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The Magic of Cross-Promotion How To Do It Frugally Style

A Retrospective of the Doings at the LA Times Festival of Books

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Fair Booths on a Budget and Why a Book Fair Can Be Free Advertising

Here is a "Q&A a la Ann Landers" segment from my Sharing with Writers newsletter. It it seemed like a good chance to share what a booth at a book fair will and will not do. You'll find more on the subject in The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't.

Question from anonymous:

"Because I am a new author and have limited funds I wanted to get some idea of the success of authors selling their books. I know you can't tell me how many books I'd sell, but I just wanted a ball park answer. I will not hold you to this. How many books do authors usually bring?" She gives me information on her title and indicates that she does know that networking is an important aspect of a fair.

Answer :

Thank you for your inquiry. I hope you have done some reading on book marketing like Marilyn and Tom Ross's The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, John Kremer's 1001 Ways to Market Your Books and, of course, mine. If not, you may come to a fair with unrealistic expectations. I can’t write you another full chapter (there is one in The Frugal Book Promoter) , of course, but I thank you for giving me a chance to explain what book fairs do and do not do.

Fairs are not really about book sales at the fair. They are about branding you as an author to begin that trek toward a career in writing. So, you pick a great fair with a great booth (Note the traffic at our booth which is in a prime spot because we have had a booth for several years and worked up to one near the food court!). YOu want a booth that offers cross-promotional benefits (one where all the authors are really expected to market the booth). You promote like crazy. You use invitations and media releases, etc. to get exposure. You use the fair to get credibility because you're associated with a prestigious fair. You use the fair and all the promotion you do for it to get lots of free publicity. And, you put your finger on it: You use it to network with other authors and with the people who come by the booth. And to learn. And, yes, you will sell some books.

I know that is not really what you asked but I feel I must preface with that. Keep in mind that your readers and prospective readers will be impressed that you are signing at the fair. Few have any idea that there is a difference between signing in the booth and being the star of the entire fair.

As to your numbers question: I have seen writers sell as few as two books (it was one that cost $49.95 and the author sent out no invitations or media releases--though she did get asked to be on a radio show when she was in the booth). I have seen others who sell upwards of 40 in an hour and have lines waiting for them to sign and author Raff Ellis recently wrote to say he had sold as many as 60.

Here are the influencing factors:

~New books sell better than ones that have been around a long time and that the author has exhausted her personal contacts for sales.
~Generally speaking nonfiction how-to type books sell better than some other kinds.
~Those who market and publicize will sell more books than those who don't. (Don't forget Christine Alexanians and I provide templates for these promotions when people participate in our booth at the UCLA Festival of Books--we don’t just turn you loose and say “Do it”).
~Authors who have developed person-to-person sales skills sell their books better than those who are shy.
~Authors who use a great book fair as one aspect of an ongoing promotion campaign do better than those who just try a book fair, then something else a few months later. The secret is to make it part of an overall branding campaign.
~Authors who sign at book stores in cities or towns where they already have lots of relatives, friends or business contacts sell more books than those who jump into a new pond, though there is a certain value to developing new contacts in a new area!

Most of us authors have limited funds. And those that do have a lot of money still should not spend huge amounts on a campaign. There is never a guarantee that any advertising or marketing expense will break you even or make you money and that is true in ALL advertising campaigns. There are just so many variables.

These are all reasons why a coop booth works better than going it on your own (these booths--unlike some small book fairs--are very expensive!) and why a booth at a respected and well-attended fair (in a highly-trafficked area) is more effective than most other booth situations. See some of the other benefits of our booth on this blog. Just scroll down for the most recent entries.

I hope this isn't more than you wanted to know or is confusing because there is so much. I do urge you again to read a good book on book promotion--mine or someone else's. That will help you pick and choose the best possible promotions for your personality and your pocketbook. And do know that you will have to spend some money, of course, but that you can run a really good campaign on a very small budget.

And last, here is my history and the numbers of books I bring to fairs:

~Poetry and short story collections first year, I brought 10. I was lucky to sell three. But I got other poetry readings every time. Places I didn’t know about before the fair.

~First release nonfiction how-to: I brough about 40 to 60. Over the years, probably 25 is an average sales number. After the book has been out awhile, I bring 20. And at the point sales can be very erratic.

~My novel This Is the Place: First year I sold about 20 and after that anywhere from 2 to 6. At a book fair in Utah where I spoke and sold books, I sold about 55. That was becasue I both had a group of supporters there (I was raised there), because I spoke (not just signed), and because the book is set in Salt Lake City.

This year I'll be introducing a how-to book in an entirely new area, business/retailing. I am just as curious as you are about your book to know how it will do. (-: And I'm always hoping for one lucky break. A catalog or corporate sale. A teacher who wants to recommend my book for his UCLA class. And at the fair in Los Angeles, maybe even a director or producer.

The more important fact is that because of continued promotion, my writing career is thriving and I don't spend much and I'm really loving it.

Now, here’s the kicker. If you can break even, you’ve figured out a way to advertise free and get more marketing education (from Christine and me) in the process.

For cost, participation details, and benefits of a cross-promotional booth like this, please see the next entry in this blog. You'll also find a picture of booth-doings there. To participate send an e-mail to Christine Alexanians at chalexwrite @ She will invoice you for PayPal or give you an address to send a check. Please put "LA Times Fair" in the subject line and please let her know whether you would like to sign one or two days so she will know how to bill you.

Sorry but all display-only slots are sold out. We have only signing positions available.

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1 comment:

  1. The joy of figuring how many books to bring challenging for the novice and the veteran. It's always a guessing game. To events I gone to...I've taken 40 and sold none and taken 40 and sold out.

    Allyn Evans


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