05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Friday, December 23, 2011


Fair Selling—For the Birds?

The three-day Holiday Fair in Greenville, SC, attracts substantial crowds, people who buy all manner of Christmas gifts, holiday decorations, foodstuffs and household gizmos. So having three authors split the $300+ cost of a booth to sell our books sounded like a grand idea. Out of the thousands of shoppers, surely hundreds would be eager to buy our traditionally-published trade paperbacks for avid readers on their Christmas lists.

At least that’s what two of my published friends—Kathleen Delaney and Ellis Vidler—and I thought. Were we right? No. Was it worthwhile? Yes. Would I do it again? Maybe.

Here’s a rundown on pros and cons for authors contemplating selling at a fair.

Dwindling Pool of Paperback Buyers—I’d estimate half the folks who stopped by our booth said they only buy e-books and/or anticipated receiving an e-reader for Christmas. We gave these folks bookmarks. Will they actually download our books after they unwrap new e-readers? Don’t know. I saw no instant surge in my e-book sales ranking. If I did this again, I’d investigate adding one of the new cell phone-scan barcodes to my bookmark to encourage immediate downloads.

Buyer Psychology—While the three of us write very different books, we all pen adult suspense/mystery with varying degrees of romance. Several potential buyers voiced reluctance to buy books from one or two of us as it might hurt the feelings of the passed-over author(s). A few years ago, Ellis shared a booth with a children’s author and this problem didn’t surface. So sharing a booth with authors who target very different audiences might improve sales. On the other hand, I had a delightful time chatting with my author friends during slow periods.

Do You Like To Read?—In an attempt to lure people to our booth, we’d call out to passersby. Do you like to read? I was astounded at how many people answered with a gruff “no.” At one point, we got the giggles thinking of follow-up questions to the naysayers like Can you read? or Are you a snake handler? On the pro side, we met and talked with many avid readers, librarians, and lovers of suspense and mystery. We tried to recommend books that fit their tastes even if we weren’t the authors, and we invited many of them to come to our local Sisters in Crime chapter. I have to believe there’s a long-term payoff in such interaction.

Book Covers/Geography—I attribute more than a third of my fair sales to the image of a lighthouse on the cover of DEAR KILLER and my ability to talk about my book’s South Carolina Lowcountry setting. These buyers purchased DEAR KILLER because they or their friends and family vacationed in the Lowcountry. If your setting has a strong tie to a popular vacation Mecca and/or the location of the fair, it will definitely help sales.

Books As Gifts—Most people bought our books for themselves rather than as gifts. This surprised me. I attribute it to uncertainty about whether or not a gift recipient would like the book. In contrast, they could make a judgment for themselves based on the back-of-the-book blurb, paging through the book and talking to the author. Our sales also may have been hindered by competition from a used book booth just down the aisle from us that was selling books by “big name” authors.

Time, Dollars and Sense—On the first two days, the fair ran from 10 a.m.-8 p.m., while the Saturday hours were 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Add booth setup/takedown, planning and travel time and you’re talking about investing the equivalent of a 40-hour work week. In my case, my “profit” would translate into an hourly rate well below the minimum wage. Actually, if I subtract the amount of money I spent at the concession stand and on gifts from other Fair vendors, I’m not sure I broke even. However, I did get all my Christmas shopping done, and I had fun.

For the Birds?—To raise money for an animal sanctuary, our neighboring booth let people photograph rescued birds of a feather including a Muscovy duck, a screech owl and a barn owl. There was always a crowd. Maybe next time I’ll bring a hawk to my booth and hint that it only attacks people who don’t read.


Suzanne Lilly said...

It sounds like you came away with some great information you can use. Such as adding the bar code scanner to your bookmarks. Brilliant! Some people are afraid to buy when three authors are together because one might get hurt feelings. Good insight! And the many people who don't like to read...well, it's probably because they haven't discovered your books yet.

Linda Lovely said...

Thanks for commenting, Suzanne. We did have lots of fun and learned a bit in the process.

Judith Ashley said...

Great information, Linda. I love the idea of the bar code on a book mark...I see the commercials but hadn't translated that to book sales. "They" say that exposure adds up and at some point (just don't remember the numbers) your name, brand, book cover sticks in someone's memory. So having many many people walk by, engaging some of them in conversation, having your names on the list of vendors -all has potential for increasing sales at some point in time.

Kaye George said...

I, too, plan to add QR codes to my handouts next time I have them printed. I usually ask Do you like mysteries? I'm afraid to ask if they like to read, for just your reasons. It's appalling that a person doesn't read! This time of year, it's Do you need a gift for a mystery reader? I think I've made a few sales that way.

Linda Lovely said...

