Sitting, Not Pitching, And Relaxing: Lessons Learned At This Year’s Book Fair

This year I felt really nervous about the Printers Row Lit Fest (a/k/a the Printers Row Book Fair) because I broke my foot some time back.

That fact meant I didn’t get as much publicity done for the fair as usual, I had to get there and back with all my books, a wheelchair, and crutches, and I’d need to sit rather than stand most of the time at my table.

To my surprise, this year was my best year of the 5 times I’ve rented a table there.

I talked with more new readers, had more people join my email list who seemed truly interested, and sold more books to strangers.

Last year in The Beauty of Book Fairs my thought was that it was hard to make a sale at a live event to someone who didn’t already know your work.

So what changed?

Sitting Rather Than Standing

Most authors I talk to about or share tables with at book fairs favor standing behind the table or at least standing as soon as someone approaches.

The idea is that people are more likely to see you as they pass by. Also, as educators and speakers have found time and again, standing generally gives you authority and makes you the focus of a room.

Initially I tried standing on the crutches.

But it was awkward and uncomfortable, so most of the time I sat in the wheelchair. And what happened? Way more people came to my table to browse, and more talked with me as they passed by, then looked at the books.

My guess is that more people stopped to talk because I wasn’t looming over the table like an overanxious salesperson.

(They couldn’t see the wheelchair from the aisle, so it wasn’t sympathy or curiosity.)

They didn’t feel pressure to buy, so they felt free to chat or browse.

Also, I was more relaxed. I felt happy to have gotten safely behind the table (for more on my harrowing wheelchair ride there see my author blog) and to be outside among people.

I hoped to sell some books, but mostly I wanted to enjoy the day.

In short, I was more interested in having conversations than selling. I think that made it easier to chat with me.

More Books To Share

People also seemed to feel more comfortable looking over the table because I had more different books to sell. In previous years I’d published fewer titles (only Book 1 and 2 in my first series the first year). People assumed I was the author standing behind the table. This year, though, they asked if I was and were excited when I said yes.

When you only have one novel or two to sell, readers feel bad if they pick one up, look at the back, and walk away. At least, I always feel that way at a book fair. So I’m more comfortable looking if there are lots of choices. It doesn’t feel so personal if I choose not to buy.

The larger number and type of books also allowed me to group them on the table by genre.

I put my supernatural thriller series at one end, then my short horror story collection and standalone gothic horror novel, then my new mystery/suspense novel, then my non-fiction books.

That way, if people didn’t like one genre or weren’t interested in the covers, they naturally gravitated to the next set of books.

This progression seemed to make readers more comfortable browsing.

Having many books also allowed me to have multiple price points.

The novels were $10 (or two for $18), the non-fiction $5, and the short story collection–which is very short–$3. One person bought the short story collection, which was set in Chicago, as soon as he heard it was $3.

On Not Pitching Your Books

In previous years, I asked people who neared the table or browsed, “What do you like to read?” or started telling them about the books.

This year I said hello, said how nice it was it had stopped raining (it was nice!), or asked if they’d found anything interesting this year at the fair. If they didn’t start looking at my books, I didn’t say anything about them.

As a result, some people who started out by saying they’d already bought too many books ended by buying after chatting with me, and/or signed up to my email list.

If people looked at a book or two, I explained how the books were grouped. If someone seemed interested in that, I volunteered which ones were set in the neighborhood of the book fair, which I’ve always found to be a good sales point. If they looked at the writing books, I asked if they were interested in writing.

But I only explained the premise of a book if the person asked about it. In previous years, I started with that–my pitch–as soon as the person picked up the book.

After this year’s experience, next year I plan to sit behind the table, enjoy talking with people, and not worry so much about sales.

Who knew breaking my foot could be such a good thing?

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly