How to Sell Your Novel at Book Festivals and Book Fairs by Authors, Beth and Ezra Barany
Think eye-catching. Everyone has books on their table. You want something that will make the passers-by take a closer look.
If you’re selling kids books, it makes sense to have free toys or maybe candy at the table.
If you’re writing YA fantasy, like Beth, maybe have dragon figurines, or ones that represent your story.
If you’re selling a thriller, like Ezra, maybe hang up a paper target used at shooting ranges.
If you write horror, a plastic skull is always pleasant. When you target your audience with something eye-catching, they’ll be more likely to hover closer to your table for a closer look.
Reach out first
Ezra: Reach out first. At the last book fair Beth and I went to, we didn’t have something eye-catching, so I had to use other means of pulling people in closer. I didn’t bother addressing the people who looked like they wanted to run away, the ones that were moving past the table quickly at a far distance. I just noticed the ones that slowed a bit to get a better glance at our table. To them I said, “Hi.”
Beth: I agree with Ezra. Reach out first if they look at your table with curiosity. Have a few things you can say and use your best judgement as to which one to use. I use compliments, like “I like your bag!” “Awesome shirt!” I also sometimes say, “Have you read The Hobbit”? (See what Ezra says below on Your Book As An Experience.) Or sometimes I just smile. The attitude I’ve adopted is: “I’m an Ambassador for Books and I’m sharing the love!”
Get them to like you
Ezra: Expert in influence, Dr. Cialdini, said that the best way to get someone to like you is to genuinely find what you like about them and express it. Beth did a masterful job at complimenting the cool shirts, hair-coloring, and jewelry that the passers-by had.
Beth: See above! 🙂
Ask a question
Ask a question. Nothing gets a person interested more than having someone interested in them. The question could be pretty much any question, but the best question is one that stimulates an experience. More on that next.
Your book is an experience
Ezra: Your book is an experience. Share that. Don’t tell them the storyline of your book. Nobody cares. What readers care about is the experience they can expect to have when they read your book. I got this insight from my beautiful wife, Beth. So the best way to convey the experience your book promises is to figure out what famous book or movie delivered the same experience. Then ask the passers-by if they’ve read or seen that book or movie. For example, after saying “Hi,” the first thing I said to the passers-by was “Have you read The Da Vinci Code?”
Deliver your high-concept pitch
Deliver your high-concept pitch. A high-concept pitch is frequently listing two famous books or movies and putting the word “meets” between them. “My book is Lara Croft meets Lord of the Rings,” (this is Beth’s) or “My book is Jurassic Park meets Jaws.” You can revise the high concept pitch to be more direct.
For example, “My book is Jurassic Shark.”
After finding out whether or not they read The Da Vinci Code, Ezra tells them, “My book is a Jewish version of The Da Vinci Code.“
Deliver your credibility
Ezra: Now that you’ve conveyed the experience the reader can expect to have, give them a reason for why the experience is practically guaranteed to happen when they read the book.
Has your book been getting five star reviews? Have you won an award for your book? Has it been a bestseller on Amazon?
What I tell them is, “My book has been doing pretty well. It’s been a bestseller on Amazon since December (true) and won an award at the Hollywood Book Festival (also true).”
I used to say, “My book is doing pretty well. It’s been getting four and five star reviews on Amazon.”
Now I use bestseller award-winning status to show how good the book is.
By the way, if all you’ve been getting is three stars or less, I suggest taking your book off Amazon, showing it to beta-readers, and asking them what you would need to change for it to be a five-star book. Then edit and reload the book on Amazon, maybe with a different title.
Beth: Once people express interest in my book, by picking it up or responding to one of the things I’ve asked, then I say that my novel is the 2012 Grand Prize winner of the California Indie Fiction Authors Contest. Then I’m quiet, and I let them absorb the book. Similar to Ezra, I want them to decide if it’s right for them. I want people to feel excited to read my book, not pressured. 🙂
If they ask me how much it costs, I tell them and ask if they’d like it autographed. I write something on the dedication page as they’re getting their money, I put an “Autographed by the Author” sticker on the cover, and we do our exchange.
If they say they’re going to check out the other booths, I’m not upset.
First of all, even though that may be a polite way of saying “I’m not interested,” what counts is that they care about my feelings so I appreciate that.
Second, why would I want a person who thinks they won’t like my book to read it? Am I looking for bad reviews? Of course not. Don’t force your book on someone who thinks they won’t like it.
What doesn’t work
Ezra: I tried starting conversations by asking, “What do you like to read?” I found that all the question did was confuse them. Usually, they read such a wide range of books, the responses would either be uselessly vague or have nothing to do with my book.
It’s best to be specific. I was sharing a table with authors selling Young Adult, Paranormal, and Romance.
If the goal were to direct the passer-by to the right book, a better question would be, “Which do you like best, Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance, or Thrillers?” That’s a simpler question to answer.
One of us had the insight of saying, “Our table covers the range from Romance and Paranormal to Thrillers and Young Adult.”
The statement wasn’t a question, so it didn’t invoke interaction, but at least it was informative.
Beth: What also doesn’t work at book fairs is sitting. Stand up and smile and interact with the people there. Everyone is there to browse because they’re curious and love books. Standing helps your energy move and keeps you on your toes, both literally and figuratively.
Beth and Ezra Barany are a husband-wife team that help authors create successful careers, through coaching, advising, and mentoring. Beth is the Editor & Publisher of the Author Entrepreneur Magazine, and Ezra is the graphic designer. They live and write in Oakland, California, with their two cats, 10 tomato plants, and hundreds of books. Those last thankfully don’t need feeding.
Ezra Barany is the bestselling author of suspense thriller, The Torah Codes.
Beth Barany is the author of the award-winning YA fantasy, Henrietta The Dragon Slayer, and several bestselling books for writers.