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POINT OF VIEW: Working the Crowd

We just wrapped up a warm Sacramento day at Rainbowfest – an annual LGBTQ+ festival in Lavender Heights (which strangely is very flat) – with our local author group, the “Queer Sacramento Authors’ Collective” (QSAC).

I’ve learned a few things doing these kinds of events, and thought I’d share some of my tips with you for getting the most out of them, especially in your interactions with your booth/table visitors.

  1. Bring Lots of Books: If your table has just a few individual books, folks are generally less likely to stop by to see what you offer. I bring 5-10 copies of each title and stack ’em high to attract folks. I also keep extra stock under the table to refill as needed. I have also recently ordered a fold-flat book rack to give the books more visibility and height.
  2. Be Visible: Our table runner is great for advertising QSAC to the passing masses – and totally invisible if someone is standing in front of it. So we invested in one of those vertical signs, and it clearly, quickly and visibly explains who we are and what we do. Find a way to make your brand visible to all your passers-by.
  3. Know What You Want: What’s your objective at this event? Are you trying to sell books? Get folks onto your email list? Give away swag? Or maybe all three? Figure out your objective(s) in advance, and how you will accomplish them. When folks approach the booth, we know what we want – a) to tell them what each individual author present offers (more on that below under Elevator Pitches), b) to hand them a QSAC card with a free giveaway and more info about the group, and c) to get them to sign up for the email list. We usually have two sign-up forms for our list – one at each end of the table to help folks. We work through each of these methodically, and quite often accomplish two or all three of them.
  4. Be Proactive: Few people will engage with you if you are sitting at the back of your booth. I am almost always standing during these events, and rarely leave the nbooth – the one time I left yesterday, I missed a potential sale that didn’t return. If you are able to, stand behind your table and engage with people as they pass. If there are costumes at your event, comment on them as they walk by – this is a great way to pull attention to your booth and your books. Wave and smile and generally be that confident, outgoing person that most of us writers usually aren’t.
  5. Have Your Elevator Pitches Ready: If you are in a multi-author group, knopw what each author offers and be ready to summarize it for your visitors. From yesterday’s festival: “Stephanie writes gay regency romance – lords and pirates. Kayleigh writes gay romance – contemporary, sci fi, and paranormal. Mike writes gay poetry and this series – he calls it “Harry Potter for Girls.” And I write sci fi, fantasy, and gay romance.” If it’s just you at your booth or table, you can be a bit more specific and hilight a few titles with your short pitch – “This is my Spaceman Meets Werewolf” book.
  6. Find Out What They Like: One of the most potent things in your sales arsenal is “What do you like to read?” It lets them steer the conversation to what excites them, and gives you an in if you have a title that matches their reading desires. Also a great place to pull out your elevator pitch. If what they want is not a match for any of your books, steer them to a friend – another author at the table, or someone else you know that writes what they like to read.
  7. Front Price Your Books: Get some of those removable labels, and price your books on the front cover so it’s really easy for booth visitors to see what their new book is going to cost them. At festivals, prides and the like, I keep my pricing simple – $5 for novellas and $10 for novels. I don’t make as much as I do at full cover price, but people appreciate the discount, I sell more, and ultimately I reach more readers.
  8. Decide on Your Closing Pitch: Some folks like to go for the hard sell. “OK can I ring that up for you?” There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s never been my style. I hang back and let them make the decision, but how you approach it is up to you. When you ring things up, put a bookmark or postcard in the book with more info about you and your books. If they like the one they bought, they may come back for more, and it’s all about building your future readership.
  9. Accomplish Your Other Objectives: Once the sale is done, remind them of anything else on your objective list. “I hope you enjoy it. Oh, don’t forget to sign up for our email list so we can let you know when our next event is!” [flash bright smile here]. The more ways you can connect with them, the more likely they will become a loyal reader (or in our case, a regular at our QSAC local events).

If you’re a typical introverted author like me, some of this stuff will give you nightmares. But don’t think of it as making sales. Think of it as a chance to share what you love with a bunch of new people who are dying to become fans of a wonderful author. Many of the folks who will come by your booth are hungry for your kind of work – feed that hunger, and make a new reader (and maybe friend) in the process.

To my writer friends, what other tips would you add for engaging with visitors at an event table or booth?

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