Getting readers to discover you as an author is one of the hardest parts of launching a writing career. Indie, small press or traditionally published, no matter what your career path, no writer can afford to ignore promotion opportunities.
I've found conferences to be a good place to interact with readers. A lot of them are eager to try new authors and books. So how do we get them to pick up our book? Here are a few tips that I've found very helpful:
1. Be approachable. Conferences can be stressful, particularly for introverts (which seems to include most writers). But as tempting as it can be to spend your time chatting with your booth-mates, or checking your phone or computer, being occupied sends a signal that you are not available to talk or interact with readers. At the same time, don't be overly desperate or eager, trying to drag over people from across the room. Smile, make eye contact and say hello.
2. Have a lure. People need to spend some time at your booth in order to decide whether or not to buy your book. If you have swag to give away or a prize draw or something else which brings people to your table, that gives you an opportunity to pitch your book to them.
3. Sharing details and finding common ground. If a reader can relate to you personally, then he or she is more likely to pick your book out of the multitude. It takes some time to talk to people and find out what they're interested in, but that gives you a chance to personalize your pitch. At Ad Astra this year, I discovered one reader had special needs children, so I mentioned that the hero of my first book used his psychic powers to help developmentally delayed children. Another expressed interest in the fact that my heroine was a burlesque dancer, so I shared some of my stories about researching with different burlesque troupes. The goal is to make you and your book stand out from the crowd.
4. Get people's hands on the book. This was a tip that I got at my first conference from another author and it's proved to be invaluable. If people are holding the book, they're more likely to take the time to look at it and, hopefully, end up buying it.
5. Be gracious. Good impressions are everything. At one of my first conferences, I watched an author scowling at everyone who came near his booth. If someone picked up one of his books, he would shout at them that he wasn't a library and they better be ready to buy it. I still don't know what he wrote, but even if it was my favourite sub-genre, I wouldn't have been willing to buy from him. On a subtler level, I've also watched authors lose interest in talking to people once the reader has said they're not interested. But it pays to still take the extra time. If a reader isn't interested in my work, I try to recommend someone else at the conference. At a minimum, I wish them a good day and try to have them leave with a smile. Because even if they personally aren't interested, that doesn't mean they don't know someone who might be.
6. Get to know your neighbours. Conferences are a community. Taking the time to get to know the other vendors at the conference gives you the option of referrals (and hopefully also gets you some). And it can be invaluable for those times when you have to leave your booth for a time. I went to a panel once and came back to discover that my booth-neighbour had sold five books for me. She didn't have to, she could have told them I would be back later. But since I had sent several readers to her table, she didn't want me to miss a sale.
7. Know your conference. Every conference has a difference flavour. Some are very business-like and precise, others are more go-with-the-flow spontaneous. If possible, before you arrive, talk to other people who have been vendors. They can give you invaluable information about the type of readers to expect (for example: do they tend to prefer ebooks or print?). How many authors will be giving away swag or books? For example, at romance conferences, my experience has been that many authors are giving away free books and almost all of them will have some kind of swag. On the other side, at speculative fiction conferences, there aren't many giveaways but authors are more likely to be offering a discount on their books.
8. Always be on the lookout for new ideas. Figure out what is working for you and what isn't. For example, I've discovered that a significant proportion of readers would like my book but want it in an e-book format. I've been giving them postcards with my book cover and blurb as a reminder, but when I get back home, I'm not seeing a corresponding sales bump. So I've been researching ways to directly sell the ebooks at conferences (unfortunately, much of what I've discovered so far only applies to conferences in the US).
I've really enjoyed my experiences at conferences so far. Even though I have to overcome my own introverted tendencies, getting to meet readers and seeing complete strangers pick up my book has been a real thrill. Even better, when I've done the same event the following year, I get returning readers who have come to pick up my latest book. That is a real ego-boost to me as a writer. My next conference is Limestone Genre Expo on June 3rd and 4th in Kingston and I can't wait.