Friday, April 6, 2018

Table or Booth Book Selling

by Linda Thorne

I’ve sold from tables, booths, tents and a Barnes and Noble “meet the authors” event where a group of us shared a couple of tables. I’ve sat on panels at bookstores and writers’ conferences where the panelists move to signing tables after their session. I’m not much of sales person and some of my author friends encourage me to speak out more at these events.

Will I? From my consumer experience, it’s unlikely. At various times spanning most of my life, I've hung out at places where books were sold at manned tables or booths. I’ve always been interested, but I’ve also noticed my reluctance to approach when the author or authors are present.

Why? I’d like to look over the books without feeling pushed. And the “feeling pushed” comes from within me. If I find out someone is manning a booth who has not authored any of the inventory, I feel freedom to peruse, to buy or not to buy. No pressure. But how often is anyone other than one of the authors going to be selling the books?

Rare, but I’ve seen it happen. I did it a few times myself before I became published, manning the local Nashville Writer’s Meetup Group tent at the Southern Festival of Books. Of course, I had a free handout about my own work in progress to give to anyone who’d take it. When folks came by, I’d say something like, “I’m giving the authors of these books a break.” and thought they showed signs of relief. I’ll never be certain whether their relieved looks were real or just my interjection of what my feelings would be if in their shoes.

Books are expensive and open wallets aren’t rambling around the Nashville area waiting to make authors happy. And books take a while to read. Even those who can afford to buy often have an unread stockpile at home pressuring them with guilt.

Yes, the person selling books from a table or booth is normally the author of at least one of them. If they are friends of mine, then I’m torn with buying from one and not the other. I still gut up and go to these places and when I do, I’ll buy from one and not the others. Although this is still awkward for me, it’s the reality of shopping books and they know it too. Sometimes I don't buy any.

If you’re not James Patterson or Lawrence Block, table or booth selling is a tough, slow way to sell your books. Is it worth it?

I think so. You’re marketing yourself and your work and there’s always the chance for something big to happen, and I’ve seen it happen right here in my town. An author friend of mine, was manning the Nashville Writer’s Meetup tent a few years ago at the Southern Festival of Books. A video editor who was at the festival scouting talent stopped by and asked my friend about his only book, his debut novel. The agent bought it and not long afterward, this author was signing an HBO TV movie option for $$$. That may have been the only book he sold, but I’m sure he was glad he showed up. That’s what authors do.


Zari Reede said...

Great post! I just booked a tent at a festival and agonized for a few weeks if I should or not. Traditionally published authors rarely make a profit at these events. The booths usually run $100 per day and it’s hot here in Housron! I know it will be a long weekend of people scurrying away from that very inner pressure you speak of. I decided yes because I love to meet readers and talk about books. I sometimes feel shy and disappointment at these events, but I keep telling myself that every sale could make a big difference. Plus it grows my backlist for our newsletter. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone and I am also a reader. I feel the same pressure to buy from other authors. I have found some great stories this way and also bought some real stinkers. I have a hard time not buying books when the author is staring back at me. I know how much blood, sweat and tears went into their published book.

jrlindermuth said...

I love this type of selling, though opportunities have been less frequent in my area recently with the closing of bookstores and other venues. It's an opportunity for readers to see the writer as a person and ask questions. No one likes a pushy, intrusive seller. It isn't always profitable. On rare occasions you may sell out; sometimes you'll sell nothing. But, if you're friendly and open to questions, it can be fun.

Kaye George said...

I do them because I like to, occasionally, meet people who are interested in my books. One of my very best moments came last year when I was at a local outdoor affair with Authors Guild of TN and had my books stacked by series on the table. A man came by and I told him these were my books and gestured toward them. He glanced at the stack of Fat Cat books and said, "Oh, I've read all of those." I thanked him!

Lisanne Harrington said...

I find that I sell more books at events where readers can chat with me. I never even talk about my books unless they ask. Instead, I find what their interests are and talk about them. I find that leads to most of them buying at least one book, and several buy my entire Wolf Creek Mysteries trilogy!

Yes, it can get expensive and I have yet to break even, but I am getting my name out there. And that's important for the future.

It's difficult for me because I'm not a real "people" person, but if you don't stretch yourself and grow as a human being, what's the point? :D

Linda Thorne said...

Thank you for your comments. I can see most of you can identify. I will say I've had lots of fun interacting with readers when I'm selling books. I don't have much time for these events lately, but I'm hoping to get into a position where I make time again soon.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Great post! You really covered the territory. I too have learned to be more open and engaging at a signing booth, and I've come to enjoy some of the book festivals where I'm more likely to meet a wider variety of people. It's all part of the writers' life package, I guess.

Linda Thorne said...

Yes, it is, Susan. You make memories and also pictures to use on your posts like I have here. It's all part of the job. I just got an invite to join an author group to sell books at Fall Fest this October at The Hermitage (plantation home of historic president Andrew Jackson) in the Nashville area of Tennessee. It's close to my home and will be a huge event open to the public. I'll enjoy it.

Beth Fine said...

Although like Winston Churchill, we are "never to give up the ship, I agree with you Linda. The hard sell does not fit authors who usually "assert" in the pages of their books not in the faces of potential readers. I admire that you have relieved weary authors in their exhibit booths. Even so, while some readers thrill to meet the "real author" of the book on sale, other do love to meet a "real writer" who is on the brink of becoming a published author. So your approach worked too. Movies have made publishing and getting a book tour look so easy. I find disturbing the market hype in social media where many novices claim expertise and dare to want to represent new authors in the book field. Even 8 books later, I still wonder how anyone becomes expert at writing, much less at marketing with the constant changes in reader tastes. However, I want to share a real success story of Dianne Gardner. Last year she led a long FB conversation about the hype from various marketers who don't or can't produce results. Happily though, through her own constant submitting to contests, she just had a happy announcement: "Hey guys, aside from the little German anthology that Silvio got translated into, I just got accepted into my first anthology with NIWA titled Carnival! My submission is called Ferris Wheel. This is going to be a fun anthology with a carnival theme." I rejoice with her. So praise to Linda Thorne who has gotten me into entering at least my plays into contests; so there is a road for us all. Keep plugging is my mantra.

Liane Spicer said...

I won't lie, Linda. The mere thought of selling my books in person gives me the shudders. I'll sell the hell out of yours at such an event, but don't ask me to sell my own. I'm uncomfortable, and I know exactly how uncomfortable the readers feel because I've been there, done that.

But you're right. We need to show up, get out of our comfort zone and meet people face to face.

Linda Thorne said...

I'll remember this, Liane, the next time my fellow authors are prodded me to be more aggressive. It's not me and never going to happen.