So you’ve published a book—or two, or seven!
Congratulations, first of all.
And let’s say you’ve been selling your books for some time now. You’ve got ebooks on Amazon, you’ve got paper copies in a few bookstores, and you even sell a few print copies to friends and coworkers every now and again.
But then you see it, a flyer on the announcement board at your favorite coffee shop:
“Comic Book Convention coming soon – reserve your Artist’s Alley booth today!”
And that’s when you get an idea:
You’ve seen other authors selling their books at conventions before. And you think, Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to sell my books directly to readers? To see their faces light up when they see my brilliant cover designs or read that heart-stopping opening sentence?
I’ll do it, you say to yourself. After all, how hard could it be?
Selling Your Books at Conventions for Fun and Profit
For many authors, there’s nothing more thrilling than selling a book directly to an eager reader. And outside of book launch parties at bookstores, conventions are really the only appropriate place to do this.
However, there’s a lot more that goes into selling at conventions than plunking yourself down behind a folding table with a box of books in your laps. Cons are noisy, crowded, and often pretty dang intense to boot—and can get exhausting to the unwary or inexperienced bookseller.
You need a winning strategy going in…a strategy TCK Publishing is happy to provide. Put on your best salesperson smile, because we’re going to teach you to swim with the sharks.
This is our 6-step strategy guide to selling more books at your next convention.
1. Come Prepared
Good salesmanship begins weeks before you see your first customer.
First off, research everything you can about the convention you plan to attend:
- Crowd Size: How many people usually attend this convention? If the con spans a weekend, what day are the crowds biggest? Do attendees flock to the sales floor the first day, or do they save their shopping until the hour before the event shuts down?
- Convention Type: Picking and choosing which cons you go to is essential to using your time efficiently—and maximizing your profits. For instance, your space opera trilogy will probably get a much warmer reception at a science fiction convention like VisionCon than the manga-themed Animazement.
- Pricing: How much does it cost to rent a table or booth at the convention? This price will help you determine how many copies of your book you’ll want to bring to sell: calculate how many copies you need to move to break even on the price of the table, and bring at least a couple of dozen more than that. Don’t worry too much about overstocking yourself. It’s always good to have a few physical copies of your books on hand at all times, and you can always take the extras to your next convention!
- Parking: I can’t stress this one enough. Most cons I’ve been to set up in huge convention halls downtown. This can make parking a nightmare, especially if you’ve never been to that particular city before. Dig out a map and figure out where the closest parking to the convention is and how much it’ll cost you to park there—and get there early. There’s nothing worse than showing up the day of a con and spending half the day hunting for a parking spot instead of selling your books.
2. Dress Your Best
Conventions can be a blast, but always remember that you’re not there to play.
You’re there to work—and you should dress the part.
Think of what you wear to the con as your “selling uniform”: something that will distinguish you in a sea of other vendors, yet won’t be so garish to frighten potential readers away. Maybe your “uniform” is your favorite jeans and a new button-down shirt. Maybe you come in cosplay. Maybe you accessorize. Maybe you like hats, or buttons, or fingerless gloves.
Ideally, wear something that you feel comfortable in, whatever form that takes. Don’t feel like you have to put on a costume or give off a certain “vibe” to sell books. Be yourself, but put your best face forward, too.
Protip: Unless you’re required to (for some reason), avoid wearing shirts with the convention’s name or logo on them when you’re selling. You don’t want to look like con staff—otherwise, people will think you’re just somebody watching over the booth until the real author gets back from a bathroom break.
3. Be Social
Cons are social events, after all. Remember that folks aren’t paying hundreds of dollars for the weekend just to come buy your books. They’re there to go to panels, play games, meet a few celebrities, and, above all, hang out with fellow fans—including you!
That’s why it’s important to chat and be friendly with the folks who pass by your booth or table, even if they don’t look like likely book buyers. People are much more likely to give your wares a glance if they know you’re not going to give them the hard sell.
This means you’ve got to be interested in the people you meet, not just their money. Comment on their costumes. Ask where they found the interesting merch they’re holding. Get nerdy with them. Talk superhero movies or comic books or anime or thrash metal or books. Make friends. Network. Schmooze.
Always remember—the longer people spend talking with you, the more likely they are to buy from you, too.
And don’t forget to offer to sign each book you sell! Not only does it make that particular copy special to the buyer, but autographing print copies of your books is just part of the dream.
Protip: While chatting with fellow conventioneers on the merch floor is fine, never ignore someone asking questions about your book in favor of a preexisting conversation. It’s perfectly all right to break off talking to somebody to help a customer with money in hand—people understand you’re there to sell, and won’t take offense.