Kaye, I think we tried every variation of the "Do you" question. A lot of the men who admitted reading seemed to have a preference for nonfiction. That's when we moved into gift mode.

Cindy Sample said...

HI Linda. What a great blog post. You've written a very accurate portrayal of author selling at a fair. I've participated in a county fair and state fair (no fee except a 15% commission) and several whatever fairs, including a banana festival (Those banana fans evidently aren't big readers either). The highlight was selling books and being located next to the Cinnabon booth. The low point was rolling my suitcase over the world's largest cow patty that I couldn't see in the dark. I benefit from the fact that my series takes place locally and people will buy them for that reason alone. I've definitely seen e-book sales afterward. I plan on adding the QR code next time I order bookmarks even tho it means eliminating my beautiful photo on the front. The one where everyone asks "is that you?"

Happy holidays to you and your family.

B. A. Binns said...

When I go to events I don't expect to make a lot of sales, so I come armed with more literature, bookmarks, postcards, borchures and other giveaways. I also target my events, usually around librarians and teachers (because I am a YA author) I paid $25 dollars for a table at a Chicago bookfair last summer, sold one book (woowoo, it was more than I expected). Got a free table at another event and sold six books (you just can't tell). Mostly I am all about the recognition, like I said, lots of give-aways. And I have checked my website statistics after these events, and sometimes there are real surges. I have also gotten follow-up emails from attendees. Would I pay more than the $25 bucks - doubtful, unless I knew I had a true target audience. Will I do it again, expecially if I can be with a group of other authors - absolutely.

P. S. I'll be the former introvert out there waylaying passersbys.

Pauline B Jones said...

Your experience mirrors my early efforts going to places that were "sure" to be great places to sell books, including inside bookstores (where people who don't read also go). I have learned to run the numbers, figure out what's the break even point and then try to estimate the "seed planting" effect. Much of what we do is paid forward, rather than immediate.

I'm not a good in -person salesman, so I don't do events like this anymore, but admire those who do! thanks for the info!

elysabeth said...


Thanks for posting some terrific information. I've done a local "festival", outdoors of course, that was okay but the cost for my space (and that's all I have because I had to provide my own tables, chairs and covering - tent, gazebo, whatever) was only $25 and it was basically a Friday late afternoon into the evening and Saturday all day until dark (or if you had portable lighting to use in your space, could have stayed until the festival closed down). I've done a couple of other events but most everything I concentrate on are homeschool conferences, teachers' conferences and now librarian conferences and book festivals or fairs (at least you know you have readers attending a book fair since that's pretty much what is being sold).

As far as QR codes, I added them to my blog but apparently I don't have enough following to garner any business with them. Even ran a special pre-Christmas sale this week on my blog for my newly released YA paranormal mystery and sold 3 copies all week. Not very good since I've talked this deal up a lot and posted in all my groups and on all my social networks where there are thousands of folks who follow any given number of sites I'm on. My plan for using the QR codes for "instant purchase" is at my events. I print up copies of the covers and on the back I'll put the QR code below the description of the story - and this will only be for my ebooks available. I also will laminate the covers so that they are protected and folks can download instantly if they are interested. I thought about printing my own business sized cards with the cover and description/QR on the back to pass out to those interested in that particular ebook and may still do that but that will be in the future; will decide on that after one or two events with my QR codes/covers displays.

I too notice a surge in visits to my websites and blog on the day of and sometimes a couple of days after an event, so all hope is not lost as far as geting my name out there. I do hope eventually to have the sales on a consistent basis to leave my full time job and start traveling.

I hope you, Ellis and Kathleen do see some results from your effort to be at the Christmas Fair. It will come, as I keep saying - in due time. Hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas and see you in the new year. E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of Finally Home, a YA paranormal mystery
"The Proposal" (an April Fools Day story), a humorous romance ebook
"The Tulip Kiss", a paranormal romance ebook
"Bride-and-Seek", a paranormal romance ebook

Ma America, The Travelin' Maven
Author of the JGDS, 50-state, mystery, trivia series and "Train of Clues" (a mystery destination story and predecessor to the JGDS 50-state series)
Where will the adventure take you next?

George Guthridge said...


I pretty much have stopped doing this sort of thing -- just don't have the time -- but here is a trick I learned a long time ago.

Someone told me that men look at well-dressed women and that women look at well-dressed woman. So I would have my wife or one of my daughters dress up and stand a little way away from the booth -- just enough not to bother anyone else. She would pass out a flier. By the time people reached the booth, then they already would have made up their mind to buy. Did it work? I went from selling perhaps ten books a day to selling a 100-200, and there were no other changes.

