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Serious about Smut

by Vincent Diamond

Selling Your Books in Person


Serious About Smut by Vincent DiamondSelling books directly to readers is a very personal, hands-on approach to marketing your titles. It can give you instant feedback on what readers are looking for, like, and buy. It can earn you some cash sales. And it lets potential readers meet and feel invested in you as a person as well as an author. After several years of selling books at a variety of events, I've developed some tips for making booth sales work for you:

1- Evaluate your genre and market then decide which events will be right for you and your book. For example, if you write fetish erotica then the local fetish conference might be just the right place. If you've written a nonfiction title find out where people interested in your topic gather. A book about leather daddies could be sold at a leather store event or a leather daddies weekend. In short, think outside the narrow box of I-must-sell-my-book-at-a-book-festival. That's not necessarily true.

2- Think in terms of starting small and local to test the market and get a sense of cost vs. return. A local festival will have less expensive booth rental fees than a huge, national event. It will be easier for you to travel to, you may have local fans that will come out to support you, and it might be possible to get media coverage if you send out a press release with enough advance notice. Small, local festivals may have more of a hometown and easy-going vibe where a huge, commercial festival will have a lot of hustle-and-bustle. Consider trying one or two local events as a test run before you commit to something that requires a lot of expense, long travel, or a bigger commitment than you can make. Start small, learn, and grow if results warrant expansion.

3- Consider teaming up with another writer to share the expense and the work. The logistics of unpacking, setting up, running a booth all day, then re-packing can be daunting. Sharing the work is both fun and productive. For a local fest, almost any other local erotica writer might be interested. For a larger, more genre-specific festival, try asking a writer with similar interests. Having someone to spell you while you eat lunch, hit the restroom, or just take a stroll around the event is a physical and mental relief. And it's fun to chat with another writer as the day progresses. You can help cross-sell your books, and hand out promotional items to customer who do buy from one of you.

4- The week before the event, confirm your vendor status by contacting the festival organizers, write up your packing list, and recruit a helper. Items you'll want to take include: tables and chairs (if you're not renting them from the festival), a tablecloth, posters of your book cover, a banner with your name and book cover, promotional items such as bookmarks, postcards, pens, key chains, etc., business cards, brochure or chapbooks with a free except from your book, a change fund for cash sales, a nice pen to sign autographs with, and, of course, your books. Items that I've found make the day feel more comfortable include: a cooler with food and drinks, toilet paper and moist towelettes (many festivals are outdoors and have only portable toilets), a pillow for your back, insect repellant, a hat, sunscreen, or clothing for cold and/or rainy weather.

5- The day before the event, pack up your items using your list. A rolling suitcase or dolly can help with moving heavy books. Box up the other items and label them for easy unpacking. Unpack in setup order: table, tablecloth, banner, books, then the rest. If you're not familiar with the locale, print off a map, and get exact directions on where to unload. Decide when you need to leave, set your alarm, and get a good night's sleep!

6- At most events, a vendor unloading area is set up. This is where having a helper is important because you'll need to transport your items to the designated booth area, unpack them, then go park your vehicle. Even if you have to hire a local high-school or college student for an hour, doing this with an assistant is much easier than trying to do setup by yourself. If you're sharing the booth with other authors, you can spell one another, and take turns lugging items back and forth.

How many books can you sell? Zero to thirty has been my experience based on going to small-ish festivals with attendance of less than 10,000. Of course, the larger the event and the more people attending, the more chances you have to make a sale. If you have multiple titles available, bring all of them. (A display with lots of colorful book covers can often garner attention in a way a single title can't.) If you only have one book, consider using your author discount to buy a few other titles from your publisher in the same genre. Be optimistic and take as many copies as you can comfortably haul, especially for a one-day event. You'll only have that one chance to make the sale so don't miss out by running out of books.

How do you actually work a booth? Try these tactics.

1- Make eye contact and break the ice. Your first goal is to simply get people to stop walking and look at your booth and your books. A simple "good morning or hello, how are you?" is one way to start. Is you're at festival of some sort, ask how they're enjoying it. Say it with a smile and try to be genuine. Vary your greeting—you'll get sick of saying the same thing all day long so try variations. When you do get someone to stop, ask an open-ended question that can't be answered with a "yes" or "no". "What do you like to read?" is much better than "Do you like to read?"

