When I wrote my first book Maximum Occupancy: How smart innkeepers put heads in beds in every season, I planned to launch it at a conference for the bed-and-breakfast industry. The yearly attendance averaged around 2500 people who were primarily B&B owners, my target market.
I decided that my first print run would be 150 books. I thought I was being very conservative with such a small number of books. I had read where some authors’ first print run was 500 books or a thousand books.
I knew the value of my product and I thought it would be obvious to the conference attendees as well. I created a flyer with an excerpt of the book to give as a sample and created a contest to draw people to my booth. In my excitement, I thought I would have lines of people clamoring to buy a copy. Surely at least 5% of the attendees would be interested in learning how to market their B&B easier.
Reality hit when I got to the conference. My little one person booth was easily overlooked in the midst of the large and flashy industry vendor booths. I hadn’t done any pre-marketing to the attendees so none of them had me on their ‘must see’ list. A lot of the attendees never even visited the vendor area. Some don’t like to shop. Others were too busy attending the educational workshops. I only sold 30 books which actually wasn’t bad for a first time attendee but I was devastated. Not only didn’t I sell the 150 books that I originally estimated, I had to suffer the indignity of paying to ship them back home where I stored them in – you guessed it -my garage.
Based on that first conference experience, I now prepare quite differently for events. Here are my recommendations:
1. Print a smaller number of books than you think you will sell. You’ll have to pay for shipping to the conference and again after the conference to get your unsold books back home. If you’re lucky enough to sell out of the stock, take pre-orders and offer to ship them for free.
2. If possible, get a feel for the number of people who will actually visit the vendor area. Some authors decide to visit the conference as an attendee first and then attend the next conference as a vendor. If that is impossible, there is usually a vendor liaison for the conference. Contact that person and ask them how many people actually go through the vendor area. Also ask them to position your booth near similar vendors. Ideally you want to be near other authors but if you are the only author there, try to get positioned near someone who is selling software or apps. They will be more closely aligned to what you’re selling and you won’t get lost by being next to a large booth.
3. Do some pre-event marketing. Many conferences will give you a list of the attendees in advance. Reach out to them with a postcard mailing or with phone calls. Let them know you’re going to be participating in the event. Give them an incentive to seek you out at the conference.
4. Find a way to attract people to your booth. One of the things that I did right at that first conference was to create a little contest to attract people to the booth. The conference was in the spring around Easter. I purchased some inexpensive plastic eggs and filled some of them with chocolate candy. Others I filled with a little miniature of my book cover. Every person who visited my booth got to pick an egg and everyone got a prize.
5. Have contact forms at the booth for those people who aren’t ready to purchase. This can be as simple as getting their name, email address, and phone number so that you can add them to your mailing list. Ensure that you have a statement that they sign giving you permission to add them to your list
6. Have a post conference marketing strategy. Using the attendee list, reach out to people who did not visit your booth and offer them a conference attendee special.
These days I’m much better prepared and much more confident when I attend conferences. If you follow the strategies outlined above you will be too.