I started Inkling Creative Strategies in late 2020, meaning that my entire launch period happened online. I did a couple of webinars, ran Facebook ads, joined writer’s groups on LinkedIn, and even with the Internet being my sole domain for sharing about my business, I still got a lot of hits.
Added to this was that in May, 2020, I released my novel-in-stories, The Goodbye-Love Generation. What kind of crazy person launches a small business AND releases a book during a worldwide health crisis? Yeah, how about me?
But now that COVID is less of a going concern and in-person events are more or less back in full swing, I’ve finally been able to take advantage of networking for both of these things. This past weekend, I attended my fourth event in the past year to promote Inkling and The Goodbye-Love Generation.
This particular event was my second venture to the Mid-Ohio Indie Author Book Expo, an annual event held in the Columbus, Ohio area. The 2021 Expo was my first time setting up a booth at anything like this, and I was pretty pleased with the turnout—I sold a lot of books and even got a couple of editing clients.
I’ve also been to a similar event in Cleveland, as well as my favorite, the Art in the Park festival in my hometown of Kent, Ohio, which is also the setting for The Goodbye-Love Generation. Promoting my book there gave me a home-field advantage, and I saw many friends in the process.
But I also acknowledge there’s other stuff about going to one of these events I know now that I didn’t a year ago, so that’s what I want to share with you this week.
Why Do an Author Expo to Begin With?
The easy answer is to sell books. Amazon and your website are great places to promote yourself, but these events sometimes bring in hundreds of people who love to read. And they are all there to see you.
That’s what we call an instant platform.
But even more powerful than that is the opportunity to network with people, trade business cards, and talk about your experiences with writing. You never know who you’re going to meet.
(In fact, in an upcoming blog post, you’ll meet an author I connected with at an author expo and see this in action.)
Many events also give select authors the chance to do a one-minute elevator pitch for their book to the entire group, which can also spark some interest.
But with registration for these events costing upwards of fifty to a hundred dollars, not to mention travel expenses and food, you want to get your money back, or at least get more sales later. So here are some things I’ve learned that might help you venture into this territory.
Have a Cool Looking Booth
The first time I did one of these events, my booth was just lame. I had my books, a sign advertising the Ultimate Writing Project Workbook with a QR code to scan and get a copy, and some free bookmarks.
I mean, I sold books and got clients, so it got the job done. But I found that I attracted a lot more attention when I put a little more effort into it.
One thing that I did was design some graphics (using the brand fonts and colors of your book, of course) that I then framed and positioned on the table. My book is about a rock band from Kent, Ohio in the early 1970s, so one of my graphics was a printout of a provocative quote from my book set against the background of a picture of the band my dad was in back then that inspired the story.
I did a couple of smaller ones with quotes from reviews. What helped with this was that I had already done a social media campaign with quotes from the book, so I already had much of the branding in place.
Repurposing content is essential for both creating your brand and saving tons of time, so see if there is something you already have done that you can adapt.
Also, lights. You need some kind of lights on your booth. You can get a small pack of twinkle lights from Five Below for five bucks. When I was at the Expo last weekend and people asked where my booth was, all I had to say was, “The one with the lights.” Easy.
Be Able to Accept Multiple Payments
You need to invest in a Square device. There’s no other way around it. Most people don’t carry cash, although they tend to bring some to these events just in case. Still, processing credit cards is an easy way to make sales.
The introduction of apps for sharing money and paying for things has made this even easier. It’s worth setting up Venmo, Paypal, and CashApp accounts so that you can offer these as payment options, too.
Have an Elevator Pitch Ready
People will come up to your booth and say, “So, what do you write?” This is your moment, and a great way to waste it is with a long explanation about your book. Author Helena Sorensen says that the best way to craft a book pitch is to imagine that what you have to say about your book can only fit on an embroidered throw pillow.
What would your throw pillow say?
That’s what you tell people who come to your booth. I told my event attendees that The Goodbye-Love Generation is about a Kent, Ohio-based rock band around the time of the Kent State shootings.
Is the book about more than that? Oh yeah. It actually covers a period of fifty years, but that’s too much information. All I had to do was say “Kent State” and “rock band,” and nearly all of them went, “Oooh.”
Park Your Introvert Tendencies with Your Car
I think book events in general are rough on writers because we tend to be pretty serious introverts. Remember—introversion does not mean that we hate people. It’s all about where you get your energy from; it just means that we get energy from being alone.
So yeah. Doing a book event causes you to be outside your comfort zone, but that’s no excuse not to sign up for one.
There’s a lot of awkward standing around. I never get used to that. But I try to use it as an opportunity to engage with people. Don’t let them come to you. Be the first one to start a conversation.
Like any event involving crowds of people, it also really drains me. I always take the evening before one of these things to read and listen to records. I turn off my phone and do not speak. Imagine going to some important thing with your phone on 10% battery and no charger in sight. Don’t do that to yourself.
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