I’ve seen a lot of indie authors talking about book sales and the struggle to get books in people’s hands without giving them away. From what I’ve seen, the typical story goes something like: I sold a few when it first released, mostly to friends and family, and after that I might sell one or two a month. Or you add to the first part with: I do a few signings and book fairs but nothing much comes of those. Far more rare is the story of someone selling hundreds or thousands of an indie book depending on Amazon sales alone. If you’re able to do that, either from your Twitter platform and followers, marketing, or just having something that catches people’s eye, that’s great. I think the vast majority are in the first group. So, here’s what I do to stay out of that rut.
Before I jump into this, I’m not selling thousands of copies. I released my first novel a year ago, and my short story collection this past February. While they aren’t flying off the digital shelves of Amazon dot com, I have sold a couple hundred copies of both now. Being an indie author is hard work. Not only do we have to write, edit, proof, design, format, and upload our book, but our job doesn’t stop there. While we’re doing all that to the next one, we have to market and sell the first. You have to do shows, signings, book fairs, give-aways (I know, that’s not selling but bear with me), and try to get it in shops and such. I can tell you, so far, only one of those has produced results for me, and it’s not the one you might think. I’m not saying skip any of the others. I have my books in several shops. It has sold exactly zero copies in every one of those shops except one. Thankfully it was the one shop that bought the books outright.
Shows are where it’s at. I’m not talking your typical book show either. I do those too, and cons (both gaming and pop culture/comic), as well as book signings. I’ve found that the atypical shows are where I have the most success. I’ve sold more books at local arts and crafts fairs than anywhere else. My best show was the Marigold Festival here in little ol’ Pekin, Illinois. And why not, books are art right? They’re hand crafted over many grueling months or years. I’ve only run into one show that didn’t consider books to be art so it’s not too hard to do. What it is, is costly sometimes, but we’ll talk about that in a minute.
Why are these types of shows better than a book themed event or a con? Well, think for a second. At a book fair, you’re there among dozens, or hundreds of other authors with countless options for readers to choose from. Kind of like a book store, or mini Amazon. You are at the same disadvantage as you are everywhere else. At a craft fair, you will likely be the only author at the show. That catches people’s eye. They’re curious. Like one guy said last weekend at the craft show I was at, he didn’t expect to see books there, and that intrigued him enough to stop and buy both books. I’ve had great success at these shows, but not as much as my friend and author Rey Clark. At that same Marigold show where I did the best I’ve ever done, she outsold me probably two-fold. Now, she has dragons on her covers, and a completed trilogy. She’s a better salesperson than I am. She’s also been doing it a couple years longer and has a repeat fanbase, but she did better at that little Midwest craft fair than she did at Fanfest in Chicago or Comicon in Indy.
Yes, some of these can get expensive. I’ve had shows anywhere from $35 to $300 for a space. Luckily I have a wife who is a jewelry designer and crafter already doing many of these shows. Sometimes I get a little space, like this weekend, and sometimes I get a whole table. Depends on the show. Now, I’m not saying you need a spouse that already makes bank at shows like this, but I am saying don’t let the price throw you. Get creative. Sometimes I do shows with Rey, like Marigold. My wife was doing that show as well, but she’s at an established location and wouldn’t have room for me. Rey and I split a booth which cut the cost enough to make it worthwhile. You can find other authors, make your own little author space at the show. (Remember, you’re not competitors.) Maybe a friend of yours is already doing these as a vendor of some sort. Or, talk to the show organizer. They aren’t thinking books when they come up with these shows. They don’t understand the profit margin for us is a lot tighter than most of the crafters at the show. Maybe they can cut you a deal for a half space, or a table in a corner. Anywhere to get those books out.
Bottom line, you can’t just put your book on Amazon and hope it sells. I’ve had exactly zero results from Facebook ads, Twitter campaigns, and dropping links in hashtags. I’ve had marginal luck at book shows and signings. But, the real results have come out at the unexpected places. Seek out your farmer’s markets, craft fairs, and vendor shows. The results may surprise you.