Selling Books At Conventions

I’ve been selling books at conventions as bookseller on and off for many years. In the pre-ebook age, this meant lugging heavy books around, sending them via mail to a distant convention, and even finagling them, like 100kg worth, onto commercial flights without paying for freight. I’ve flown internationally with my books (do NOT ask me about the New Zealand GST incident!).

So, even though I haven’t done this much for fiction, because ebooks, I have lugged books to a lot of conventions.

If you’re attending a convention and want to sell print books, here are some tips:

How many books to take to a convention?

Don’t go overboard. Take enough to recoup the cost of your trip and bit extra. Most likely the profit of the event will be in people met and fans talked to, not in books sold. If you make back the cost of your trip, you’re doing well. It’s better to sell out and re-order for the next event. Books tend to warp or discolour when stored for longer periods of time.

How to get ready?

Preparation is everything. Pack your books so that they’re organised by title. Print your signs and promotional materials. Buy display stands and boxes at an office supply store. Think about your prices and specials. Get change from the bank. If your book is $15, then you’re going to need a lot of $5 notes. Buy one of these money pouches so you can keep your change on you at all times. If you’re going to accept credit cards through paypal, set this up on your phone. Buy snack food. Seriously, this is the best thing you could ever do. Think about how hot/cold it’s going to be in the hall (these conventions are often held in sports halls where it can be freezing in early and late hours of the con days). Buy two large pieces of fabric. Usually the event specifies a colour, often black or white. Bed sheets are awesome. Yes, there is such thing as black bedsheets. Read the stall holders manual and make sure you have everything the organisers specify.

Important stuff during the con

Arrive well on time. Not only will you get your table ready, but before the doors open is probably the only time you’ll get to look at other people’s stuff.

Put one bedsheet on the table, keep the other under the table. This is for those times that you’re going to be away, when you’ll cover your books with it. It’s amazing what crap will rain down from the ceiling in sports halls overnight. You don’t want to have to dust off your books in the morning.

Put your books in neat piles so that people can see the front covers. If you have book stands, put books on display in those. If you keep your books in stacks, you’ll find that many infuriating people will pick up the SECOND book on a pile and will start leafing through that. Having a display stand sit on top of the books keeps the books underneath pristine.

Label all books with prices. Mention specials. This is important. People are more likely to buy if they know up front how much it’s going to cost. There is nothing more annoying than having to ask for price, especially when the stand is busy.

Be available. Don’t go into deep discussions with the person in the next stand. You can talk to them, but the moment someone comes to your stand, they should come first. Don’t be pushy, but do be available for a chat to your potential customers.

Remember the snacks? If you’re alone on the stand, you won’t have time to queue up for something to eat. Some cons employ runners and supply menus. Use them, or be prepared to go hungry. Or eat your snacks.

Put a bunch of your business cards at the front of the table, so people can take one.

A bunch of must-have assorted items

Boxes and sticky tape to close said boxes.
Scissors to cut said tape and/or free your books from said boxes (PO Box keys also work, car keys much less)
Really, bring scissors!
Paper, broad-tipped felt pens and blue tack and/or velcro stickers (for making impromptu signs and hanging them up)
A pad of post-it notes (for sticking price tags onto books)
Fold-up trolley for wheeling boxes
Book display stands. I’ve always used picture display stands, which you can buy at $2 shops.
Enough change to help you through your first few sales.
Carry bags to hand out with your books. Re-used clean plastic bags is fine.

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