The Experienced Bliss of an Author
Let me share some experiences I’ve had with several events in the past. Now for those of you who don’t know, I’m also an author of two books which I won’t need to mention because I want to emphasize with those books I’ve traveled to different functions, literary and trade shows and have found some positive results and other results that weren’t as enjoyable.
As a young author just beginning to start on this journey of going out and selling to make a ‘name’ for myself, I had to go to places where it seemed like a good idea at first, only to regret it later in frustration. For one, business mixers were a mixed bag for me. In my first year I went to a dinner inside a hotel where I went on stage to read my poetry, received a few claps of approval, went behind my table awaiting the big result in terms of sales and then…..nothing happened. Well, actually something did. When the dinner turned into a party, the lights of the ballroom where I sold my books turned dim and loud music blared all over. It was impossible to speak to passers-by, and even had one person lay their drink on my table. (yes, this will happen to you too new authors) Needless to say the expected number of sales I anticipated from this one ‘mega’ church in the Los Angeles area didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. I took it as a lesson learned. An experience that would never happen again. Too bad to say how wrong I was.
Two years later in a prominent late summer festival in Los Angeles, I was one of many authors assembled under a tent. My fellow colleagues who had their books published the same time as mine, were aggressive in their methods using that guerrilla marketing which was supposed to work. All it did as author after author walked up to a passer-by holding out a card, opening the pages of a book, speaking to them as they walked past, did more to discourage a potential reader from entering the tent than it did in gaining an interest. Imagine at least five authors walking towards you at the same time with business cards or flyers in hand in your direction. I’m sure a sensible person would turn and flee as those approaching the tent did. I tried to do my best by just sitting and waiting for someone to check out my book. However, it was chalked up as another lesson learned, but definitely the hard way.
Large events such as trade shows don’t necessarily produce a great number of sales. There are people passing by who claim they don’t have the money to buy a book but who would rather purchase jewelry or other items instead. It can be discouraging for that new author who has an interesting book to feel deflated by the lack of snide comments or disinterest. Other authors who share the same area may also feel the sting of disappointment, falling back on each other for support when the crowd around them doesn’t feel in the buying mood.
Now the best times have been when it’s been an outdoor festival and the weather is good. Personally, there was one annual event taking place over the weekend where I ended up moving a lot of books into the hands of interested buyers. More than once I would meet someone who read my works and liked them, telling their friends. I often find that once the sales start flowing, the camaraderie with fellow authors flows better too. What made the weekend enjoyable was the fact there was music along with entertainment that kept the crowd engaged.
A huge side note and warning to all who read this: one of the organizers of the event told me that they planned to cut out the entertainment the following year due to a concern the focus was more on that than on the books themselves. Now there may be an author turned media personality who feels quite the opposite, but I can tell from witnessing the decline of what was once a great event based on the decision to move the festival closer to the community and when it returned to the venue that generated its success, the city of Los Angeles had a taste for something more. The entertainment aspect of a literary festival may be a good thing, but at what cost?
As authors we wear our hearts on our sleeve at times. It’s something to be expected since we expect to receive a reward, a payoff for all the hard work we put into our fiction and non-fiction works. There’s always some information to be passed down or the next great genre waiting for creative minds to produce stories based from it. What no one can predict is the excitement and disappointment of a huge literary festival, a small gathering of book lovers and clubs, the huge numbers of trade shows, business mixers, etc. Yes, the promises of crowds are a great motivator for new authors to take their time and sell their books. They cannot prepare them for the reactions of the public who may or may not be into a certain work.
What I’ve found in dealing with my experience in selling other people’s books at a farmers market in Northern California is this; the sale shouldn’t be the thing. If you go to a festival or trade show hoping you will get one hundred or so people to buy the book, disappointment will follow. If you keep your focus on just gathering numbers for your mailing list, your blog, or social media pages, even if the number of sales doesn’t materialize then at least there will be new names added to a growing list. Even at the L.A. Black Book Expo, I pulled out my revised mailing list and was able to have new people sign up. The early success of my mobile bookstore was a result of having a clipboard and having people sign. That’s how my numbers grew and that’s how the curiosity grew concerning yours truly.
It is the perception as experienced authors and literary professionals, we espouse wisdom for our figurative Mount Olympus to share with the new and aspiring author, but in the examples given in this piece, authors such as myself who have done this for a while hit our peaks as well as our valleys in this literary journey. I imagine there will be many who will and continue to go through the same experiences. If I had sound advice to give it would be this; learn the lesson and build from it.
The next year after my experience at the late summer festival under the authors tent, my mindset was determined on creating a better display at my table. More than anything was my determination to succeed, sell books and enjoy myself with a better attitude this time around. At the end of the three weekends at this festival, I wound up selling thirty books. By the way, did I mention I write poetry which is considered a genre where books don’t sell? I just wanted to share that with you.
From this end, the journey in my twelve plus years has been sweet. It is my hope new and aspiring authors will also enjoy in this bliss as they move forward.
Authors N Focus Extra