Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Virtual this, virtual that

Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

Nothing like a pandemic to make the already super-fun chore (yes, that was sarcasm) of book marketing more challenging. One of my last book fairs of the year was finally cancelled. The last one of the year is now virtual. I’m still going to participate; can’t hurt to try it.

I know a number of self-published authors are releasing this year, and some traditionally-published authors who have had their releases pushed back. No matter if there’s a pandemic or not, blog tours are virtual any way you look at them.

But there’s something about meeting readers in person. There’s a connection you can make as an author to a reader when you can shake their hand and talk to them directly. Author panels are another great way to connect with readers, and meet some fellow writers. Our Sisters in Crime chapter did a number of author panels with local libraries (and some not so local).

Then they all cancelled because, you know, COVID-19.

I miss author panels. I’ve met some neat people, and had the opportunity to share some of my “life as an author”.

So what can a writer do now to connect with readers that doesn’t involve gathering in an enclosed area? We can do all the online promotion we want, but word of mouth is still the best way to find new readers, and that in-person connection, that handshake and greeting with a little small talk can go a long way when it comes to a reader recommending your book to a friend.

Sure, we can organize our own virtual author panels, or ask-the-author events, but we’re still authors, and I suspect most of us don’t do marketing very well.

Our Sisters in Crime (SinC) chapter is great at figuring out ways to connect authors and readers. We have an awesome mystery bookstore in Minneapolis that has done virtual book launches this year for some bigger local authors, like William Kent Kreuger and David Housewright.

So what does a group of mystery authors that has a great relationship with said bookstore do? They ask about conducting virtual author panels with the bookstore. It’s a win-win: the authors get to do the author panels we did with libraries but now with the bookstore’s genre-focused audience, and the bookstore gets to sell the authors’ books.

Woo-hoo! We have our first panel in August; we’re going to start with the panels that got cancelled by the libraries and go from there.

So, point being, if you have a local bookstore that has been doing virtual book launches, maybe they would be open to hosting (and promoting) author panels. Granted, we’re focused on one genre for the most part, but if you are part of a local chapter of, say, SCBWI (childrens’ books), and you have a local bookstore that focuses on childrens’ books, (or sci-fi/fantasy, or whatever genre), contact them and ask if they would be interested in hosting virtual author panels.

Heck, if you have a few author friends who are willing, and maybe have a connection to a bookstore, it wouldn’t matter if you’re scattered all over the place. You could do a virtual author panel anyway.

It’s one way we, as authors, can connect with readers you may not otherwise meet. In a way, virtual book events can be better than in-person ones considering people don’t have to drive to get there or worry that there isn’t room to walk or bad weather. Sure, they can’t get that instant gratification of buying the book right then and getting it signed by the author, but you might get that superfan in Helena, MT who tells all her friends about your awesome book.

And that’s what we all want–superfans who tell everyone who will listen how great your book is. Check it out. It might be one of the best things to come out of this whole screwed-up 2020 with respect to your marketing chores!


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15 things I learned about book festivals

If you were around for last week’s post, I went to the Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato to man the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime (TC SinC) table. Our SinC chapter released an anthology this year (and no, I don’t have a story in it because they were in the final editing stage when I joined the party 🙂 ) called Dark Side of the Loon: Where Mystery Meets History. All the stories are written by TC SinC members and are set during historical events in MN, like the infamous Armistice Day Blizzard or the Jesse James gang’s bank robbery in Northfield. We also had an older anthology to sell.

Bottom line, sell as many books as possible between 10 am and 4 pm.

A few things about the whole situation just made it a rough day. The venue was hard to find–even people using GPS wound up at a hotel down the block. No signage out front to tell people what was happening. And the author area was inside a former restaurant, so dim lighting was the rule rather than the exception.

Since this was my first, I made a few mental notes for the next book festival (hopefully more successful, and hopefully with my very own debut novel!)

So, here are some things to remember (in no particular order) for a book festival, or book fair, or craft fair or wherever you are selling your books:

Mental Note #1: BYOB

Bring water, coffee, or pop (yes, I’m from MN, so it’s “pop” not “soda” or “coke” 🙂 ) to drink. A big room like that, with lots of books, screams “dry air”. I brought a water bottle, but I could have used two. The venue had coffee and water available in the morning, but that was gone before noon.

Mental Note #2: Bring snacks

If the book festival is more than two hours, and especially if it’s six hours like the Deep Valley one, bring something to eat. At our venue, there were no food vendors, so no opportunity to grab lunch. I brought a PB&J along with an apple and banana, plus an emergency granola bar, because I didn’t know what to expect. I’m glad I did. Other authors had family members with them to fetch nourishment, but some didn’t. A mix of peanuts, M&Ms, raisins, candy corn, etc. would be good to have on hand to munch.

Mental Note #3: Bring a battery charger/powerpack for your phone/iPad/tablet

This might seem obvious, but there were very few outlets available. And yes, you might have charged everything up the night before, but it never hurts to have a backup, especially if there is no wifi available and you have to rely on your cellular data connection. Hint: Make sure your powerpack is charged as well!

Mental Note #4: Gotta have some signage

We had a price sheet with the book covers printed on it, as well as a couple sheets of reviews for the new anthology, mounted in those clear plastic holders that stand up by themselves. We also had signage with fold-out stands, made from heavy tag board, so they were easy to take down and put away. Some authors had bigger signs, BUT make sure you have room for the signs along with your books. The table may only be the size of a card table, so there are limits on how much you can put out. I’ve read advice about vertical self-standing easels that you can set beside the table, where it’s like a tripod with a telescoping piece where you can mount a cardboard sign or or unroll a fabric one.

Mental Note #5: Handy-dandy book display easels

You know, the kind where you can set a book on it to show off the cover. Everyone displayed their books face out like that (you know what I’m talking about). In bookstores they even suggest you go through (covertly, of course 🙂 and you didn’t hear that from me 😀 ) and set your book so the whole face is showing and not just the spine. If anyone knows a place to get those little display things (besides Amazon; they’ve got everything, right?), pop it into a comment.

Mental Note #6: Rolling bag, collapsable cart, or collapsable two-wheel dolly

Nobody likes dragging a box full of books any farther than they have to. I saw authors with rolling cases, one with a cool collapsable cart like a wagon, and TC SinC has a neat collapsable two-wheel dolly. This venue offered volunteer college-aged muscle, but by closing time most of their volunteers had left.

Mental Note #7: Promo stuff like business cards, bookmarks, magnets, notepads, pencils, etc

And yes, just like at any other promotional event, people go around and gather goodies. Anything that reminds them of your book is good, right? Remember, this is a book festival (this one included over twenty authors), not an author event like a signing gig, authors panel, or launch party, so you could get away with no candy Edit: yes, goodies are advised, as I’ve learned from other authors. So lure them with sugar 🙂

Mental Note #8: Card reader–Square, PayPal, or other

The chapter prez, who signed up for the event and asked me to help man the table, forgot the Square, so we restricted payment to cash or check. A caveat, though: make sure you either have a reliable internet connection or that the reader can process cards while offline. Another caveat: With so many credit cards having chips in them now, if your reader can’t read the chips, you have to type the card number into the app.

Mental Note #9: Price books for least-complicated change (and make sure you have enough change)

Seems logical, but it’s a good reminder. Price books in whole dollars, and an amount that’s easy to give change. We priced the anthology at $17. The prez had an envelope of change: groups of three one dollar bills paper-clipped together so it was easy to pull out change for a twenty. One author priced her books at $15, which again is easy to make change. Another author priced her books at $15 for cash or check, and $16 for credit card. When you use a Square or other card reader, the card processor takes a small percentage of the charge, so it made sense (like gas stations giving you a discount when you pay with cash). Don’t forget to include sales tax in the price!

Mental Note #10: Keep a tally sheet, also good for notes

We had a tally sheet to track how many of each anthology we sold, which makes it easy to know how many books are left, and how much money you should have (and change left over). We used a small notebook, handy because one of the patrons who stopped at our table works in the archive section of the MNSU-Mankato library, and they collect books from MN authors. We got contact information, and a possible opportunity for some sort of author panel in the future.

Mental Note #11: Network!

Yes, I know, writers are introverts, and crowds make us twitchy, but make connections with both readers and writers. Yes, this means you have to talk to complete strangers. I found out the author at the table next to us is also with my publisher, so we could compare notes. I met a reader who read historical stuff, and her friend reads mysteries, so I suggested she would enjoy the historical stuff in the anthology. She bought both anthologies, so they could read and swap. I also met a vivacious reader who, once I told her about my own book (she asked), got super excited about it. And when she told her husband, he got excited about it. I wrote the title and release date on the back of one of my business cards and gave it to her. If half her enthusiasm rubs off on a handful of her friends, that’s six more readers than if I hadn’t talked to her at all.

Mental Note #12: Pay attention to venue notes

The venue should make you aware of things like no outlets and no wifi. Our venue also suggested battery-powered lights. Huh? When we got there, we saw the dim lighting. One author brought a battery-powered camp lantern–great idea. Take-away: if the venue suggests something, there’s a reason, so plan accordingly.

Mental Note #13: Bring something writerly to work on

The crowd isn’t steady, so there’s time when you either talk to the writer next door, or take the opportunity to do some editing, or outlining, or something you can do in short bursts.

Mental Note #14: Check out the other tables

Venues often have volunteers who can watch your table when you have to find a restroom or just stretch your legs. Take some time to check the other authors out. You might find books you are interested in. See how other authors have their tables laid out. You can get ideas for your next event that way, like the battery-powered lantern 🙂

Mental Note #15: Feedback

Most venues will ask for feedback or suggestions. Take them up on it–nicely. Someone spent a lot of time organizing the event, getting sponsors, volunteers, authors, etc. The prez mentioned to them the difficulties people were having, and we learned why they used that venue (cost, of course). But maybe next time they can do a few little things differently that might make the event more successful. And let them know what they did right, because we all like good feedback. Just like a critique, it lets them know what they are doing well.

And that is the end of a very long post. There are veterans of book events out there that skimmed the headers and skipped to the bottom (yes, you did! 😉 ), but hopefully this will help others who are thinking about or planning to sell at an event like this.

Have a wonderful weekend–enjoy it, because the colors are fleeting, and the white stuff will be here before you know it! (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s spring where you are, and I’m jealous because you’re done with winter 😀 )

Write on!