Now, we know not all writers are social butterflies. If you’re not the kind of person who handles large crowds well, running a booth at a convention might not be the best move for you. But don’t let us discourage you! The best way to prepare for a day of strenuous social interaction is to rehearse ahead of time.
That means you’ve got to…
4. Memorize Your Pitch
“Hey! So, what’s your book about?”
That’s the first question curious con guests are going to ask you after approaching your booth—and whether you land the sale depends almost entirely on how you answer.
Take advantage of this time. This is the only opportunity you’ll ever have to pitch your beloved stories directly to a book buyer. You can’t afford to blow it by hemming and hawing or saying, “Well, that’s a complicated question.”
Reel them in. Next to the physical books themselves, your pitch is your most effective in-person sales tool, so here’s 3 ways you can perfect your delivery:
- Keep It Short: Hit ‘em with your logline—your one-sentence summary of your book or series. Never overstay your welcome: book buyers want an explanation, not an epic poem.
- Establish Your Genre: Naming a popular genre of literature builds an instant connection between the reader and your writing. Start with “It’s a galaxy-spanning space opera…” or “It’s a Victorian-era family drama with a Lovecraftian twist…” or “It’s a prehistoric romance with flash-forwards to the birth of Washington Irving…” Pack in the details, but always keep them germane to the genre of your story.
- Make Comparisons: Don’t be afraid to liken your story to something popular. You’re at a convention, after all—a celebration of pop culture. People are there to geek out about the franchises they adore: if you introduce them to a story that’s similar to one of their all-time favorites, they’re much more likely to snap up what you’re offering.
And above all, pay attention to potential customers’ reactions. Perfect your pitch over time. Try out different wording or different deliveries, and study what works and what doesn’t. This is something you can’t do online, so take advantage of it while you can!
5. Spruce Up Your Table
Think back to the last big convention you went to: which were the tables on the merch floor that always had big crowds or lines?
Chances are, these booths were just about visible from space: bright colors, elaborate displays, the whole enchilada. And while you don’t have to erect a model volcano above your table to attract customers, there are a few basic techniques to keep your table from looking too, well, ordinary.
- Get a Tablecloth: Not the one from your dining room table, of course, but even a cheap plastic drape from Costco or the Dollar Tree can be enough to add some welcome color to your booth. Make sure you read your convention’s booth décor rules before you buy anything, however: lots of cons require that trailing cloths be fire-retardant.
- Get Taller: While some cons place limits on just how much space your booth and booth accessories can take up, making your “space” taller makes you visible from longer distances and above large crowds. Consider creating a pasteboard or tri-fold display to advertise your books on, or even getting some sort of display to erect behind your chair. Most cons have strict rules about hanging things on the walls, but sometimes you can get away with taping or hanging signs on the backs of other vendor’s stalls—if you ask politely first, that is.
- Put Your Merch Front and Center: Leave no doubt in customers’ minds what you’re there to sell. But don’t just stack them on top of each other—that’s boring. Consider getting display shelves for your books, especially ones that hold your wares at that classic 40-degree angle, prime for viewing from above.
- Get Your Name Out There: This might sound counter-intuitive, but you’re the star here, not your books. Your table should have a sign on the front, and that’s where you slap your John Hancock. Go nuts with the design here: use this space to sell yourself in a way that matches the tone of your books. Go wacky, go spooky, go mysterious—but leave anyone who sees your name itching to know more about you and what you write.
6. Never Leave Them Empty-Handed
This last point is an ancient bit of sales savvy, but its appropriate application can make even a seemingly lackluster day behind your booth into an unexpected success.
I’m not talking about literally forcing anybody to take your merchandise, of course. Simply put: in order to close more sales, offer something for free.
This can be a dish of candy on your table. This can be a bookmark. But best of all, this can be your author business card. These don’t need much—just your name, Twitter handle, and author website—but they can be invaluable both during the convention and beyond. A business card in somebody’s pocket is a constant reminder of who you are and what you do. Even if a potential customer leaves your table without your book, they might come back later simply because they remember you from before.
And, even if they don’t return, they know where to find you online. They might visit your website or blog or follow you on Twitter, expanding your sphere of influence and the reach of your marketing efforts.
What about you, fellow convention hounds? What are your con-wrangling strategies? Do you sell at conventions, or just mingle? Join the strategizing in the comments section below.
And for more guidance on making the most of conventions and other opportunities for writers, simply read on: