Being your own boss isn't easy, especially when you're a writer.
Aside from actually writing a book, you've now got to advertise and market it, particularly for those few who prefer an actual book in their hands. Sure, word of mouth from satisfied readers is a great thing, but that momentum takes time to build, and future readers need to know that you exist, first.
I have a Facebook Author Page, consisting of book updates, release announcments, story prompts and funny writing memes, and Upcoming Events.
As a somewhat niche writer of Fiction and Fantasy, those Events usually mean a bookstall.
I ran my first one at St Ives Medieval Faire in 2015, barely a month after my second book went live. I made a lot of mistakes, that first stall, so I'm writing this article to help some of you avoid similar pitfalls.
It may seem scary, or overwhelming, but it really isn't so bad. Any crippling social anxiety will be soothed by the awesomeness of people gushing over your work.
So, where to start?
First, find an event.
Try to find an event that matches with the book you wrote. Since I tend toward the Fantasy and Historical Fiction side of things, I aim for RenFaire or Historical Re-enactment events. Sci-Fi or graphic novel writers may want to aim for ComicCon and similar conventions. Basically, locate an event where there will be a lot of people likely to read what you've written.
I wrote the Time Traveller's Seamstress with several Historical Costumers of my acquaintance in mind. At the next Reenactment event with a market, I brought 20 copies to sell, thinking that the ratio of 1 sale per 50-100 people in attendance would be sufficient.
More fool me. I SOLD OUT in less than 4 hours, and got mobbed the next day by people asking when the sequel would be available. Apparently, the majority of the people who bought it went and gushed to all of their friends.
Next, Contact the Organizers
Some events will have a vendor form to fill out, with pricing and any requirements. Some will have limited space, with those spots going to first in, best dressed. Others will be more flexible, but the best way to find out what you need is to ask the event organizers.
Some Events will let you hire a marquee and tables, but it's always best to have your own as a back-up, as a once off-cost that will save you a lot of money over time.
A 3m x 3m (10 ft by 10 ft for those of you who don't use the metric system...) should be adequate for those who are just starting out, with plenty of room for a chair, table, storage space, and a small esky*.
*Also known as 'chilly bin', or 'cooler'. Lines for the food trucks are long, and you'll want somewhere to put your back-up water-bottle and sandwich.
Most events will do their set-up the afternoon or night before, particularly for large, multi-day events.
If you were a 90s kid who played a lot of Tetris, packing your car or trailer should be easy. Bring a fold-out table of two, your marquee, a comfortable chair that you won't mind sitting in for several hours at a stretch, a nice tablecloth of some kind, and your books.
If you have the time, Vistaprint does cheap business cards that you can add your Author Social Media and Online Store web addresses to, for those who are interested but prefer ebooks. They also do banners and pop-up signs. If you have the money to spare, it's another worthwhile investment.
Make friends with the stallholders on either side of you. Set-up and pack-down will go a lot easier with a spare pair of hands and someone who can watch your stock while you fetch the car.
On The Day
Get to the Event bright and early, before the crowds arrive and take up all the good parking spots.
Ideally, have a stall buddy, or at least a friend who is also attending the event and will be able to take over for you when you need a bathroom break. You will never appreciate how essential those are until you can't take one.
Dress up, or Cosplay as one of the characters from your book. People will come over to talk about your costume, and you can direct the conversation to the book you based your outfit on. In the same vein, make your stall interesting to look at, whether that's through banners, music, display, or anything else that akes people think "Oh, hey, I want to see what's going on over there..."
Also, prepare an elevator pitch for your book(s): a basic summary of your book or series that you can recite in 30 seconds or less, catchy enough that your listener will hopefully ask for a more detailed description.
"The Great Emu War, except the humans lost even worse, and kept losing."
"Fairy tales with an infusion of common sense."
"The poor person who has to make sure Time Travellers don't stick out like sore thumbs."
"Princess gets kidnapped, doesn't fall in love, rescues herself, and reverse-kidnaps her jailor on the way out."
Have a pen, a cash box with at least $100 in cash, preferably change for $20 notes, because you will get a lot of them. Since the nearest ATM may be some distance away, it's beneficial for at least one person at your stall to have some form of credit-card capable device, and at least one portable charger.
Bring something to do, whether that's a book, a notebook to write in, a Switch, or a craft project. There will be downtime, particularly when Creator Panels, Jousting, Exclusive Preview Trailers, and other event-specific things are happening. Having something to do will keep you entertained if you don't have a good viewpoint.
Also, the best ideas come when you don't have a way to write them down.
Stay hydrated, and don't forget to stretch on occasion.
Smile. Even if it's a pasted on Retail Customer Service smile, you're there to sell something, and a smile is the first step.
As we are still in COVID times, make sure to bring plenty of hand-sanitizer, for youself and customers, and a few disposable masks, just in case.
Have a spare plastic bag you can use as a trash bag. The Event trashbins will fill up fast, and you don't want to be searching for one every few minutes.
Don't confine yourself to selling just books.
Whether that means sharing stall-space with someone more inclined to the crafty side of things, or monetising your other hobbies at the same time, variety will bring people in.
I sell plushie dragons and ragdolls, medieval hoods and belt pouches, and the occasional dress or cloak, as well as books. People who wander over to look at one will usually stay long enough to browse the other. Also, kids whine about moving to the next stall a LOT less if there’s something that interests them at your one.
If the weather is good and your body can handle it, consider bringing a camp bed and blankets and sleeping in your stall to save on accommodation, especially if you have to travel more than a few hours from home.
After the gates close, the socialising begins and the fun stories come out, like how many times the camera guy from the local news station nearly got himself killed by barging into an occupied 13th century camp for photos at 6:30 in the morning. The pre-caffinated Metalweapons supplier who can deadlift a knight in full armour was not amused. Nor was the cook on his next attempt, who was only in a chemise and did not appreciate the blast of winter air in her cosy tent.
The other re-enactors enjoyed the dramatic re-telling around the campfires that night, though.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions