Guest Post: Selling myself in different venues

Everyone welcome fellow Indie Author Christopher Woods! He’s had a rough week, but as you’ll see, it was in a good cause. I am also disappointed I didn’t get to hang out with him and sell books, but there will be other times (We must chat about cons, soon). He’s been, as you’ll see, exploring non-traditional outlets for sales. Although I still say that selling yourself has a funny connotation, Chris! 

soulguardWhere can a person set up and successfully sell their books? This is a question a lot of self-published authors must ask. The answer is complicated. There are the Sci-Fi conventions which are the regular spots a self-published author will find fans of their work, provided they write Science Fiction or Fantasy. For those who write in other genres there are conventions for them as well, but I write Sci-Fi/Fantasy so that’s all I can speak about at the moment.

I’ve done a few different things over the last couple of years since publishing my first novel, Soulguard, in September of 2014. I set up in a Home Depot where I used to work, which sounds odd but I sold about fifteen books. I’ve done a couple of rallies at libraries with varied success. And I’ve done a few conventions, including HonorCon, LibertyCon, and Fanboy Expo. HonorCon had the best results in physical sales, thirty books.

The newest venue I decided to try was the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knoxville, TN. I rented booth space there and offered to share the booth with local authors, including Cedar Sanderson, who wanted me to post about the results of using the fair as a venue for book selling. Unfortunately, Cedar had an accident on her way down to join me and was unable to participate. Thank God she and her First Reader were unharmed. I was a little disappointed that they couldn’t make it, as I was looking forward to meeting Sanford, and having a little time in the booth to talk to both of them. Something for another day, I suppose.

Now to the fair. I’m sure most of you have been to a fair at some point. It’s loud, it’s crowded, and it’s hard for an introvert to cope with honestly. But the Tennessee Valley Fair was a place where over a hundred thousand people go thru a ten day span. With that many people coming through, there would have to be some readers. There were. Over the ten days, I sold about fifty books, both hardback and paperback.

Most of us know that physical sales are just a small part of our reasons to set up in the conventions. We have cards, bookmarks, and gifts. All of these are ways we put our names in front of many people. Along with my fifty book sales, I gave out close to eight hundred bookmarks to interested parties, as well as five hundred business cards. Whether these pan out over the next few months is still to be discovered.

There were a few things I discovered as I sat in the booth and watched people. First the placement of my booth was not bad. The air conditioned building I was set up in has two places where the bathrooms are located. One end has the ladies downstairs and the gents upstairs, directly above. The other end is just the opposite. Now, that made things inconvenient for my trips to the bathroom since my booth was right in front of the ladies room and I had to climb the stairs every time I had to go. But I realized about two days in that almost every woman who attends that Fair comes into the air conditioned building and uses that bathroom. Every man who accompanies them waits just outside and right in front of my booth. So most of the folks who attend would see my banner. This generated some of the sales I made.

You have to learn to read which people to talk to, as well. Some are just looking as they pass and all of them have been dodging carnival barkers throughout the whole event. If you speak up, many will run away in fear of being harangued into buying something. You have to watch for that spark of interest, sometimes hard to catch. This means you have to watch the crowd instead of playing with your tablet or phone. Most Cons are full of people who enjoy the genre you are working in but this place had people from every walk of life. After a while, you begin seeing the same responses from people, that stop and double take when they see books. Those are readers, perhaps not readers of your genre, but readers. Those are the people you can talk to.

Surprisingly, the question, “Did you write these?” came from almost all of them. The more I thought about it, I realized this was another difference from a Con. Authors set up at Cons to sell their books. People at the Fair set up to sell anything. Many of the folks who wouldn’t have bought the books only did so after learning that I wrote the books. But I’m happy to sell my books to anyone willing to buy them.

The biggest detriment to my days at the Tennessee Valley Fair was the noise. There was a group who rented thirteen booths and set up a laser tag arena. Unfortunately, it was just through the curtain behind me. My eye was twitching by the time I had done ten days with that. The long hours wouldn’t have bothered me quite so much if not for that.

This is not really something you want to do alone. The hours alone are rough and if you plan to do something like this, you want it to be local. Ten days of hotel rooms alone would be more than a person could afford. My family lives close to Knoxville so it made things much cheaper when I got to stay with them.

Ideally, there would be several authors who would work shifts with all the participants’ books out to be seen and bought by the crowds. At the end of it the tally could be made and the money dispersed to the authors. It would take some time to establish something like that as a yearly thing but I think it could be made to work.

As for me, I’m exhausted, more mentally than physically. Even with the noise, my opinion is that the trip was a success. Sure, it could have been better, but it could have been much worse. Now I’m going to go lay some tile and give my mind a rest while working my back. In a day or so I can get back to the keyboard to write more on the next novel.


