Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Fairs

I've gone to two book fairs so far this year. I have three more scheduled. Last year I did many more. So why did I cut back this year? Several reasons.

About the best most of us can hope for is a few dozen books sold at a fair. These usually run one day from ten in the morning until sometime between two and four in the afternoon. Others run two days. Since some require an overnight stay due to distance, writers should factor in the expenses when deciding whether or not to go to a fair. If you draw a largish crowd at your table, you'll have to worry about spending only a few minutes with each buyer.

We meet fellow writers on the same circuit and catch up on family and friends. I caught up with Arnetta Philpott Hairston who brings her son's books to events until he's able to do it himself.

Let's do the math. Say I have a great fair. I meet with 30-40 readers, some of whom are already part of the Mad Max "family," while others are shopping for a new book with different characters. Say I sell 25 books at the fair. Now factor in five such events a year. I'd be able to reach 150-200 readers and sell 125 books. Add in at least one overnight for one of the fairs, plus gasoline, food, etc., and the return on each book sold quickly goes into the negative.

But how else do we reach our readers, you howl. I want to do book signings and be loved by my readers, you whimper. I want to thank them for buying my book, for supporting my writing efforts. It's a conundrum most debut writers face. We won't have the big book tours paid for by our publishers. We won't pack Barnes and Noble through having a poster in the window and a small blurb in the papers. We won't be on the Today Show, NPR, Oprah or CNN's book show. We won't have a publicist pushing us here and there, guiding us through the pits of marketing, unless we hire one. We have to do the work ourselves. That said, we have to be smart about how we spend our time.

I wondered if I was crying into the wilderness until I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal last weekend. Titled "Fiction's Digital Alchemist," the article features how Paulo Coelho, everything best selling author (NYT, USA Today, etc.) has changed his outlook on marketing. The article laid it out pretty clearly. Before he cut out book events, he calculated the following:

"In the past, each reader at a book signing would ask him to autograph about three novels (he has 27 out) and pose for a photo, amounting to a two-minute encounter. All told, that meant interacting with maybe 90 readers at a few dozen book events each year." Oh phooey. My estimates are way too high. Sigh.

He goes on: "Now he can write 'at least one kind word' to roughly 30 people a day and reach more than 10,000 a year. In the past six months, he has gained 4.1 million fans on Facebook through "likes" on his page."

And that, my fellow writers, is a good use of time.

Several years ago, I heard a middle grade author talk about answering every personal tweet. Granted, she only said things like "OMG. So happy you loved my story. Happy face." She kept a small file of  responses which she cut and pasted into her responses. Her fans stayed and were very happy.

For those of us who have day jobs, or who are shy and don't like to put themselves in front of people, or who may not be able to travel for a whole host of reasons, this might serve as a trail guide for reaching readers. I put together a daily timeline for responding to email, FB and Twitter. I alternate between writing and interacting. It's easy and takes the stress away from balancing reaching out and writing down.

I answer every, and I mean every, personal note. My numbers on FB, LinkedIn, Goodreads and Twitter continue to grow. My newsletter has nearly 1000 members. Can I say that any of these activities leads directly to sales? No, but if I don't do anything, I guarantee I will turn inactivity into no sales at all.

Now I figure out how these contacts translate into sales. Wish me luck.

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