Hey everyone… two weeks ago I wrote about how you can set up a sales table for a group of authors at a local event. This week I’m covering the event itself.
I always try to reconfirm with everyone the week before the event. Just a quick message, text or email asking them to get back to me and let me know it’s still a go (and confirm that they have paid their share).
The day before the event, I go through my checklist one last time, and make sure everything is accounted for. I also pack it all into the car so there’s no rush in the morning (that’s when I tend to forget important things).
We have a really cool foldable metal bookstand that greatly increases the display space on our table. Last year at Davis Pride, I forgot to take it, and Mark had to make the hour-long round-trip to get it (bless his heart). It was then that he made me make a checklist for all the materials we need.
I also recommend planning for breakfast and lunch beforehand. Are you going to grab something on the way or eat at home? Are you counting in the food trucks for lunch (who knows that will be there, and long lines mean time away from your table), or eat locally, or take your own lunch? If you plan to eat out, try to figure out where and how to get there in advance, and confirm that they will be open.
Make sure everyone has your cell # and vice versa, both to check in when folks are late arriving and in case they need to reach you at lunch if you leave the booth.
I recommend that you ask for everyone to be there an hour before start time. It always takes longer than you think it will to set things up, and you’ll want a little time to go over procedures with your booth mates before the gates (or doors) open.
The Payment System
What you use for payment will vary, but there are a few things that are universal.
First off, if you plan to only take cash, you’re cutting off a large number of potential sales. At our recent events, about 20% paid in cash. If it was the only option, some folks who preferred credit would probably still come up with the cash to make the purchase, but you’re probably leaving 50-60% of your potential sales on the table if you don’t take credit cards.
We use Paypal with their “Zettle” app for running transactions, One advantage is that it also allows us to take Venmo, Paypal and Apple/Android payments, so there’s no excuse for folks not to buy.
I highly recommend going through the process at home yourself and making a “how-to” sheet that the others manning the booth can refer to when you are away. If you’re using a tablet or smart phone as your processing device (with a card reader), make sure it’s not password protected so your booth authors don’t accidentally get locked out.
Most systems will let you input items to make it easy to select them when a customer purchases them, but for our purposes, I’ve found this is not practical. It either requires me to have everyone submit all the books they plan to bring with prices beforehand, and then take a lot of my time to enter them, or try to do it all in the rush of the morning.
Instead, we simply have each author enter the info on the fly. If an author buys a copy of my book “The Stark Divide”, Greta’s “Chlorophobia” and Marvin’s “Contact,” whoever processes the sale enters three temporary items (in Zettle, you press the “amount” link):
Coatsworth – Stark Divide
Lindsey – Cholorophobia
Neu – Contact
It doesn’t matter if some people use a partial title, or add the “The” at the end. I will clean that up when I download the sales report after the event.
In practice, we’ve turned into a well-oiled machine – the author(s) who sell their books generally sign them for the customer while one of the other folks in the booth runs the sale and offers a bag.
Some author groups opt to have each individual author run their own sales with their own equipment. This is fine… but we’ve found that making it easier on folks to buy multiple authors’ titles can also increase overall sales, and decrease “friction” for your customers.
We used to place books on the tableby author, but recently we’ve switched to the bookstore model – we have tags for each genre on the table (preprinted, and a few blanks just in case) and we arrange them under those genre categories. This makes it easier to direct folks to an appropriate genre.
Have your authors tell each other what they write before things get started. As the day goes on, you’ll each figure out the other’s books, and be ready to make recommendations of your fellow authors’ works:
“Like space opera? Check out Scott’s Ariadne Cycle series here.”
“Paranormal? Oooh, Marvin has a cool book about vampires and werewolves on the moon right here.”
The single best thing we’ve all learned to do to make sales and find more local readers for our books is the sales pitch. It’s super simple:
“What do you like to read?”
We ask this of folks browsing the table, and folks walking by who give the books a glance. It often works to bring them over and get them engaged.
Once we know what they like, we direct them to that section of the table, and “tap in” the appropriate authors to talk to them.
