Sign me up!
By Jeff Salter
I’m taking a broad view of the topic, “book conventions,” to include some of my experiences (in a previous life) as a professional librarian at national and regional library conferences. After all, in the old days, such get-togethers were all about books and authors and publishers. [I had my eyeballs on scores of best-selling and/or celebrity authors, plus I heard presentations from many, and got to meet several.] Sure, the exhibit halls also featured library furnishings, fixtures, and equipment, and there were always huge displays with the various vendors [we called them “jobbers”] of wholesale books, serials subscriptions, and the (now old-fashioned) microforms. Heck, I can even remember climbing on-board fully equipped bookmobiles right on the exhibition floor. It wasn’t long, however, before “automation” exhibits took center stage… but I digress. Over my 30 year career, I attended the American Library Association Conferences in Atlanta, Philadelphia, two in Dallas, and two (or three) in New Orleans.
At the ALA in New Orleans in 1989, my brother (and co-author) Charles A. Salter and I were the featured authors at our publisher’s booth for a couple of hours, selling and signing our 1988 release, “On the Frontlines: Coping with the Library’s Problem Patrons.” Our publisher, Libraries Unlimited, was (at that time) one of the top three publishers of library-related non-fiction and reference materials. I don’t recall much about the traffic at our publisher’s booth, but suffice it to say we were not kept busy signing books. Thank goodness we had each other to talk to, as well as the delightful rep from L.U. And – quite a surprise – my wife and two kids also drove down from Shreveport for the event.
And this, by the way, is my first TIP about attending book events as an author: It’s always good to have family and/or friends about. Whether they’re helping with the actual transactions, with the loading/unloading, or just there for moral support… it’s so much easier to face these events if you’re not alone.
The other national event was also with my brother and co-author Charles, and also with L.U. This was in 1991 in Atlanta and we were featured at the publisher’s booth for a couple of hours to sell and sign our 1991 release, “Literacy and the Library.” We had a different L.U. rep for this one, and she was not as personable as the other lady. We also had lousy placement for the L.U. booth, one of those semi-dead ends on a row leading toward a blank wall. So the overall traffic was considerably lower and the number who stopped in our booth was minimal. Difficult to keep a cheery face as you feel the minutes slow grind by and watch the disinterested faces passing your little table. So I was on my feet most of the time, circulating in the L.U. area near our book display. A lady stopped in the booth and looked our direction, so I engaged her. She was friendly, so I introduced her to my brother and the three of us had a nice conversation. We chatted for a good bit, and she was interesting to talk to. But she was not reaching for her pocketbook and we were not reaching for our autograph pens. Finally I made a soft pitch, “So, are you involved in literacy in your library?” (or something similar)… as I held up one of our books.
“Oh, no,” she replied, “I’m just waiting here for my friend.”
Here is my SECOND TIP about attending book events as an author: You can’t always assume casual interest or interaction will translate to a sale. Re-telling this after 25 years, I realize I should have more perceptively read her verbal and physical cues. However, she did continue to stand there and talk with me — how could that NOT be construed as fascinating interest in this hotshot new non-fiction author in his gray blazer with the “FEATURED AUTHOR” lanyard around his neck? LOL
The World of Fiction
Having regaled you with those two examples of my library-world book conference experiences as an author of NON-fiction books, let me shift to the more recent history as the author of 14 fiction titles with three different royalty publishers.
Only half of my 14 titles are in paperback, so let me begin with that tip: it’s very difficult to “sell” what the person can’t see or hold in their hands. But you certainly CAN pique their interest. With digital books, about all you can do is display book covers and hand out flyers or cards or bookmarks with the order info.
As a selling author (of fiction), I’ve been to several local events small and medium. The most successful (in terms of sales) have been three local events when I’ve also been on the program to speak. Of the other events, one has been at an outdoor vendor fair, one inside a local bookstore, and four at the local library.
Our local library’s annual event featuring regional authors has been enjoyable and productive — in that I’ve met new colleagues and done more area networking. To be honest, however, the sales themselves have not been all that terrific (for me, anyway), partly because in three of these instances, the local newspaper provided little or no advance notice of the event even though articles had been submitted by the library. If people don’t know about the event, they won’t attend. And that’s my tip for this section. Publicity is very important… so use whatever means at your disposal to get the word out.
Attending the Event to Meet Other Authors
Unless you’ve already got a big (or growing) name in the industry, some of the investments in time, effort, expense, etc., to attend a large venue as a selling author may be prohibitive. But there’s a lot to be gained by attending those large venues as a reader / purchaser and writing colleague. Not only do you get to meet (or re-meet) colleagues and acquaintances from your publishing house, your regional writing group, or your group blog – among many other connections – but you can “discover” wonderful authors who write terrific books with major imprints.
I’ll list merely one example, but she’s a pip – Duffy Brown, whom I first met at an event in Bowling Green and later met in Cincinnati. I love her series set in Savannah and look forward to reading her series set on Mackinac Island.
Well, I’ll have to list TWO, because I also met the delightful Nancy Naigle at the Cincy event. And, interestingly, it was Tonya Kappes who introduced me to both Duffy and Nancy. [More below on Tonya.]
But the real point I want to make here is that there is also much to be gained by the NETWORKING at these large venues. No, you can’t be a wallflower — you have to be bold enough to introduce yourself, to mingle, and to muster up some small talk. It helps to have a smile and some breath mints, but you have to take some initiative. Don’t be aggressive and don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Just make an effort… take a chance… MINGLE.
I’ve told this story before, but let me remind you briefly of one of my networking experiences. I had “met” Tonya Kappes through our on-line chapter of RWA, and I attended a sizeable author event – spring of 2010, I believe – in a huge Lexington area bookstore mainly to meet her in person. Once there, Tonya introduced me to author and publisher Maddie James, to whose press I later submitted my sixth completed manuscript. It was my first title to be submitted directly to a publisher and was a constructive experience even though it did not result in a contract. [You’ve got to get that first submission out the chute before the others can follow!]
Four Degrees of Separation
Anyway, to continue my story, Tonya also introduced me to Renee Vincent, with whom I spoke for some time. Having purchased and read Renee’s book, Raeliksen, I later encountered author Sarah Ballance, who’d just reviewed Renee’s novel. Sarah and I chatted about Renee and her book and I later read one of Sarah’s novellas, Hawthorne. Before long, Sarah introduced me to Stephanie Griffin, who is founder and CEO of Clean Reads (formerly Astraea Press). Sarah put in a good word for me with Stephanie and that helped open the door to my SECOND submission (autumn, 2011) – of my seventh completed manuscript – to C.R., which Stephanie later accepted (after I made specified changes) and which was released the following spring (2012) as The Overnighter’s Secrets. I tossed the dates in there so you could see: this didn’t occur overnight, but I honestly believe my networking at that bookstore event set in motion the connections which led to my first fiction contract.
If you’re able – in terms of mobility and health – to attend author / book events… GO. Whether you’ve paid for a table (or half a table) to sell your own books… or if you’re merely there to meet, re-meet, or network… these events can be marvelous steps along your writing and publishing journey. Oh, one more thing: bring your credit card, because you’ll be BUYING a lot of books too.
Which of these type events have YOU attended? As a seller… or buyer… or both?
[JLS # 340]