Conquer the Conference: Marketing Tips for Authors and Vendors to Shine at Events

Stephanie Feger Speaking

You’ve heard the advice that the best way to sell a book is to write another. I whole-heartedly believe that to be true, and I’d love to add to that wisdom by noting the philosophy holds true for speaking engagements as well. After speaking at a writer’s conference a few months ago, I was approached to participate in another opportunity to inspire authors. As a passionate supporter of authors and their journey in book marketing, I was elated by the opportunity to connect with another group of like-minded, amazing individuals.

Having attended several conferences this year, sharing book marketing insights and working vendor tables as well, I discovered some tried-and-true strategies that authors and speakers can utilize to not only sell books but also increase visibility and readership reach. 

Seated at my vendor table in between hosting workshops, I decided to follow my own marketing advice and engage in active listening. This turned out to be a treasure trove of knowledge as authors passed by, sharing their stories and experiences. From these interactions, I gleaned valuable insights into creative marketing tactics that help authors stand out and leave a memorable impression during conferences. And, while conversing with other author vendors and speakers, I noticed their successful approaches that helped draw attention to their books while navigating the author’s gauntlet—a space teeming with competition.

Here are some key takeaways any author attending a writer’s conference could utilize and author speakers who are also manning vendor tables to sell their books and other products could benefit from. 

No matter where you are, you are an author and should be prepared to sell books. 

I meandered to the first panel I was moderating early in the conference before anyone else had arrived, and while I was trying to figure out how to adjust the temperature in the room (y’all, it was HOT!), the rest of the panel was setting up their spaces at the table on the stage. Each author showed up with book stands and at least one copy of each book they had written to position in front of them while they spoke. As a marketer, you would have thought that I would have inherently done the same… but this gal was more focused on the sauna of a room! This is something I continuously forget to do when I speak at conferences, but I promise you bringing a copy with you will help sell books. Whether you are on a panel or a conference attendee, you never know where your reader is lurking. Here are some tips to help you never forget to market yourself.

  • Make sure you always have a book on you. Hold it in your hands or have it in your bag so that if you get talking with someone who would like a copy, you don’t have to have them follow you back to your vendor table to get one. You can sell it right there! And, if you are attending a conference, you can still sell books without having a vendor table. I saw many authors pulling books out of their bags to sell to other authors in attendance.
  • Speaking of selling, be sure to have a way to take credit card transactions easily. I prefer using Square and have the app on my phone so that if someone wants to buy a copy, they can do so even if they don’t have cash and I don’t have change. Don’t let someone who is interested in purchasing a book have to go online to do so. Make it easy for them and for you. And, have a pen in your brand color ready to sign right then and there for them! It builds lasting connection and instant value. (FYI, here’s a link to sign up for Square if you haven’t already. My affiliate link will get you a limited discount on processing fees or a square reader.)
  • Purchase a book stand. Mine oddly went missing before this conference, so I’m keenly aware of its need and plan to purchase a new one pronto. A book perched up is easier to see than one laid flat, and a book stand can be game-changing. How can someone know about your book if they can’t see it? (Hint, they won’t see it, and because of that, they likely won’t buy it.)

If you want to sell your book, however, don’t try to push book sales. Give value first. Focus on the solutions that you offer and how you can help someone with your book, your message and your insights. Books will sell when you give value. Books don’t sell when you try too hard to push them. Just sayin’.

Find a way to stick out amongst the crowd. 

When I was early in my career in public relations, my dad encouraged me to join an association of others in my field. There were several to consider but two came to the top of the list: PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) and IABC (International Association of Business Communicators). Since I’m a gal that doesn’t like competition, I chose IABC. While I loved participating in this writer’s conference, I realized that competition overwhelms me. I want everyone to win… now, as an author at a writer’s conference and then as a PR professional in a sea of communicators. And, in a world with more readers than one author could ever write books to satisfy, you can. However, to be seen means you need to stick out. Here are some ways to do that. 

