Ruth E. Walker
I recently attended a celebration of local authors in Ontario’s cottage country. Aptly named Kaleidoscope, the book sales event offered a wide range of styles and published works for readers. Intriguing mysteries, fantasies for all ages, beautiful photography collections, wildlife explorations, compelling memoirs and biographies, and children’s picture books filled huge dining tables on two floors of the rustic Wintergreen Maple Syrup and Pancake Barn in Gelert, near Minden.
For readers, Kaleidoscope was a great opportunity to sample works by some of the many writers who call the Haliburton Highlands home. But for writers, it was an even better chance to learn from one another: what kinds of books were being inspired by the rugged natural beauty of the landscape and who are the people behind the titles? And even more important to me, how are those writers sharing their words with each other and their readers?
Even Margaret Atwood has to promote her books
I saw a range of approaches to direct sales of books and each has benefits and pitfalls. Of course, it’s always a personal choice on how one sets up their sales table. And that choice has to suit the writer. Some writers are painfully shy. I can say this because I am exactly that kind of writer. But I’ve put on my “act outgoing” pants so often now that people think I’m an extrovert. Don’t tell anyone — let’s keep it our little secret.
I toughened up my sales approach after a few years of setting up booths at Word on the Street and Eden Mills Writers Festival. I was there with LICHEN, a jewel of a literary journal I’d helped found and edit. Eventually, I learned to accept people walking past our table, avoiding all eye contact. I no longer took it personally when, after talking up a potential buyer, I watched them put the journal back and walk away. And I quietly celebrated those who bought their own copy.
I watched the writers at Kaleidoscope and recognized the many ways we promote our books:
The Quiet Table
This is the simple “here are my books on display” approach. Just the books. Stacked in an attractive display: cover out, at least one in a stand. The writer stands behind/next to the display, ready to chat with anyone with questions. This is a time-honoured marketing approach. Head to any bookstore and you’ll see lots of those display tables. Readers are attracted to quiet displays.
What you need to remember:
- show the price; if there are specials let visitors know (2 for $xx or BOGO 50% off) Yes, it feels weird but it is part of marketing; most people dislike having to “guess the price”
- business cards/postcards show readers you’d like to engage, even through an email or note
- smile and say hello; it can feel unnatural (and really awkward if they ignore you) but you get used to it
- NOTE: A recent article in Write magazine recommended displaying a question to give visitors a topic to engage with you on: “Ask me about…” — especially effective if your book(s) tackle tough or intriguing subjects that you spent time researching
The Audio-Visual Augmented Table
Video is a remarkable tool for marketing. Just like an illustration in a book, a video attracts passers-by through sound and/or images. It’s easily set up on a laptop or tablet that’s tucked in among the books.
At Kaleidoscope, a writer displayed a video of First Nation drumming scenes to share at his table. He did the following and these were exactly what we fellow writers appreciated:
- consider your neighbours by watching the volume (but even the fairly low sound attracted visitors from the first floor to climb the stairs and see what was going on the second floor)
- avoid constant looping to allow your visitors (and those at other tables) time and space in which to chat
- NOTE: check in advance or arrive early to ensure your electronics are close to a power plug AND watch the cord for any tripping hazard (including for you)
The Multiple Offerings Table
Some readers are attracted to busy tables. And many readers are also writers (and that should not surprise you, writer!) so I make it a point to have material on hand for writers. Sometimes a jar of writing tips to reach in and pick from. Sometimes writing prompts. And, of course, I always have the latest on upcoming Writescape retreats.
- offer treats or takeaways; even a jar of wrapped candy or bookmark can attract people to your table
- define your space with a backdrop/tablecloth or banner (especially effective if you can tie it into the book)
- get creative — for a children’s story about a picnic, use a picnic blanket and display copies of the book in a picnic basket along with picnicky items. If it’s a mystery novel, include a Sherlock Holmes cap and magnifying glass, etc.
- NOTE: A plastic display stand can hold excerpts of reviews on your books or promote your next reading or event
No matter what kind of salesperson you are, writer, you know that in today’s noisy and crowded marketplace, we need to be prepared to sell our words and find our readership. No matter what, be ready to answer this question: What is your book about? A short one- or two-sentence answer should be on the tip of your tongue.
Like the writing process, marketing your book is a journey. But thankfully, with cooperative sales events like the first-ever Kaleidoscope in the Haliburton Highlands, it’s not a journey we need to take on our own.
DID YOU KNOW
Book sales events are just one piece of the marketing pie. Remember that websites and social media can also be a useful tool to introduce readers to your work. Here’s a look at Heather O’Connor’s Top Drawer post on the marketing work she did IN ADVANCE of the launch of her best-selling YA novel, Betting Game.
Invaluable and oh-so-practical advice from a successful author. And, as noted, it’s a journey.