If this is hard for you (and for some writers, it really is hard), work yourself up to it by greeting every 10th person, then every 5th, then every other one. Most folks at events travel in pairs or groups so you'll have wider coverage by letting your gaze encompass everyone. You'll be able to tell the serious reader by how quickly they come up to the table, whether they grab any books right away, what sort of questions they ask, and how much they talk back and forth with you.

2- If you're able to, try to stand up most of the time you're "onstage." Standing and moving shows a bit of interest and energy. Of course, if you have to sit, work on projecting your voice (events are often noisy) and good spirits in your greetings. Smile, be enthusiastic, engage the people across the table from you.

3- Once you have a sense of what your prospect enjoys reading, you can steer them toward your books, remind them that friends and family may enjoy your book(s), or steer them to your fellow author(s) at the booth.

Get a book into their hands! Hand them one. (Most people will take something handed to them.) Give them a sentence-or-two synopsis —this is about a sub that falls for another sub—then watch their eyes. Once you see them start to skim the back cover copy or interior blurb, SHUT UP! Don't distract them from focusing on the book; let them read in silence.

4- And, since you're probably standing, don't loom! It's natural to lean forward and want to flip pages for people but try not to invade their personal space bubble. Even though you'll probably have a table in between you, make the conscious effort to step or lean back as they're reading so they don't feel crowded and pressured.

If they're really interested they'll start flipping through the pages. When they look up, they may ask how much? (Even if you have signs up on the table with prices, most people ignore them.) Tell them the price, (and it's *always* a sale price for whatever event you're at), let them know about any discounts you can offer (three for forty dollars, covering sales tax, etc.), and smile. And ask, "May I inscribe that for you?" Always double-check how to spell their name and sign away.

5- If they don't want to buy right now, that's fine; you can still make a good impression and make a connection. Give them a business card, a chapbook, a brochure, a postcard, whatever you've brought with you to give away. It should have your name, website, book title(s), and email on it so you can be contacted. Shake their hand if that feels appropriate, tell them how they can order your book online or through a bookseller, and send them on their way with a warm feeling about you and your books.

6- If you're sharing a booth with other authors, mention their books, too. Maybe you've written a smutty historical romance and your fellow author has a sexy science fiction story. Cross-sell each other's work if the person you're talking to doesn't seem enthused about your title. And as a reminder, if your fellow author is talking with someone, don't interrupt and try to pitch your own book. Let your fellow writer hand off folks to you. Of course, if either of you make a sale, it's a nice touch to slip a postcard or bookmark from the other author into the book you've sold.

7- If at all possible, eat away from the booth or at least out of sight. At the bare minimum, move your chair to the rear of the booth and take small bites so you can swallow quickly and respond to someone stopping by. People will feel awkward about interrupting your meal so try to keep the food out of sight/behind a chair/something, and be ready to greet the public when needed. Remember, you've only got the booth space for X number of hours so make good use of the time you have access to the public walking by.

8- Make notes about who buys the book. What are the demographics? Jot down gender and age range, whether they've got kids, what their interests are. If you've inscribed books to folks, keep track of their names so you can thank them on your blog/website/social page later on. The point is to educate yourself about your market and your audience, give you ideas on other ways to reach that market, and to make that personal connection that helps you win readers and fans.

9- Try to enjoy yourself! Make up stories about people walking by, eavesdrop on conversations, make quick notes for story ideas, snatches of dialogue, etc. You've paid good money to be in attendance; you may as well have a productive time while you're selling books.

By using these tips, working a booth can be a much more profitable and enjoyable experience for you. Done well, working a booth will earn you book sales, new readers, and good word-of-mouth. Have fun, get out there, and sell!

Vincent Diamond
November 2010

If you have comments or questions about this column, please send them to Vincent Diamond

Find more of Vincent's Serious about Smut in ERWA 2010 Archive.

"Serious about Smut" © 2010 Vincent Diamond. All rights reserved.

About the Author:  The alleged Vincent Diamond once drove from Tampa to Anchorage, Alaska in the days before the Alcan Highway was paved. (Hey, Vincent was young and there was this hunky Army lieutenant—nothing more need to be said.) Diamond gleefully buys smutty periodicals for “research materials” and lists them on a Schedule C every year. The IRS has yet to question this deduction.

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