Some places allowed me to post my helper at the door. I started doing the same thing for book signings and bookstores, and had similar response.

The main thing to remember is this: there is a space between you and the potential buyers. Once buyers enter that space, then they are in a sense intimidated. They are being asked, silently of course, to buy the book or else to hurt the writer's feelings by not buying one. Having the helper basically eliminates that problem, since the person entering the space already has decided to purchase.

The flier also helped me segment the market. I could remind the potential buyers that they aren't buying the book necessarily for themselves but instead perhaps for their Aunt Bertha, who has an interest in real books on her bookshelf.


elysabeth said...


That's the kind of sales I would love to have - I'd take that every couple of weeks per book (several print books and several ebooks) - that would make my year.

So would you care to share what the flier looked like or what you had on the flier? - It will help those of us struggling in the future - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of Finally Home, a YA paranormal mystery
"The Proposal" (an April Fools Day story), a humorous romance ebook
"The Tulip Kiss", a paranormal romance ebook
"Bride-and-Seek", a paranormal romance ebook

Ma America, The Travelin' Maven
Author of the JGDS, 50-state, mystery, trivia series and "Train of Clues" (a mystery destination story and predecessor to the JGDS 50-state series)
Where will the adventure take you next?

George Guthridge said...


I don't have any of the fliers anymore, but maybe I will write a blog on this in the future.

For the time being, however: analyze who is coming to the event. Then do the pitch that way. If I have any one comment to make about the advertising that I see coming out of romance writing, it's that the writer is trying too hard to pitch the product to the buyer in the same fashion as pitching it to an editor. The pitch to the buyer has to be much more broad-based. After all, the buyer can always read the book cover.

In fact, the buyer-pitch doesn't even have to reflect the book very much. Here's a case in point: I am very well known among teachers in Alaska. (Long story.) EVERYONE knows a teacher or is a teacher or former teacher or has a kid or nephew or niece who has a teacher. So I make teaching the emphasis of the flier. It's basically "Buy a book for Ms. Candy for Christmas." That way you get around the problem of people who don't read or read only via e-books or don't want your book for whatever reason or don't want it today for themselves. There are lots of other ploys.


Sarah Raplee said...


Thanks for sharing your experience and advice. And thanks to commenters for sharing, too.

I learned a lot from this post.

Susanne Drazic said...

I found my way to your blog through a post that Elysabeth did on her blog. I don't read a lot of romance, but I was very interested in what you had to share about the results of your fair experience.

Perhaps the following are things you already considered or might consider in the future:

When you all write similiar type books/genres, perhaps try bundling your books for a set sale price. One book from each author.

Hold some kind of drawing where a person gets entered into the drawing for each book they buy from you that day. The prize can be some kind of gift basket with goodies from each author.

Hold some kind of drawing where people who stop by, whether they buy from you or not, get a chance at some goodies. Of course you get email addresses along with the other contact information, so you can send them newsletters, new book release information, upcoming book stops, etc.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Linda,

I enjoyed reading your post and feel it to be quite helpful. My husband is opposed to personally selling books so I've only tried it one time with limited success.
I agree that the lighthouse cover will draw readers to your book. There are many people who love lighthouses and collect all kinds of lighthouse memorabillia. (I happen to be one myself). Many people engage in the Lighthouse Challenge here in NJ in October each year.

Linda Lovely said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments and suggestions! This post provided a learning payback. We considered a drawing but, at this particular fair, we decided there was too much competition (drawings for expensive prizes) for ours to have much appeal. We did hand out bookmarks and information about our local Sisters in Crime chapter by the case and we even got a few folks interested in joining our chapter. I'm an extrovert, so I don't mind this kind of selling. But the economics have to be right. I like the idea of someone handing out our bookmarks before folks reach the booth.

Diana Mcc. said...

What a great post! I learned so much from you, Linda, and everyone who commented.

Happy Holidays!

Susan Whitfield said...

Linda, this was a great post. I've never had much luck sharing time/booths with other authors. People tend to avoid us at all cost. I don't know if we look dangerously intimidating, or they just feel uncomfortable approaching us, not wanting to buy one book and not the others. The bar code idea has merit. I'd love to try it but have no idea how to go about that. The last few signings I've done have been less than fruitful although I enjoyed the venues and its patrons. Maybe it IS the ebook thing, or perhaps, people don't have the money for a case of wine and all five of my books as well. Anyway, I keep hoping that the next event will be worth the travel, hotel bills, and such, and my books will take off. In any event, I enjoy meeting new folks and visiting old friends who've supported me in so many different ways. I'm blessed to have them and my author friends like you in my life. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Hope to see you in February at Book 'Em and Cape Fear Crimefest.