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For Better Sales at Author Events

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On-the-spot sales are the most reliable sales you can make. Sometimes you have to work at making the sale, however.

Potential customers might say they don’t have the cash with them, or they left their checkbooks at home, and they’ll order the book from your Website later. Some people prefer purchasing books through Amazon.com, or they promise to stop in at a bookstore and pick up a copy. But I can tell you that even those who appear to be most interested in purchasing your book very often neglect to follow through.

That’s why I recommend getting people’s names, contact information, and business cards so you can follow up with them, and offering little enticements to get those sales that you may not get otherwise. Give a discount and/or a bonus gift to everyone who purchases a book on the spot. And make sure that you can accept all means of payment—cash, checks, and a variety of credit cards. You’ve probably heard how important it is to make it as easy and attractive as possible for customers to buy from you. This is absolutely true.

Prior to your presentation, and with your host’s permission, set up a display of books, preferably in the room where you will be speaking. Although we use the term back-of-the-room sales, your books should never be in the back of the room, according to novelist Raven West.

“Whenever possible, they should be up front with you in a very prominent display, not just an ordinary stack,” she says. “Purchase some book display stands; you can find them at craft stores where they sell decorative plates.”

She also suggests this: “Distribute copies of your book to a few members of your audience. Have them feel it and make it theirs. Some will hand it back to you; others will feel guilty and buy it. Point to your books throughout your presentation, especially when you’re talking about your characters.”

Here are some additional tips for making on-the-spot sales.

● Make sure it is okay to sell books at each location. Bookstore managers generally want to sell your books and make that 40 percent profit. But the bylaws of some nonprofit organizations may prohibit book sales on the premises. Librarians may suggest that you donate a percentage of book sales to the Friends of the Library.

● Mention your book during your presentation. In fact, take a copy to the lectern with you and display it, if appropriate. But do not turn your presentation into a commercial. You are there to give your audience something of value—to educate, teach, inspire, motivate, and/or entertain them.

● Bring plenty of books, as well as promotional brochures, bookmarks, and the like. I generally hand these materials to attendees as they enter the room or place them at each seat before the session starts. Leave extras on a table near the entrance for people who come in late or want additional copies.

● If you’ll be selling your own books, bring change and either credit card slips or a way to charge credit cards, maybe one of the smartphone apps that allow you to run credit cards for payment. I like to take a friend along to my presentations to handle sales while I respond to questions and have conversations. Or sometimes I ask for help from an audience member. Life is so much easier at these events when you are not trying to juggle money, make change, fill out credit card slips, sign books, and converse all at once.

● Along with your offer of a discount or a special gift to everyone who purchases the book right away, also provide information about how to purchase books later. Make sure every attendee has a copy of your brochure or a promotional postcard with the title and cover image of the book for easy identification later on.

● Give brief instructions for purchasing books on the spot. Before you finish your presentation, quickly explain that you’ll respond to questions and that you have books to sell in a location you specify. If you’re in a bookstore, customers will have to make their purchases through the cashier and then bring books to you for autographing. Some conference organizers involve a local bookstore that handles all book sales, in which case you would direct audience members to the on-premises store.


Sales Expectations

How many books should you bring to an event? If you expect 30 people, you might conceivably sell between 5 and 18 books. For an audience of 12 to 15, plan to make between 3 and 8 sales. Certainly, though, there is a wide range of exceptions, so bring more books than you expect to sell. You might sell 35 copies of your gift book or local history book to 19 people during an engagement around the holidays. Or you might walk out of an event having sold zero books.

This may not be a reflection on you or the quality of your book. For the most part, if you appropriately entertain and/or inform the right audience, you will sell a nonfiction book to between 10 and 20 percent of attendees who are there because of a keen interest in your topic. You might sell more copies of your historical novel set in the Deep South to a group of DAR members. But always remember that the number of books sold on the spot is not the only measure of a successful event. Your public appearances will be much more enjoyable for all (including you) if you keep this in mind.


The E-Book Adaptation

What if your book is only in e-book form? Can you still sell copies when you do presentations? Sure you can.

Programs that promote e-books are just the same as programs that promote print-on-paper books, except that you don’t have a hard copy to show.

So why not make a prototype? Create one or more bound books to pass around while reminding your audience members that the book is instantly available via download. You might even pass around a digital device with the book loaded onto it.

And why not also develop a short video to introduce and promote the book and show it on a computer or TV screen so everyone can view it? A book trailer provides a great way to introduce an e-book by making it somehow more tangible.

Other ways to make e-books physically present include running the trailer and/or displaying the book cover on a couple of digital picture frames situated in prominent places around the room, and giving everybody a hard copy of a sample chapter.

As at events for print books, have plenty of quality promotional postcards or bookmarks on hand, and since you have no physical books to autograph, offer to autograph them.

To stimulate downloads, take orders on the spot and offer coupons that will get buyers a discount when they order from your site.

Or, if you are suggesting that attendees order for their Kindles, Nooks, or iPads, offer a gift in exchange for a copy of an order confirmation. The gift might be a report related to the topic of the book, or a short story if what you write is fiction.

Be sure to get names, email addresses, and business cards from attendees at your e-book event so you can add them to your email list and send news of future presentations, special offers, new books, and more.


Patricia Fry is the author of more than 30 books and has contributed hundreds of articles to periodicals including Writer’s Digest, the Los Angeles Times, and the Artist’s Magazine. She established her own publishing company, Matilija Press, in 1983, and is the executive director of the Small Publishers, Artists, and Writers Network (SPAWN). This article is derived from her latest title, Talk Up Your Book, published by Allworth Press. To learn more: matilijapress.com.

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