Writing Tip

Surviving the Fair Chaos: Tips and a Checklist for Selling Your Books

Planning for a book fair, comic con, or any book sales event is a lot of work which distracts from precious writing time! To simplify the task, here’s my checklist for events.

1. Books!
This should be a given, but you will need your book to sell. The difficult question is: how many? If you’re traditionally published, then you’ll have to buy them from your publisher and it becomes a math/risk game – buy too many and you won’t make a profit, have to few and you’ll miss out on sales. Unfortunately I haven’t found a magic formula for this dilemma and from talking to local authors, it seems it’s hard to predict turnout at events you have not been to before. I would recommend having 5-6 copies of each title/hour of the event.

Of course, you can sell other things besides books. I’ve seen authors also sell journals, and cards, etc.

2. A Sales Price and Sign.
You’ve got books, but how much should you charge? I recommend charging as close to retail price as possible, but with some discount. Also consider the ease of making change (it’s easier to charge $15 then $16 and then have a lot of $5 bills on hand to make change). Think about the psychological affect of the price ($9 sounds better than $10 simply because it’s a single digit). Also decide if you’ll give a discount if someone buys more than one book.

Whatever you decide, you’ll need some sort of sign to display the price. I also put a quick summary of my book with reviews on the sign in a frame.

3. Cash to make change and a good bag/box to keep your money safe.
Bring more than you think you need. You don’t want to lose a sale because you can’t break someone’s $20.

4. A credit card reader.
I was unsure if this was required but several authors assured me it was worth the effort and I have to agree: I would lose a lot of sales if I didn’t take credit card.

I use Square. They will send you a free device reader and the app is free and easy to use. If you sign up with this referral link, you’ll get your first $1000 or 6 months fee free (afterwards it’s 2.5%+10 cents per swipe.) I’ll get a perk too I greatly appreciate! (Thank you in advance.) You’ll also have to decide if you want to charge more for a credit card payment than cash.

KMPOHLKAMP

5. Sales Tax Permit.
(U.S. information below. If you’re in another country, you’re on your own…)

If you’re like me, this item is more daunting than writing item #1 above. Tax laws vary significantly from state to state. Depending upon where you live,  you may not have to pay sales tax if you do not sell more than a certain amount of sales in a year. If you live in Texas, like me, you have to pay no matter what. Some venues will want to see your sales tax permit before you start selling. I have to file quarterly with the State of Texas – even if I didn’t sell something that quarter. What a pain!

Regardless of what state you live in, you need to know the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) code for the product you’re selling. NAICS is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy. Interestingly enough, it is managed by the Census Bureau. To save you an hour on the phone, the NAICS number to sell physical books is: “454390 Other Direct Selling Establishments.” (Totally obvious, right?)

I wish I had better tips for you on this topic, but you’ll have to spend time digging into your state laws and applying for a permit if required.

6. An Ice Breaker.
You’ve got a product, you’re set up to sell, now you need customers!

Think of an ice breaker to draw potential readers to your booth; something age and genre appropriate. Nothing is a bigger turnoff than an obvious sales pitch as the first words from a seller’s mouth.

Since Apricots and Wolfsbane is about a poison assassin, I ask people as they pass if they want to try some poison trivia. It’s a great way to see if they might be interested in the topic of my book. I give them a trivia question that’s not too hard because people get so excited when they get it right! Then I launch into my book pitch and hand them a book to look it.

I’ve see other authors comment on something someone is wearing, ask people what type of books they like to read, ask if they’ve visited a specific destination, etc.

7. Decorations for Your Booth.
Along with an ice breaker, the physical set up of your booth can attract readers. Decorate it with appropriate items of interest. (I use battery powered candles and a mortar and pestle). Use table cloths to cover the bare table. Use a cake stand or some other item to add vertical height for appeal and pick up a small stand to hold up the book.

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8. A Big Cover or Banner
A blown up version of the book cover can help attract readers from a distance. I love my book’s cover and had it printed on foam board. I’ve had several people come over from across a room to look at the foam board and then comment they also love the cover.

At least at the time of my research, Vista Print was the cheapest vendor to print on foam board (you can save some money if you print to a standard size) and I picked up a cheap, collapsible easel from Amazon.

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-27,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-ve

9. Consider Your Appearance.
No matter what you wear, look professional and approachable. Since I write Tudor English historical fiction, I wear my Renn Fair Garb and it does attract people to my booth – it also serves as a nice ice breaker 🙂

This is not the time to wear those high heels. Pick a comfortable shoe so you can be out in front of your booth selling. Prepare for a lot of standing!

10. Promotional Material
You’ve got a potential reader at your booth – Great! Make sure they at least leave with something to remember you with: a bookmark, a business card or some freebie. Just because they don’t buy your book there, doesn’t mean they won’t grab the kindle later!

11. Sweat The Small Stuff.
When in doubt, pack it! Bring:

  • Lots of good pens to sign books
  • Rubber bands
  • Extension cords/battery back for that cell phone which is taking credit cards
  • Masking tape
  • Post-It Notes – Write the reader’s name on a scrap piece of paper before you write it in a book. It’d be awful to have to waste a book because you spelled their name wrong!
  • Plastic bags in case a buyer asks for one
  • Snacks! You need to keep your energy up, but try to refrain from eating at the booth.
  • Water – You will do a lot of talking!

12. Do You Need A Friend?
Having a helper can be great. They can take sales while you talk to others. If you’re participating in a panel (or just need to run to the restroom), a friend can watch your booth as well.

13. Wheels.
You have a lot to carry and books are heavy! Bring a wagon, a dolly, or something to help you transport everything from the car. I pack things in a large rolling suitcase.

14. A Smile.
Yep, it’s cliche but no matter what, have fun and be polite.

What is missing from my list? If you have a great tip to share, please leave it in the comments!

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-27,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-ve

Writing Tip

Minor Characters Don’t Believe They’re Minor

As Constantin Stanislavski once stated, “There are no small actors, only small parts.” 

This adage transfers to writing as well. One of my favorite pieces of writing advice is to consider that a supporting/minor character may think the novel is actually about them.

This is certainly not the case for every side character, but the imagery of the thought helps me develop minor characters in an interesting way. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, their own motivations and baggage. The supporting character may believe their dialogue is the most important and that their actions drive the plot.

My advice: Allow your supporting characters to make bold choices and statements. Let them have their moment, and then move the spotlight.

However, maturing supporting characters is more challenging than the protagonist. The author simply has less words in which to develop their persona. Therefore, each appearance of the character needs to be considered to further the reader’s perception of the character in a way that supports the plot.

Note – I said perception.

Often the reader’s perception of a supporting character is not the same as how that character would view themselves. For example, would anyone argue Voldemort doesn’t think the books are about him? His portrayal through other characters leaves the reader to believe he is a villain, but I doubt he thinks of himself that way. Voldemort believes he is fulfilling a righteous duty to preserve pure blood families.

But given a supporting character receives reduced word count, often stereotypes or preconceived notions are relied upon to flush out the character. Consider the supportive, but less skillful best friend, or the jealous enemy who learns their lesson. But if the author can find a way to make supporting characters more interesting, it adds an additional layer of interest to the story. Successfully developed supporting characters can challenge your protagonist and enrich their journey.

Some things to consider when developing side characters:

  • What secret, ritual, inside joke do they share with your protagonist?
  • What do they know that your protagonist does not?
  • What distinctive trait will help the reader remember the character?
  • What motivates them and how is that different than the protagonist?
  • What skill do they offer to aid/hinder the protagonist?
  • What motivates your protagonist to interact with them?

Finally: What happens if the character was removed from the story?

If the answer is nothing, then the character truly is minor. If their presence does not further the plot, they should be cut.

 

 

 

Writing Tip

Word Clouds!

Here’s a neat idea I picked up from Twitter (thanks @BrianneZwambag and @emsheehanwrites!):

Want to know what the most used words in your manuscript? Build a word cloud!

I used www.wordclouds.com to analyze the current version of my novel as well as my short story work in progress.  The free program allows you to upload a word document and also ignore what it calls “stop words” like: the, at, and, etc.

For fun, you can also change the shape and coloring of the generated cloud, play with the font, and change word orientation.

Here are my two results!

From Apricots and Wolfsbane:

wordcloud ASAW

From my untitled short story work in progress:

wordcloud (1)

Writing Tip

Not excited to write that scene?

I’d like to take a moment to share a piece of writing advice I’ve learned over the years:

If you’re not excited to write it, they won’t be excited to read it.

Occasionally, I’ll come across a scene from my planned outline I’m not motivated to write and usually there is a underlying reason. This is one of my internal red flags which prompts me to take a step back and reconsider. Often one (or more) of the following issues are occurring:

Conveying information in a boring way:

If I find myself uninspired to write a planned scene, but needing to communicate information to set up future plot, I know I need to tell it a different way. If I pause for a few days, usually I can find a more exciting way for a character to learn or contemplate the information, or a more inspired way to allude to it in the middle of action.

The scene is unnecessary:

This often happens with scenes between and building up to action. Occasionally they cannot be avoided, but most of the time if my red flag is in alarm, the scene is unnecessary. If the scene does not challenge the MC or convey important information, mention it passing or simply pass over.

If it cannot be avoided, my advice is to make the scene as short as possible or find alternate ways to inject tension into the plot.  Can the manuscript be reordered to add excitement?  Is this a good place for the MC to have a mental dilemma? Is there something different about the circumstance the MC can notice?

The scene is being forced:

Often when I have writer’s block it is because the scene I’m working on isn’t right for the plot: there isn’t enough conflict or the character motivation is wrong, etc.

Instead of plowing through, I recommend taking a step back and examining the block from different angles. Structured brainstorming can also help. I like Aaron Sorkin’s advice: write down 10 different ideas of how a scene can happen and throw away the first ones, which tend to be the obvious paths. If you force yourself to think of ten ideas, you’ll probably come up with something creative and more exciting.

Has anyone else encountered lack of excitement when writing?  What causes it in your experience? Do you have other solutions?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!