  1. I have a small question. How much did it cost to rent the booth for 10 days? I understand the purpose of getting out there and getting your works seen and possibly read. Just thinking of the number crunching and how feasible it is.
    I also understand that having other authors jump in will help spread the cost and time invested. So, yeah. That’s my question.

      1. That’s a very reasonable price, actually. Chris, you should consider ‘swag’ for sale when we do this again – and yes, I’d like to help more next time. Prints, Tees, so forth. I have a step up in that arena with my art and dragons, but depending on how you license your book art, you may be able to sell prints (check! I do not, for instance, sell the art alone license when I do book covers for people). And of course handing out bookmarks and business cards works nicely. I’ll show you the cards I had made up – they allow the taker to get a free ebook, which is great incentive to get people to take them.

        1. I had the business cards and the bookmarks which did well. We’ve been kicking around the idea of tees and other items to add to the mix. So far we haven’t invested in that yet, but it is in the works. Prints are something we really want but my artist works two jobs and has two kids. Hard to get anything rolling in that direction yet. The free ebook is a sweet idea. Definitely something to look into.

    1. I’ve done long fairs like this, in the other business, and it’s tiring (even without the lazer tag!). I think that his idea of working with a group is ideal, and I’m very sorry I didn’t get down there to relieve him for a couple of days.

    2. It was pretty rough as an event to do by oneself, but I could see something like this as a joint effort of multiple writers being much easier.

  2. The “reading the passers-by” thing is spot on, especially in a heavy crowd. I used to mildly freak out my fellow ARTC* members with my sales prowess, when all I was doing was this–scanning the manswarm in front of the table and singling out the ones who were *actually looking* at the product.

    *(The Atlanta Theatre Company)

    1. And this was at DragonCon. Even there, not everyone who glances at your table is interested in *your* stuff. You watch for the ones who are…

  3. “Over the ten days, I sold about fifty books, both hardback and paperback.”

    I don’t mean this as a criticism, Christopher, but ten days at a fair for fifty sales? That is -way- too much work for -way- not enough money. Plus booth fees? That sounds like the very definition of “this is not working.”

    I’m shocked, actually, that the sales were that low. Morons can slap a box of bootleg Hello Kitty t-shirts on a table at a fricking gun show and do better than that. They do it all the time.

    It sucks that you had to go through that. As a writer, it makes me angry.

    1. Not Christopher, but I sold 11 books in two days at a local con. And saw a sales bump afterwards. I also think one reason my latest release is also doing well is because I had a small promo for “upcoming release” on my sales card. So you have to look at print AND e-book AND long tail. I didn’t break even on hard-copy sales for those two days, true, but the longer term could well be very good. YMMV.

      1. Yes, this. In-person events are a loss leader. They will always be a loss leader, even if you’re at an event tailored to attract only fans of your genre. Paper sales are a small part of the pie – ebooks and eyeballs on your work, branding yourself as a successful author, *that’s* what it is about. I plan to lose money when I do stuff like this, or cons. It’s a tax write-off, and it’s a way to break into new markets.

        1. Same for every place I’ve worked that did the trade shows. Most of them, though, do have one thing that we don’t get – they trade business cards with the people they talk to. Makes it much easier to tell whether the effort actually turned a profit in the long run.

          On the intro – wasn’t it RAH who said that “fabulist” was the world’s second oldest profession???

      2. It’s one thing to write a story and post it to Amazon, along with the other 10 billion stores out there. One expects to be lost in the shuffle. It is another thing to print it, and sit there in person selling it… and sell 11 in two days.

        Imagine being B&N right now. No wonder they’re selling toys, eh?

    2. Given how bad the book market in general is right now? This is actually great. I’ve sold hand-crafted work, and face painting, at fairs. I’ve sold books, too. The general populace who is drifting past your booth is looking for something safe, and comfortable, to be a ‘fan’ of, like your Hello Kitty example. For fifty of them to take a wild chance and slap down more than beer money on a book is pretty great, actually.

    3. Fifty sales is just the beginning, though. Forty of those sales were of my first book and I have already received the first call from one of them to order the other four. Those fifty physical sales are quite likely to spawn another 160 sales in the next few weeks. Not to mention the uptick in sales of the ebooks that is now beginning to show up in my reports.

      1. Christopher, I sincerely hope that is the case. I’ve sat in a booth like that, I know what its like. Very difficult indeed.

  4. Any Seattle-area* authors willing to work an hour or two (max – and that includes driving time) to sell at a small Indy convention? No table fees but the con gets 10% of all sales.

    If you’re coming from farther away, I can host at my house (pending mutually satisfactory references)

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