Selling at Conventions Part One

I’ve had a few new authors ask over the last few years…what do I need to put together to sell from a table at a convention, book event, author fair, or other non-bookstore event? What do I need to prepare? I say non-bookstore event, because bookstores are awesome. Most of the time for a bookstore, you just have to show up with your favorite signing pen. For an independent bookstore, you might want to bring your own banner, and might need to bring your own stock, but they provide the table, and probably have it set up the way that works for them. Don’t dictate to a bookstore, but ask lots of questions to make sure you’re on the same page.

For comic cons, book fairs, art events, and other non-bookstore events, here’s where to start…

  • Do your research. In more ways than one…

Talk to authors and see what conventions or events give the best bang for your buck. There might even be a Facebook group in your area of writers who share this kind of information; ask.

You’ll, in most cases, have to pay for your table. Some events offer free tables to authors. Some events are reasonable, and some are wicked expensive. Some are just not worth it. Be smart and ask around before you plunk down the money for a table.

My rule of thumb is that I’ll try just about anything I can afford. My first year at an event I need to have enough in sales (not profit, but sales) to cover my table cost. The next year, I better sell more. If I’m not bringing in that much, the event isn’t a do again. You’re NOT going to make back your costs for your expenses by selling at conventions. It’s a promotional expense. You are, however, going to be getting your name out there, selling books, and giving out bookmarks and promotional material. You may see a sales bump after the convention. If you do, your marketing efforts are working.

Over the course of the year, I have some free or low cost events, I have some local events with little or no travel costs, and I have some with hotel fees, expensive tables, and also the potential for new readers. If I make enough in profit to cover all of my expenses, I’m ecstatic. I normally do 10-12 events per year. Remember that the profit at the low cost, local events will make up for some of the losses at the bigger, expensive events, but the bigger events further from your home help get word further out about your books. I do a mix to cover all of my bases.

Is this a juried show? Do you need to be approved? Start the application process early; don’t wait until the last minute, as last minute might cause issues if they are full, and getting a last minute no means there isn’t enough time to look for another event to fill the weekend.

Once you’ve signed up, you also need to figure out what you need to do to report/pay sales tax and/or have a vendor’s license. The convention should have someone you can ask about this.

Get a credit card reader. I spent the money to get a chip card reader because I do enough of these events to justify the cost and minimize the exposure; that’s a decision that you’ve got to make on your own. PayPal and Square are the ones I see most often. I use PayPal, because I also have a PayPal business debit card tied to the account that can help with travel emergencies. I also run some of my writing income through PayPal, so it makes sense to have all if it in one account, but your mileage may vary.

Plan ahead. Understand the Load-In and Load-Out policies and ask questions. No question is stupid if you’re new to this.