Selling Your Self Published Book at Events and Expos
A post came up in the Facebook group I host for authors asking for input on selling books at events, expos, etc. That is a completely different selling scenario from Amazon or retail bookstores. Coming from a background in trade shows and having been an exhibitor/presenter myself at many events (for books and other products), here are some insights I’ve discovered.
PR Value versus Sales Value
When you exhibit your books or other wares at an event or expo, there are two buckets of value you’ll receive from your participation: PR (public relations) value and sales value. Where exhibitors, not just authors, typically get disappointed is when they expect more sales value.
Events, expos, and trade shows vary widely in their ability to deliver buyers and sales prospects. While all events provide some level of PR value, some are set up to make actual sales right at the event. Others are primarily lead generation events, where exhibitors make connections and then the sale is made at a later time. The selling onsite type of events are often geared for low dollar value and consumer level purchases. Lead generation type events are more suited for high dollar value and B2B (business to business) sales.
As an author expecting to make and deliver sales at events and shows, it is vitally important that you determine if actual sales are allowed. When I sold exhibit space at big computer tech shows, I had a battle with exhibitors who were publishers and wanted to sell their books to attendees. I understood their desire to sell to this ideal audience. But they wanted to deliver goods to attendees right there at the show. We allowed them to collect sales orders, but delivery had to be done afterwards (although I’m sure that wasn’t always observed in spite of our constant reminders).
You also need to understand the sales taxation situation. With the 2018 Supreme Court decision (South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc.) that allows states to collect sales taxes for all sales shipped to or delivered people and businesses in their state, you could find yourself responsible for reporting, collecting, and paying sales taxes to any state in which you exhibit and make actual sales. It’s a complicated situation! (I speak from experience.) And don’t forget that these sales are also subject to income tax. Consult your CPA or tax adviser on how to comply with sales and income tax laws.
Event Organizers Often Don’t Know Their Attendees
There is nothing more frustrating for exhibitors than plunking down hundreds or thousands of dollars to exhibit at some event or expo, and then the audience isn’t as advertised or expected.
What I’ve discovered in years of participating in trade shows and networking is that event organizers often don’t have a good handle on who their attendees actually are. For example, I’ve attended many events that promote they attract “small business people.” That is so broad and could include everyone from home-based multilevel sales representatives (Mary Kay, Amway, etc.) up to manufacturers who hire 500 employees.
You may have to probe the event organizer to get a more accurate picture of who will actually be attending. Sometimes they can’t or won’t share this information. In that case, you might be best off attending the event yourself to see who goes, both as attendees and exhibitors. That could save you from spending lots of money on an event that won’t produce the buyers you need.
One other secret is that attendee counts can be inflated. Event organizers often count all warm bodies attending as “attendees,” even if a significant portion (sometimes very significant portion!) of them are exhibitors. Yes, there’s networking value (which is a PR value) in connecting with other publishing or author exhibitors like yourself. But you really want to know how many potential sales value attendees are expected. As with attendee profile, event organizers may not have a good handle on that either.
Also, not all sales value attendees will stop by your booth. When I was in the trade newspaper business and hosted a booth at our region’s primary industry show, I would anticipate that only about 10 percent or less of the expected attendees would pick up a free copy of the paper, especially since many received the publication in the mail. However, even if they didn’t, I wouldn’t figure more than that.
One mistake rookie exhibitors make is that they feel if they won’t have enough giveaways or product, and end up bringing way too much which is a hassle and could increase costs. Over time, you’ll discover how much to bring for each type of show.
Not Here, Not Now
One of the authors in my Facebook group noted how even though some events where she exhibited drew the kind of people she wanted, they were attending the event to see and buy other things. So not too many book sales occurred. My personal experience is similar. What’s the disconnect? I think this situation is caused by expectations on both sides of the exhibit table.
As exhibitors, we expect that people who are our ideal customers should be interested in our wares, be it books or related products. And they might be... just not while at a show.
Event or expo attendees usually attend with the intent to check out or purchase a particular product or service. They’re focused on that. If what you offer isn’t that, you and your offerings may be mentally filed away for another day, maybe even ignored totally.
Attendees can also be on the hunt for free promotional giveaways, not stuff they have to buy. You'll often find them asking, “Is this free?” If what's on your table isn’t, they're not interested.
Doing Your Homework
Specifically for authors who are hoping to make actual sales at events or expos, watch to see how many exhibitors are actually making sales during your investigative visit. If it appears no one is actually selling books or products similar to yours onsite, it might not be a good venue.
During your visit, it doesn’t hurt to casually ask exhibitors how the show is going for them. Don’t share that you’re thinking of exhibiting since some people clam up if they think they might be talking with a competitor.
What I’ve found is that if the event is a dud, exhibitors tell everyone and anyone who asks. As someone who used to sell exhibit space for a living, I know this is true. The pain of a big wasted investment is usually pretty close to the emotional surface.
Another tip for your visit would be to go on the last day or last hours of the event. Sometimes the opening is swarmed with attendees. Then by the end, the attendees are down to a trickle. You’ll get more accurate feedback to your “How was the show?” exhibitor query.
How to Find Events, Expos, and Trade Shows
I shouldn’t have to tell you that the Internet is your best friend in doing research on possible events, expos, and trade shows. What I’ve discovered, too, is that events of all sorts pop up frequently on social media.
But I’m going to throw this out there. If you’re active in communities of your ideal readers, you probably are already aware of key events. If you're not, you need to start getting informed and involved!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2019 Heidi Thorne