Some people think it takes a special sort of person to make a success of buying or selling. It is true, some people have the knack. It’s like the lad who came round, he was selling plots in the local cemetery. So we got rid of him by telling him that we’d already got one. He just smiled politely and said, “Well I hope you’ll be very happy there.”
But the main thing that marks out somebody who is going to get the sales is their attitude.
To quote an exchange from a truly fine work of literature;
Horfin laughed. “Take no notice of Chi Tah. He will buy or sell anything.”
Chi Tah bowed. “Indeed I keep my grandmother freshly washed and presentable against the possibility of impulse buyers.”
But on a serious note, any author can sell their books to people at a show if they stick to various guidelines.
The first one is to have something to sell. E-books are fine. One of their advantages is that you can fit thousands on your e-reader. Unfortunately this very advantage means they lack presence when you’re trying to put together a display on a stall.
I’ve seen people sell e-books at a show. They carry them on a phone or laptop. Somebody hands them the cash and they just email the e-book to the client. Cut out Amazon and other middlemen. But frankly you still want real books to draw people.
The second thing to remember is about space and presence. Let us assume you have a table. The age of miracles is with us and the organisers have even provided you with a chair! You sit on the chair behind the table. You spread your books out on the table in a pleasing manner. You’re ready to sell.
But the table is also a barrier. Somehow you have to project yourself across that barrier and reach out to the aisle or space in front where the people are.
Otherwise the customers are going to have to reach across the barrier to make contact with you. If you’re sitting on your own, huddled round a book or typing busily on a laptop, and generally not making eye contact, you’ve made it hard work for them and they’ll just move on.
So, some guidelines.
Firstly, it’s easier if you’re with somebody else. Share your table with another author. If you cannot find another author, take a friend or share with someone who has craftwork to sell. You’ll find the time doesn’t drag. You’ll have somebody to chat to and someone to watch the stock and keep selling when you nip to the loo.
Secondly, make eye contact with the people who go past. Nod pleasantly to them, say hello. It’s good to get into conversation, complement their dog, their cosplay costume. Draw others into that conversation. You’ve subtly slowed the traffic in the aisle, people are eddying about and some of them might well look at your books.
One technique that is very good is to have a bowl of sweets. Something like mint imperials (although I know one stall that was launching a SF story, and they had ‘Flying Saucers’ which were fun, appropriate, and cheap. )
The sweets give you a reason to reach out into the aisle and command the ground on the other side of your table. It gives you a whole range of opening gambits.
“You’re looking footsore, fancy a sweet?”
“Free sweets, the only downside is that some clown will try to sell you a book while you eat it.”
“Excuse me madam, is it alright if your child has one of these?”
What you’re doing is overcoming the obstacle to selling that is your table. You’re reaching past it and refusing to be trapped by it. Don’t be trapped by the chair either. At a busy show I found that I spent hours at a time on my feet. Standing up brings you nearer to the table and projects your presence across it.
It’s an interesting but contrary example. When I was selling at Costa, we actually spent the entire time sitting down. It was an instinctive thing, perhaps because it was a coffee shop, and I felt that somehow I could reach out to people better by looking chilled, relaxed and seated.
Thirdly, be realistic. How many of these books do you expect to sell? Here I’m assuming that like me, you’re an ‘unknown.’ You might be the next J.K.Rowling, but you’ve not yet been discovered. To put a few very average numbers on it, my experience is that even at a convention where there’s a crowd of people there to buy appropriate stuff; you’re going to do well if you sell two books an hour. Three books an hour is amazing. At an event like a more general show, or Costa or similar; where people didn’t really come looking for books, then if you sell one book an hour you’ve done alright. At the very least, this gives you a budget to work on.
It also gives another advantage to working with two or three other people. Yes you sell a book an hour, but so do they. It creates a positive and up-beat mood because there are people in front of the table and they’re buying and that can breed success. Also, more prosaically, it’s more people to share the costs with.
So I wish you the best of luck, the sort you make yourself.