Dos and Don’ts of running a book stall

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On Saturday March 10th 2018 I held a stall at the Coalville Writes literary festival. It was my first author event of this kind and therefore, a steep learning curve!

Here’s what I learned about running a book stall:

DO:

  • Prop up your books with little stands so that they are clearly visible. If your books are just lying down flat then people will only see them when they come right up to the table. You need people to see the books from far away. A fellow stall holder and author, Matt Beighton, did a particularly good job of this with his large foamex boards of his book covers:

Matt Beighton Coalville Writes author book stall

  • Have eye-catching banners – My banner for The Phoenix Project was the best tool I had for drawing people towards the stall. Lots of people commented on it or stopped to read it (and I could then pounce on them and engage in a chat!)

The Phoenix Project D.M. Cain book stall

  • Smile – Even though we just see ourselves as struggling authors desperate for  readers, some people may be intimidated by our title as a ‘professional writer’. Make sure you smile and are as friendly as possible.
  • Talk to people – As with the previous point, get out there and talk to people. Don’t stand behind the stall as it puts a barrier between you and your readers. Strip that barrier away and engage with people by standing out at the front.
  • Use this as an opportunity to get mailing list signups – even if people don’t buy a book on that day they might later if you keep in touch with them.
  • Offer free stuff/competitions – I did a competition to win a £20 Amazon giftcard in exchange for people signing up for mailing list and buying books. I also handed out free bookmarks and chocolates  – people love free stuff!

DON’T:

  • Sit down – It makes you look unapproachable and it would turn away many a customer who just want to chat to you. Do everything you can to strip down the walls between author and reader.
  • Forget to take change – I initially planned to sell all my books for £10 but then changed to include a deal where people could buy two books from the series for £17 – but I forget to bring any change! So when somebody bought the pair I had to run around trying to find some change for them!
  • Come unprepared – I not only forgot change but I also had to run to the local shop to buy sellotape, string, post-it notes and all the other little things I had forgotten!
  • Be intimidated by people – Yes, they’re your customers. Yes, you have to do everything you can to get them reading your work, but at the end of the day they’re just people. Don’t be afraid, don’t panic – just get out there and talk to them. Don’t ‘sell’, just chat!
  • Use untrackable competition entries – As part of my Amazon giftcard giveaway I allowed people to earn multiple entries into my competition by doing different things. People earned 10 entries for buying a paperback, 5 for an ebook, 1 for following on social media and 1 for signing up to the mailing list. Of these options, only the paperback sales and the mailing list signups worked. And that’s because they were were things people could do easily, there and then. It would be too hard to track who signed up on which social media platform. And why would people stand at my stall and buy an ebook and then have to show me an email as proof? Too hard! Make sure all entries are as easy as possible and can be done there and then.

Amazon gift voucher competition poster

As my first author event of this type, I think it went well and I learned a lot. Next time, I’ll be following my own advice and hopefully will get even more sales!

What tips do you have for holding a stall? Tell me in the comments below.

11 thoughts on “Dos and Don’ts of running a book stall

      1. I’m sorry to hear the turnout was disappointing – but your table looked amazing! (definitely the best if that isn’t too rude to say!)

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