Book Selling Success at Holiday Craft Shows

Holiday events such as craft and art shows are effective places to sell books. A person needs to be prepared for a long day or weekend, but the experience can be exhilarating. Here are a few tips for getting into the spirit and being prepared to sell books at holiday shows.

It’s often said that a bookstore is the worst place to sell books. Few people go to a bookstore for a book signing. What an author needs is a place where there are a high number of people present who came with the intent to spend money. Especially at this time of the year, one of the most effective places to sell books is at an art or craft show.

Holiday craft shows are held in most communities ranging from bazaars in church basements to large shows in malls, gyms, arenas, and even at colleges. While I know of several church bazaars that have been good venues for authors, the bigger the venue and the more traffic, the more likelihood to sell books. To find the best shows to sell your book, ask other authors or crafters you know which shows they recommend, and be willing to commit to a full day or even a long weekend to sell your book.

Larger craft and art shows can have substantial vendor fees ranging from $50 to several hundred dollars. However, if thousands of people are expected to attend the event, chances are you will break even at worst, and I know many authors who have made five or ten times what they paid to attend the show. You can also save money sometimes by bringing your own chair and table, purchasing a smaller booth, or not requiring electricity for your booth. It’s also recommended you pack your own lunch so you don’t have to pay for food that is usually overpriced at these events.

Be prepared before the show. Don’t wait until the day of the show to get ready—you will have a better time if you’re not rushing at the last minute. I suggest you pack your car and collect everything the night before. Besides your books, be sure to bring your table and chairs, tablecloth, pens, paper and anything else you might need.

Bring bags for your books. See-through are the best because the person will carry your book around the rest of the show advertising it, or you can buy plain bags and write your book’s name on them. Even if you just bring plastic bags from Walmart, be prepared for the customer who will want a bag.

Besides your books, make sure you bring business cards or brochures. People will ask where they can buy your book if they don’t have the money to buy it right then, or they might want to buy it for Dad, but they aren’t sure if he already has it. A brochure with your website, or a list of local stores that carry your book is a good item you can give them to help with their decision making. Also be sure to put a sheet of paper on the table to collect email addresses so you can send out emails to customers about your next book and future events you will have. You want to build a long-term relationship with your buyers from this event.

Don’t forget to bring change—a large number of one-dollar bills as well as a collection of coins, and some fives and tens. If you have a credit card option, make up a sheet to collect information. That said, most people tend to pay by check at these sales.

How do you get people to notice your booth? Yes, you can have gimmicks, but for the most part it’s sufficient to set your books on the table so they are visible, propping up a couple so the covers are visible across the room. A large poster, collage, or other type of display also helps. Avoid any audio that might annoy rather than attract customers. Often people try to give away freebies—bookmarkers, candy, etc. but these generally don’t attract people to your table. The one time I brought candy, I watched people grab a piece of candy and keep walking. Not one person who took my candy bought a book and not one person who bought my book took a piece of candy. So don’t waste your money on extras.

Wear something that makes you stand out—it doesn’t have to be flashy, but a bright shirt or blouse, a Christmas sweater or tie will attract the eye. Dress professionally but look approachable and friendly as well.

Because you got everything ready the night before, the morning of the show, take time to sit still with your cup of coffee and visualize how much you will enjoy the show. Yes, you can visualize books sold and money coming in, but mostly just put yourself in a cheerful frame of mind. Anticipate all the wonderful conversations you will have. I also like to visualize my books being excitedly unwrapped as presents on Christmas morning. Taking these few minutes to put yourself in the holiday show spirit will do wonders for your energy during a long day as well as help your book sales.

You probably will ask someone to help you during setup. At the very least, get a dolly to help you carry your book boxes into the show—these are a Godsend if you live in snow country or the venue is the size of a football dome. Whatever happens—a table falling over, a poster getting wrinkled, your help showing up late, keep your cool during this time so you remain in a good mood during the show. Be sure to thank whoever helps you—you wouldn’t want to lug all those books around yourself.

Once you are set up and the show begins, don’t just sit behind your table. Yes, if you’re going to be there all day, you’ll want to sit at some point, but try to save that for lulls in the show. Stand and walk around in front or behind your booth. Smile at people. Say hello to them and ask how they are. You’re not being pushy, just friendly.

Find a balance between talking to people and letting them look. Say hello and then let them pick up your book and read the back cover. You don’t want to distract them if they are focusing on your book. After a few seconds, feel free to offer some explanation or to answer questions.

A couple of suggestions for making small talk are to comment upon the customers’ clothing, particularly if they have a place name or logo on their clothes. For example, if a shirt says “Martha’s Vineyard” and you’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard, or would like to visit it, ask them when they were there or what was worth seeing there. Your interest in them will make them more likely to buy from you because as studies show, people buy from people they like.

It’s also helpful to ask people what they like to read so you can point out how your book is that kind of book. At holiday craft shows, the majority of traffic is women, and they will often buy books for their husbands and other men in the family—history books especially do well as gifts for men. Women are also more prone to buying when their husbands aren’t with them, which is often the case at craft shows. Ask the women what their husbands like to read so you can describe how your book fits in with that interest.

You might feel frustrated by people who will spend a lot of time talking to you, blocking your booth from view, yet not buying anything. I’ve learned the best thing to do in these cases is just to go with the flow—most people won’t talk more than a few minutes, and they might come back later to buy. That said, if another prospective customer approaches, feel free to turn your attention to the person more likely to buy. The less inclined customer will understand and usually move along.

A craft or art show, or even a book signing, can be a tiring or an exhilarating event. Go with the intent not just to sell books but to enjoy yourself. You will meet new people, have interesting conversations, and hopefully find that your books have sold themselves.

Happy Holidays, Authors!

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.