I enjoy networking with readers, other authors and business people present at conferences and festivals. One of the many ways I have access to these opportunities is through vending. Today, I would like to share a few of the pros and cons of author vending.
What is author vending?
To put it simply, author vending is when authors partner with an organization to reserve a space where they can sell their books/services/products, usually at a book festival or conference. Vending is not new and is something other businesses do all the time. The benefits of vending are numerous but there can also be some challenges for Independent Authors. As usual, I base this on my own experience which may very well differ from other authors.
Con: Financial Risk
“Consider the benefits and risks to your business when deciding to exhibit your product or service. These will be different for each event. Choosing the wrong trade show to exhibit your business’s products or services can result in displaying to the wrong audience. Poor promotion can mean the costs of attending the trade show outweigh any revenue you gain.” – Business Queensland
When you are a vendor, it means you have paid to reserve a table at an event where you will sell your books/products/services. Sometimes these costs can be very expensive. The authors must be careful not to “overpay to play.” I’ve seen tables costs as much as $600. This money could easily go toward good editing instead or the publishing of another book entirely. Authors should consider that not only will they reserve a table, but they will also buy books and author swag for the table and travel to the event. Before saying yes to vending, consider the financial benefits and potential challenges. Ask:
- Do I have enough funds to cover books, attendance, display and other associated costs
- Have I worked out how many prospects and readers I will need to obtain to generate a return on my investment
- Have I researched/visited/asked questions about the event at which I am contemplating exhibiting and am I confident that a suitable number of people will attend
- Have I worked out a way to capture people’s attention (*This is important. I see a lot of authors at expos looking down at their phones or just looking bored. They sit at the table for the entire time and rarely communicate with the people walking by. Then, at the conclusion, these same authors are upset because they sold no books. The people are not just going to come to you. Chances are you are not famous and no one owes you a thing. Stop being lazy, get up, and represent yourself.
Any author who wishes to be a vendor must be sure to research the event, understand what is included in the package, and know what they are looking to gain from the experience. If the goal is only to sell books, the author(s) should consider hosting something at their local library where the table is free or collaborating with other authors to cover the price of the table.
The primary purpose of vending (as I have found it) is the chance to network and get your name out there. It is a discoverability strategy, not neccessarily a profitability one (except if you have a large platform already). While an author can sell books, how many books are sold depends on the strength of that author’s network. More on that on the next con point.
Pro: Networking Opportunity
“Face-to-face communication builds the most memorable brand awareness. Last year our expos had hundreds of people walk through the door. Expos centralize a local audience that will be most receptive and ready to learn. This might be a rare occurrence for your industry depending on where you are geographically. You’ll have an opportunity to connect with new people and reconnect with those already invested in your brand.” – Peter O’Donnell, 4 Key Benefits of Becoming a Vendor
“Your book will only get lost among the hundreds of celebrity authors’ books in the store. The best thing you can do right now is to get your name out there. Are you attending the Decatur Book Festival?”
I told him I was. I wasn’t a vendor, but I would be in attendance. He said good and to start there. He told me to “focus on building your platform and getting your name out there.”
Conferences and Book Festivals attract an array of media depending on the host of the event. You have the potential to meet editors, agents, publishers, celebrity authors and corporate influencers.
I don’t care what the experts say, online will never be as good as face-to-face contact and connection. Giving your readers a chance to meet you in person adds a special kind of value. “People see the truth in you through your actions, personality, and in how genuine you are with them.” (Greg Dabbs, Business Development Manager) They get to hear your voice, see your face outside of photos, ask questions, give advice, laugh and get to know you more personally.
The chances of pitching are significantly higher when you position yourself to be present at these events. You get to practice your sales pitch, research competition and increase the chances of collaboration opportunities. It is not all about money. At a decent rate vending can be the boost you need to jump-start your business. Financial investment in yourself is something you will need to consider in your career at some point anyway. Whether that is vending at a notable event or paying for professional author photos, it is something you will need to do at some point.
It is about showing up and being an author vendor is one of the easiest ways to show up, to get out and connect with people.
Con: Difficult for New/Unknown Indie Authors
Author vending is the opportunity for you to connect with your readers. It gives them the chance to meet with you face-to-face, to take pictures with you, to buy paperback copies of your books, or to have books signed they already bought. But it could be even more challenging for new/unknown Indie Authors.
“No one will come to your book reading/signing unless you are already famous. The packed author readings on the news are only packed because the author is already very well known. Book readings at bookstores are among the worst uses of time for a new author.” – Writing Well
While I don’t believe you have to be famous to do a book signing/reading for people to support you (I do well at signings and I am certainly no one famous), there is some truth in this quote. While the chances of people buying are higher in person because physical presence increases trust, authors who have multiple books out and who have already built a strong platform and audience before vending will do much better. People will already know who they are, and readers will come out to support them.
Paying money to reserve a table at an author event when you are a new author no one knows, when you have done no work to promote the event to your audience or where you have not built an audience will be like posting your Amazon buy link on social media hoping people will take a chance on an unknown author. While some people will (I usually do but I’m nice like that 🙂 ) this kind of “Hope Marketing,” rarely works. Vending is usually not free, and the money is usually nonrefundable. If you can’t at least make the money back you spent on the table, it is not worth it. Not if selling books is your only aim.
Before you spend money on reserving a table, focus on publishing more books and developing a relationship with your readers so that when you do an event people will come out to support you. Now do not misunderstand me, a first-time author can certainly do well at signings and events but only because that author already have people who are willing to support him/her from previous works.
Pro: Invitations for More Work
This is the beginnings of earning the passive income you want to help to leverage the income from your book royalties. These days, you need the additional income that comes from other streams of income related to your writing.
You may not think people are paying attention, but they are. Author vending is a great way to give a very good first-person impression that can lead to an even bigger opportunity and business partnership.
Pro/Con – Organizer / Host
It is important to ask, who is the organizer/host? The person(s) behind the event is a big deal. You want to make sure the organization or cause is something you can get behind. Vending is a big deal these days and it shouldn’t escape authors that it is also a way for businesses and organizations to make money. Choosing to be a vendor is not just about meeting new people and exposing your business, it is also about investment. Vending is an investment in yourself and an investment in the company or organization hosting the event.
The people behind the event can make this a Pro if the organization is well organized, grounded, relatively known and actively promoting the event and its participants.
The people behind the event can make this a Con if the event host is unorganized, the event is poorly promoted (bad for you if you paid for a table and are looking to turn a profit) and does little to nothing to promote the event and its participants.
It is not about jumping on every so-called opportunity available to authors. It is about being strategic and intentional with every decision you make regarding your book business.
When you are asked, invited or when you take part in a vending opportunity, be sure you connect with an organization that is relatable to the goals and the purpose you have set for yourself, that the vision of the organization is something you can support and rally behind and that they will work just as hard for you as you intend to work for them. Vending is a partnership and partnerships are not one-way streets. Or at least they shouldn’t be.
- Can be costly
- Challenging to sell books for new authors with no audience
- Can be overwhelming
- Can sometimes go downhill
Every marketing platform has advantages and disadvantages. Don’t let the disadvantages of author vending discourage you from participating in exhibitions and reaping the benefits of it. Just do your research first.
- Exposure to a wider set of audience
- Creates brand awareness
- Increases credibility
- Promotes brand loyalty
- Helps in Networking