Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Introvert's Guide to Selling Books at a Con

Last week, I attended DragonCon, a huge convention with over 60,000 people in attendance. It was full of exactly the kind of people who I know (I hope!) would like my book--this is my audience, and my challenge this weekend was to find the most effective ways to reach them.

Now, to a lot of people, I seem like an extrovert. I'm not that shy, and I'm okay in front of audiences. But I'm actually very introverted. My friend Andrea Cremer summed it up perfectly: an extrovert gets energy from being around other people; an introvert recharges by being alone. And in those terms, I'm extraordinarily introverted. I can be in a crowd or in front of audiences, but it drains me. Being social is as draining for me as working out. Even being on Skype--this is why I limit the number of events and I do. Doing an event for an hour takes me all day to hype myself up and then to recover after. In very stressful, very big events, I will often just sit in silence in a room by myself to recover.

So DragonCon, packed to the brim with people, is like an Iron Man Triathlon to me.

As a fan, DragonCon was just solid fun. Seeing panels that were hugely interesting, people watching the cosplay, geeking out over fun things. As an introverted author who wanted to promo and maybe even sell her books, it was a bit more complicated.

Here's how I tackled the weekend not as a fan, but as an introverted author.

  • Be organized. Get your schedule and study it. Figure out where you have on time and where you have down time, and make sure you have the down time you need. And when you can't get downtime, come up with a plan. Don't have time to go back to your hotel room? Go to the green room, ask for a quiet room, or even just locate the nearest bathroom to catch five minutes alone. 
  • Get help. This was the biggest boon for me. I drafted my husband to be my helper for the weekend. He was in charge of the details: handing out the promo stuff while I started my panels, carting books around, taking care of the money during sales. It also enabled me to make him the salesperson and me the author, which reduced my stress considerably.
  • Use social media at live events. It's so simple, but so easy to forget. Here's how I approached social media in terms of DragonCon:
    • A few weeks before the con: tweeted and tumbld that I'd be there. The schedule wasn't final yet, but I wanted people to know I'd be there. I also let people know I'd be signing and selling books. 
    • The week of the con: tumbld and tweeted my schedule, and posted my schedule on the blog. I also made sure to keep my schedule as the top post on my blog throughout the event. 
    • Fifteen minutes before a panel or signing: tweeted, using the hashtag, about the event, and saying that I hoped to see people there. 
    • During my signing, I tweeted fifteen minutes or so before, and then I tweeted every fifteen minutes during the signing to tell people about it. I followed the rule of four--it was an hour long event, so I tweeted at every quarter. I obviously didn't tweet when readers were around--I tweeted at the lulls, when the table was empty.
    • Remember: don't harass your social media followers, especially the ones not there. Tell the people about your stuff, but don't go overboard.
  • Make your stuff do the talking so you don't have to. This was my biggest take-away from the event. Before panels, I asked the husband to pass out cards that had my book info and newsletter subscription on it. Everyone got the stuff, so I know they had my book info and I didn't feel the pressure to talk so much about it--my cards did my talking for me. And during the big signing I designed my table so passers-by could see what I was about without me having to leave the table and do a hard sell, and I used social media to call others over. 
I know some people are really in favor of what I call the "car salesman approach." They stand up at their table, they literally pull people over and pitch their books. They're charismatic and they draw people in and they sell their books with everything they have. At RT two years ago, I sat next to a person who did this, and I saw him sell a dozen books this way. It works. But it doesn't work for me. I can't do that. I can't be that person. 

But after two signings at DragonCon with only about ten people--or less!--showing up, I knew I had to try something different. 

And that's where my table design came in. 

This is what the table looks like when you get there. Just a table, a water pitcher, and two chairs. And for the past two years at Dragon Con, I left it like that. The only thing I added was a single copy of my book, propped up for display, and a Sharpie. And, to be honest, when I looked around me at DragonCon this year, the other authors were doing the exact same thing.

This year, I added more things:

And this year, by no coincidence, I also sold around 40 books. Here's a list:
  • Sign in the front of the table. It is a braggy sign--I have the NY Times list, a Kirkus Star, and a pull quote. And it labels me as author--sometimes people don't always realize the person sitting behind the books is actually the author. I made it colorful and chatty (using a template from Staples), and the poster is laminated and reusable. People are curious about what you're doing at the table, but they also know that if they approach to find out, they might be pulled into a hard sales pitch they're not interested in. So I made the sign to tell them who I am and what I have to offer, so they can walk on by if they're not interested. And I know for a fact that the sign sold at least two books--two strangers walked by, saw the sign, and stopped because it was interesting to them.
  •  Book display set up. It's hard to see in this picture, but I actually have stacks of books behind each of the AtU books, and anyone walking by could see I had stock. The husband sat in the chair beside me, behind the books, with a bag of change and a card reader, so there was no doubt that books were on sale. Most people didn't bring their own books to sign; having the stock there and readily available (and visible) signaled to people that it was available.
  • Freebies that I was very free with. I had post cards, pin buttons, and more sitting on the table, and one of the first things I said to anyone who approached was to take something for free. People are interested in free. It gives them something to talk about, something to have in their hands, and it takes the pressure off me to be the salesman. The husband handled the money and sold the books--I gave out the free stuff. 
  • Sign up forms. I used two: one for pre-orders of my new book, and one for sign ups to my newsletter. Even if people didn't want to buy things, they could stay up to date on future things, and several people took this opportunity. 
  • Listen. I put the table on the offensive--it did my introductions for me. Which let me be in the position where I could bypass my introduction and listen to my readers as they approached. It gave them the chance to set the stage for our conversation. It gave them the opportunity to talk first, which let me listen. Introverts are much better at listening than talking, and as a writer, I would much rather listen to my readers than talk at them.
I've had a similar table set-up at the RT Convention, and I do feel that doing something like this, where your table can do the selling and talking for you, is the perfect solution for the introvert. What about you? What ideas do you have to help introverts reach readers?

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