Apologies for the clickbait title but isn't that what every author wants to know?
Let me manage expectations, I'm not talking Brandon Sanderson here. If you don't know him, Google him. The man doesn't need anymore attention from me.
But I am talking nearly £1000 in sales (£700 profit) over 38 hours, peanuts to the big indies but a significant sum for me...
I hate admin. Hate isn’t a word I like to use that much. It’s destructive and demotivating. However, as exceptions prove the rule, my loathing of the A word has given me a way to sell my books that really works for me.
I’ve ‘finished’ The Wonder Girls Rebel – the third and final instalment of my ‘1930’s girl gang versus the Blackshirts’ story set in a small town on the south coast of England. So I’ll soon have another 1000 paperbacks beautifully printed by CPI Rowe, covers spot varnished, embossed, maybe foiled too (haven’t decided), clogging up my hall. I’m committed to printing it in bulk like this because I want a matching set. A grant funded the first book, and a successful Kickstarter the second. (I’m thinking of another Kickstarter to help me print the third but if I can’t deal with the overthinking angst, I’ll just get a 0% credit card, less risky now I know that I can sell them.)
This third book has taken a while – two+ years of pandemic and them some. It’s currently being line edited. After I’ve done whatever that throws up, it’ll be proofreading, typesetting and finally printing. I hire professionals to edit and proofread; the typesetting I do myself. I am very excited to see all three books together, in real life!
I am rubbish at online advertising – it takes a lot of TIME, a lot of staring at spreadsheets and a LOT of money. And I’m not great at social media either. I’m an overthinker – dashing something off is not my forté. You can hire people to do both these things for you, but they want A LOT of MONEY too.
I love seeing my book in independent bookshops but it takes a lot of admin, postage and discounting to get them there. Places like Waterstones are generally quite snobby about self-published books, no matter how well they are produced. (Unfortunately, some libraries are too now.) So how am I going to shift the 900 or so I have left of books 1 and 2 (I kept some back on purpose so I can have a 3-book set) and the 1000 new book 3’s?
Back in the autumn, wasting time on Facebook, I noticed there was a craft fair in Fareham (the real life ‘Nettlefield’, my small town riddled with Blackshirts). This was Thursday, the craft fair was on Saturday. I may be risk averse when it comes to business and an overthinker, but occasionally spontaneity really works for me. As an experiment, I decided to give it a go.
After a teeny bit of admin – getting some affordable public liability insurance, preparing some signage, (fortunately, I already had two big freestanding banners, Thank you Kickstarter!) and a practice run of setting up my stall in the kitchen – all I had to do was get to Nettlefield, sorry, Fareham, and sell.
The market was huge, sports hall huge – lots of stalls mostly selling candles, jewellery and branded cosmetics. Very few selling books – just me and one other. Because the fair organisers limit certain products to ensure a range, it was easy to get a last-minute table.
I found myself next to a lovely woman selling jewellery, who gave me lots of tips for other fair organisers. But I didn’t have high expectations. The crowd didn’t look like readers. It was an experiment after all.
But people are wonderfully surprising. After a few dud shots, Do you know any young readers? being the duddest, I found my way into selling. Because I was in ‘Nettlefield’ I put this on my table in a big enough font to stall passers-by.
I allowed people to read and then asked them something about themselves – ‘Do you know Fareham?’ ‘Did you grow up here?’ ‘What do you like to read?’
In and around Southampton this one worked even better…
I said, ‘Did you know this brilliant bit of local history?’ If they said Yes, I’d show some excitement and ask How? if they said No, I’d tell them I’m on a mission to spread the word! Both responses led to great conversations, in which I could tell them about my stories as well as listen to theirs (which were brilliant), and, of course, book sales.
I’m selling fiction that's to some extent based on local history. So on home ground, it’s fairly easy to get into a conversation. But if you’re an independent author thinking of giving craft fairs a go, this sales technique can be adapted for other genres and locations – just find something relevant to the story that folk want to talk about (NB most of us love to talk about ourselves!) that will equally allow you to tell them about your books.
I have other books but so far, I’m only selling The Wonder Girls. I’m NOT piling the table high with books, but I am giving people interesting things to look at. The freestanding banners are great to attract attention across a large or crowded venue, the table signage makes people stop, as do a few curios relevant to the story…
So how well does this work. Here are my results for pre-Christmas ‘23
(NB Only a few of the books I sold were bought as Christmas gifts. They're priced low enough for people to take a risk - many items on offer on other stalls were priced far higher.)
7 weeks, 7 craft fairs…
126 books sold at either 6.99 (bk1) or 7.99 (bk2) plus a few badges
Table cost £250
Craft Fair Hours 38
Hourly rate £18.49
This takes no account of...
bus/train fairs… parking… fuel
all the time spent writing and rewriting the books,
cost of editing and production (though much of this has been covered by either a grant or Kickstarter)
cost of running a website
But to add all the numbers up would be depressing and only for tax purposes. I'm not expecting to reach those dizzy heights any time soon. If I ever do, I'll hire an admin assistant. (You can see how I'm rubbish at business!)
So, if as an author, you’re looking to replace a full-time or even a part-time income, Craft Fairs are not the answer. Or not the only answer. But if you enjoy talking to people in real life about your books, listening to their stories, and you have a stock of books clogging up your hall, then go for it!