Last week, I attended a book expo.
“What’s a book expo, Emma?”
“Well kids, a book expo is like a book fair. Every author has a table where they can sell their books, get email sign-ups for a newsletter, etc.They can be lots of fun for readers and authors.
I learned so much and networked with some really great people. Also, it made me realize that I’m glad I chose the indie author route for my first book series, or I wouldn’t have been prepared for an event like this. I think because I do everything myself, I did more research and planning than most of the authors there because they expected their publishers to tell them what to do.
If there’s one thing I suggest you do as an author, it’s attend an event like this.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to post some pointers and helpful hints so that when you’re ready to sign up for an expo, you’ll know what to do.
I’m going to start today with things to do before you pack your bags.
Before You Get There:
- Set a budget.
Just getting a table at an expo can be expensive. I paid $100 for the table. Which is actually inexpensive if you compare it the starting rates of $3000 at Chicago BookCon. (Here’s my source.) That didn’t include any extra advertising, travel costs, books, swag, or prizes.
Research! Research! Research!
Do as much research as you can about the event before you sign up to go. See if you can find previous attendees or participants and reach out to them. Don’t rely on numbers from the event coordinators; ask previous participants how busy they were. Ask the hosts for a list of their advertising venues. Find out if any big name authors will be attending and look up the authors listed as guest speakers. If you’re not from the area (I live two and a half hours away from this event), search hotels and other attractions nearby.
- This is something that I didn’t spend enough time doing. If I had, I may not have participated. The event coordinators were great at organizing authors and coaching them on how to get sales once people were in the door, but they relied completely on the participating authors to pull in the crowd. There weren’t even signs outside the building advertising the event. I’d say half of the authors were new to this type of event and their publishers gave them some books and postcards/bookmarks and told them “good luck.” I talked to about 30 of the 81 authors there. Of those 30, 10 told me they did no or very little individual promotion because they thought telling their agent or publisher would be enough. So what happened? There were maybe 100 people who came to the event. At least 20 of that estimated 100 were other local authors who wanted to network or people who provided services for authors (like audio books).
Have plenty of swag with your social media stuff on it. I ran out of bookmarks (the only thing I brought with me) with an hour of the event left and didn’t have anything to give the last few people who asked. I also had IndieBooksBeSeen catalogs, which went well, and business cards to give to other authors and other professionals.
- Do Your Own Advertising.
- Even if the event itself is doing plenty of advertising (which it should be), you should still do your own promotions. Since my book is Young Adult, I looked up local high schools in the area and sent as many English teachers and librarians as I could postcards telling them that I was participating in the expo. I included a QR code to my website which had a link to the Expo’s home page. I also put out several notices on my social media. I wish I could’ve done more advertising, but funds and living far away made it more difficult.
Enlist Someone to Go with You.
Don’t go alone. My sister went with me as my “assistant.” She collected money, bagged books, and arranged the table while I connected with potential readers and authors. I wouldn’t have been able to do simple things like go to the bathroom if she hadn’t been there.
Go to Pre-Events.
- There was a boot camp a few weeks before the expo that went over marketing for authors and a prize system they had set up for readers and best sellers of the day. I missed it, but I connected with another author on Twitter and she gave me the highlights. The night before was an author meet-and-greet, which was fun and connected me with many great authors. The coordinators also went over last minute sales strategy.
- Have a Marketing Plan for the Day.
- Selling books was an important goal for me, but more than anything I wanted to grow my email list. I created a prize drawing for email addresses. I have a newsletter with short stories about the characters in my book series. Before the expo, I had 13 people on my list. Now I have 45. How? I offered $25 to Amazon as a prize if people signed up for my newsletter with second and third prizes as copies of my soon-to-be-published sequel. The winner was announced in my newsletter sent out on Monday. I couldn’t believe how many authors there didn’t have email lists, and the few that did had no incentive to sign up.
Even though I spent more money than I made to go to this expo, I’m glad I went. It validated me as an author in a way I didn’t know was missing and introduced me to so many great people. It also gave me a great 15-second line to describe and sell my book:
“Beasts and Savages is a YA dystopian about women who rule the world. They stage hunts to keep men in check and my protagonist, Lea, decides to run away instead of hunting. When she gets kidnapped by some savages, she learns that the men are not as bad as the women make them out to be.”