was published in 1996, and since then, I’ve been trying to improve my writing and sell more books.

In all that time, I’ve finally started to recognize some things that work consistently in selling books. (What can I say, I’m a slow learner.) I have found that some of these things have a cumulative effect like a snowball rolling downhill and growing and growing.

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  1. Write a good book. This should be obvious, but I see lots of books being published that are thrown together haphazardly. They might sell well initially because the authors do the other things I’m going to mention, but the books don’t have staying power. Plus, I just would be proud to call some of those books mine. Many of the authors don’t. They use pen names.
  2. Write more than one book. I’ve now written 19 published books and a few e-books. This has really helped by sales. I look at the number of books that I sell at a festival, and if I was only selling one book, I wouldn’t be able to make back my costs. Now, with 19 books, if I sell two or three of each book, I will have made a decent income from the festival. Also, if you have a series, you can use the first book in the series as a loss leader in your promotions to hook readers into the series.
  3. Have an author platform. This is why celebrities get book deals. They might not have much to say, and they probably use ghostwriters, but people know their name and follow what they do. That’s an author platform. For writers, you want to have Twitter and Facebook followers, subscribers to your blog, a large e-mail list, and people who turn out to hear you talk. The more you have, the stronger your author platform is, and the more attractive you will be to publishers. If you go the indie publishing route, you will be able to sell more books quicker. I wish that I had started compiling my e-mail list years ago because it would be huge now and making my selling job easier. Start building you author platform now. It will be a continual activity that you should do all through your career.
  4. Market, market, market. Writers want to write, not sell. Sorry to tell you, marketing’s part of the job. Even Nora Roberts does book signings. Part of your marketing efforts fall into building your author brand, but other activities will be book specific. I still give talks about books that I wrote years ago. Plan on doing as much marketing as you do writing.
  5. Try new things. While it will be tempting to stick to things that work, you can’t be afraid to try new things with your marketing. You don’t have to dedicate a majority of your marketing budget to new stuff, but plan on a portion of it going to try new things. I’m always looking for new shows to sell books at, new groups to talk to, and new methods to reach new readers online. I keep what works and don’t continue what doesn’t work. The more I do this, the more effective my marketing efforts become.

Writing is a great career, but to make it great, you are going to have to work at it. Be willing to go outside your comfort zone and reach for new heights. You might not succeed each time, but you will probably do so more than you would guess.

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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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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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