11 Nov 2015
We returned to the Hershey Arts and Craft show last weekend. Whenever we do one of these events, part of me still cringes at the memory.I admit it: I’m a pessimist. Not at the Eeyore-level and certainly not Code Marvin. I try not to get too excited about something, a lesson that I learned the hard way back in the day.
I was working for a small game company in Charlotte that specialized in fantasy role-playing. We had put out a couple of modules that D&Ders could use and they seemed to go over well with our customers. The owner decided to buy a table at the Origins gaming convention and print up a spiffed-up line of supplements, sure that they would go over like gangbusters.
I had written one, cobbling bits of Arthurian history together with our game world. As we were driving out to the convention, I was counting up the profits. Even if we sold half of them, I would realize a couple hundred dollars easily.
You know, I can’t remember if we sold any there. I’ve blacked out most of the event, except for the parade of gamers, passing in front of our table, glassily eyeing our products and then passing on like ghosts.
So when it comes to selling books in public, I don’t have a can-do conquer-the-world attitude. I like our books; I think they give good value for money. I’m not Over the past two years, as we’ve done more shows, I’ve learned I do my best and whatever happens will be taken in the spirit it was given.
Which brings us to the Hershey Winter Arts & Crafts show on Saturday. Last year, we sold a few books. It was enough to pay our booth rental, and that was fine. We sell books in a niche market, so we were happy just letting people know we were around.
New Promotional Ideas
But it’s one thing to show up and another to play. After our experience with the York Book Expo, we decided to work on our promotional skills, so we did two things:
1. We printed out a sheet to solicit emails for our monthly newsletter and encouraged people to sign up.
2. We knew we needed more handouts promoting our line of books. I had printed about 25 of them for the York show and gave them all away. This was great! But we had none left. This was bad! This was a lesson I had drilled into my head from my days selling bread: If you have 1 loaf on the shelf when you came in to restock, you knew that everyone who wanted your bread bought one.
I thought about printing new catalog sheets, but we also had a stack of sheets left over from last year’s craft show. These were special sheets. My wife had baked butterscotch-crunch cookies, and we printed the recipe on the back side of the catalog page. We offered to hand out the recipe to everyone who bought a book. Since we sold only a couple of books, we had a lot of sheets left over.
This time, we’d hand out the recipe to everyone, and at least not waste paper.
I went into this story in-depth for a reason, because this taught us a lesson. By the end of the day, we had convinced only one person to sign up for our mailing list, but we had given away all of the recipe sheets. We handed out about 40 sheets, and ran out a couple hours before the end of the show.
Now, I don’t know if we’ll see an increase in sales, but we were able to put information about our books into the hands of 40 people who didn’t know about us before. Because the recipe is on the back of the page, they might use it to make their own cookies, or tuck it into their cookbook. In any event, it was a hit.
Not only that, but we were surprised that we sold a lot of books and tote bags, too. It was easily our best showing at any craft show. I’m not quite sure why. It might have been our winning personality, our smooth patter, the addition of two more Sherlock books to the line, or maybe the economy is getting better and people were in the mood to spend.
It was a great event, too, for meeting people, such as our new newsletter subscriber (Hi, N.A.!), and the couple who came back from visiting France and talked about seeing Monet’s gardens. I don’t get much contact with the outside world in my cubbyhole office, so chatting with customers and the other vendors is a great way for me to stay sane.
Visiting with Booksellers
We even spotted a couple of authors selling their books:
* Melanie Atmore had a table selling her first children’s book, “From a Butterfly’s Eye.” (Tate Publishing).* Patti Tingen returned with more inspirational books. * Dena Markowitz and her husband were there selling their unique scrapbooks and journals. They don’t have a website, but they can be reached at email@example.com.
Looking Ahead to 2016
We’ll be back at the show next year, and we’ll do a couple more in between (such as Art on Chocolate and the York Book Expo). I can’t see us doing this every weekend, but if the show’s within a day’s drive, we’ll certainly consider it.
But it goes to show that you have to show up in order to score, that you should keep trying ways to reach your audience, and to be prepared to experience joy and gratitude when you succeed, and at least the pleasure of talking to book lovers when you don’t.