Our superpower is that we’re not just a bookstore with an uninterested clerk trying to sell them something. We’re the ACTUAL AUTHORS – peoples’ eyes often go wide when they realize that they’re talking to the folks who wrote these books. There’s a mystique around talking to real authors, and we utilize it to the fullest.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not JUST a sales thing. We’re also thrilled to make someone’s eyes light up, and to tell them about what we’ve written.
Don’t Forget the Newsletter List
Everyone who comes to your table should be directed to sign up for your mailing list, either after they make a purchase or in lieu of one if they seem disinclined:
“Would you like to join our email list? That way we can let you kow when we are doing future events.”
These are book lovers who live near you – you want them on your list!
We share the list with the participating authors. We let them know this up front, and include a GDPR (the European privacy law) notice at the bottom of each sheet:
By signing up on this form, I agree to be added to QSAC’s and the participating authors’ email lists. QSAC/the authors will send me periodic info, news, events, and offers. I can be removed from these lists at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link on any of the emails, or by replying and requesting removal. My email won’t be shared with anyone else without my explicit prior approval.
There’s also a checkbox for “author” in case the person signing up is a writer interested in joining the group – I make sure this gets checked off for any new authors who sign up.
We usually give away a free ebook to everyone who joins – I send this out after the event.
It’s a Group Effort
I regularly run across readers looking for sci-fi and fantasy – my jam. I could just direct them to my books – after all, I wanna sell the most, right? But I always include one of mine and one of the other authors who sell that genre at the table.
Because we’re all in it together. I want them to be successful, so they’ll want to do this again next year. And when I’m away from the booth, I know they will sell my books too.
There’s no room for ego at one of these events.
Everything must come to an end. But when? Most events have a posted start and end time, but it’s not uncommon for vendors to start packing up when things slow down.
Unfortunately, this usually starts a stampede for the exits.
Check your event’s vendor info – do they require you to stay until a set time before you are allowed to pack up?
We tend to err on the conservative side (and no, you will never hear those words from me again LOL). We don’t pack up until about half the booths are gone, and sometimes we’ve made some nice last-minute sales.
We ask everyone to stay until the end, which makes things go faster, but sometimes folks will need to leave early so we’re not hard-asses about it.
After the Event
Once the event is over, I get home and clear out the car. If I have another event in the near future, I leave the removable price labels on my books; if not, I take them off, because even “easy remove” labels can degrade and cause issues over time.
Then I download the Zettle report (or whatever payment app you use). I clean up the book titles so they’re uniform, then add a column to calculate sales tax.
One note: we do all our pricing tax inclusive, meaning we choose flat dollar amounts (ie: $10.00) and then pay the tax out of that amount on the back end. One thing that threw me off: Let’s say the tax is 10%. 10% on $10.00 is $1.00. But 10% on $9.10 (the original $10 minus the tax you are paying) works out to just 9.1 percent of the $10. Confused? I was too.
So if I take $10 and ADD a 10% tax on top, that’s $11.00.
But when I make the $10 tax inclusive, I’m really selling the book for $9.10 with .91 tax (10%). So if I want to calculate the tax off the original amount paid by the customer, I’m going to multiply that $10 (in this example) by 9.1%, not 10%.
Once I have everything added in, I create a simple version with Author, Title, Price, Paypal Fee, Tax, and Net, sort it by author and book, total up each of their fields, and send it to the group.
I also confirm the cash amount matches what the payment system thinks we sold.
Once everything is deposited in the bank account we use, I issue paypal, venmo or check payments to the table share authors (venmo and checks do not charge an extra fee).
I also send them the mailing list sign-ups, with a recommendation that they email the list once first and explain why they are being added to that author’s list and give them a chance to decline. I send the new sign-ups a free eBook as a thank you, and contact any new authors with steps to join.
Once all of that’s done, you’re ready to start it all over again for the next event!
I find these things very rewarding, and the sales are nice too. It helps build up your local author network, and may bring you additional opportunities and new members. I hope you try it, find great success, and most importantly, have fun.