Background: When you self-publish there are barriers to the traditional bookstore and even some independent bookstores. You will struggle trying to find the right contacts that will allow you to present your work as a viable risk for shelf space. If you’d like to get into Barnes and Noble and you’ve created your own micropress or you’re indie publishing there is a program that will allow you to get space on their shelves in one or two stores, but you’ll have to sell 500 online units at Barnes and Noble before they let you do it. The local managers really don’t have that much power in what will be available for purchase. The other option is to sell your wares face-to-face, which means you’ll have to rent booth space at conferences. Smaller conferences at fairs and other local events may be free to nominal (maybe $50), which will get you a table and then you can pitch to as many people as you can. Larger conferences like ComicCon or BookCon or the like can run you over $1000 per day! This is before you’ve stepped onto the carpet and you have no say as to where you’re placed on the floor.
Must-haves: Most conferences will provide a table and a tablecloth, but if you’d like to color coordinate then you’ll need to bring one of your own. Average table length is a rectangular 6 foot table. You’ll also want to get square or the paypal mobile app so you can take credit card payments. They are super easy and the little dongle for your phone is free when you sign-up. You’ll need some cards to hand-out for those people who may not want to purchase right now and may want to share, a pen to sign your books and a large photo representation of the cover of your book. I got mine at Gotprint.com. They had great options for those large pop up screens (about $75-$150) and table top options ($15-$20).
Where to go: You don’t have to limit yourself to book conferences or library conferences, though those are great. You can also rent a booth at BabyExpos if you write children’s books or the Black or Latino Art Expo if you write books that fit that demographic. You want to put yourself in front of people who are willing to buy. I’ve done Comic Book conferences, church fairs and a Black Women’s Entrepreneurial Expo with a focus on young girls. I’ve spent about $500 in total on them and I’ve recouped about half of that. I’ve decided not to do any more conferences because I haven’t seen the return on investment that I wanted to see. I’m now focusing on smaller independent bookstores who offer consignment.there are a lot of people who want to profit from your dream. #amwriting Click To Tweet
ROI: No matter how much fun it may be to spend a day talking with readers and writers, you are running a business and the bottom line is there are a lot of people who want to profit from your dream. There are tons of so-called “hustlers” and “girlbosses” and others who will take your booth money, spend $0 on advertising or marketing and then pose for glossy pictures of them lecturing with you as the background for their own website. Do the math for every venture. How many books will you need to sell to recoup the cost of your travel, booth cost and time. You alone can determine how much your time is worth, but the booth cost and travel are simple to calculate. This will determine how much you sell your books for at the event. If it cost you $12/book to print the book and ship it to your house (never forget to add in shipping) and you spent $10 on gas and 8 hours at the event (if you pay yourself min. wage $8/hr = $64) and the booth cost $175 your calculation looks like this:
Inventory (75 books): $900
Booth Cost: $175
Total Out of Pocket: $1149
So, about $1100 is your out of pocket cost for the event. This is your upfront. To break even you have to sell about 92 books at $12 a piece, that is about 12 books an hour if you’re there for 8 hours. Here is where you ask the conference hosts how many people they are expecting. If they don’t know then don’t sign on. If you don’t see where they are advertising to get the maximum number of attendees then run. If you’re determined to attend then don’t print so many books so you won’t have so much inventory to cover. You can also raise the price of your books. Remember, your profit is what matters. If you just wanted to share your story, just put it on Wattpad and be done. I’ve heard horror stories of people running scams where the host sells the booths, but doesn’t actually rent the space so that the vendors come on the day of the event and there is no one there. They know you’re a small business so you’re less likely to sue. Be careful out there.
Verdict: It was worth it. I learned quite a bit. I’ve met some great people and my work is out there and I’ve gotten to connect with readers that I never would have been able to if I’d waited for someone else to validate my work. With that being said, go pick up Willow Born here. I’m sure you’ll like it.