  • If you’re attending a conference as a writer, become your brand. Wear your brand colors, embody the energy of your message and even have flare to align. The conference I recently attended had oodles of fantasy authors in the crowd. I was among people who knew how to embody characters from the clothes they wore to the way they spoke, and it made me realize the importance of finding unique ways to stand out in a crowd of talented individuals. 
  • I love to go shopping for colors in my brand palette so that when I’m on stage and at vendor booths, I fit in with my book and business brand. At the conference, I had several people stop by my table because the color palette stuck out amongst the other tables. You want people to feel your brand and become inspired to pick up your book accordingly. 
  • As a marketer, many times I get more excited about marketing a book than writing it. (Yes, I realize I’m an anomaly!) But I love goodies that go with books for bundles. For instance, I have plant pops, plant mugs and candles packaged in seed paper to align with my book, Emergence: Living Lessons from the Soil. For readers wanting a deeper experience, they can get goodies to go along with their books. Don’t forget that reading is an experience; create opportunities for your readers to purchase that from you. 

Writer’s conferences put you in a sea of other authors and amongst vast competition vying for the same purchasing power a reader has. Be sure you will be remembered in a way that aligns with your book’s message. Readers will peruse the book opportunities at their fingertips, but they will come back to those that were memorable. 

Books don’t sell themselves; people do.

I always remind authors that people buy from people. People invest in people. Readers aren’t only buying books, they are investing in the message that they will get when they read it. It just so happens that you are the message they are investing in. Authors sometimes feel like they are just selling books, but books don’t sell themselves, people do. As I walked around the conference between sessions, I noticed which authors had people engaging with them and which didn’t. From that, here are some considerations to take into account. 

  • If you have a table at a conference, the local farmer’s market, or even at a signing after your speaking engagement, never forget that people are buying a product from YOU. You are the key link to ensuring your book will sell. Sitting behind a table scrolling through social media isn’t going to sell books. Standing up and interacting with passersby will. 
  • My friend at the vendor table next to me noted how challenging these events are for her because she’s an introvert. (As an extrovert, I appreciated her reminding me that not everyone loves to talk.) However, she shared that when it’s time, she pulls out her inner extrovert and promises her introverted self some quiet time later. If she wants to sell books, she has to interact with conference attendees and go out on a limb to talk about her books more than she normally is comfortable doing so. 
  • If you can be a part of a panel, present a workshop or conduct an author reading, do it even if you are nervous to do so. When attendees meet you, you can increase the know, like and trust factor. One of my vendor booth friends highlighted that he noticed people were more likely to buy books from authors that they got a glimpse into their message through a presentation. 
  • Have signage with your face on it. I have to admit that when I sent my retractable banner design to FedEx to print, I never considered that putting my face on it would mean that I’d have to sit next to me throughout each conference. And, I didn’t realize that it would help readers and conference attendees more easily find my booth when they went looking for me. One lady at the conference stopped by and said, “Oh, it’s you! While you were at a workshop, I walked by your table and smiled because you were smiling at me, even if you were you in the banner!” People could find my table because they had met me and went looking for me. (And, books sold because of it!)

You are the glue to your book brand. Behind your physical book is a person who is passionate about what they wrote. Embrace that passion and don’t hide behind it. Get in front of your book table and interact with readers. Be confident in your story and your work, because people will feel that and invest in you because of it. 

Learning is a life-long journey for everyone, authors included. 

Conferences offer learning opportunities at all levels. From attending workshops to one-on-one discussions with fellow authors, I’ve found that the author community as a whole is a pay-it-forward kind community. Every author was shaped because someone else poured into them. Most are passionate about doing that for another. Obviously, you’re at a conference to learn, but not all of the learning happens on stage at conferences. Here are some insights to help you uncover learning everywhere you explore.

  • Shake any mindset struggles you have about competition and see each author at the conference as a peer. There are too many readers in the world for one author to supply enough book demand that exists. We can all win, and with that attitude, you can learn from every author you meet. 
  • Remember, everyone has an opinion, and not all opinions are created equal. As you collect advice to consider, reflect on if the insights work for everyone or just the individual telling you. How do you know? I find in this industry many people have efforts that worked for them but they don’t always know how or why it actually worked. Getting to the why behind the action will help you determine if the advice will work for you. 
  • That said, be open-minded. Just because you tried something before and it didn’t work doesn’t mean it won’t now. Things change; you change. Use the conference to listen and take notes. Then, set aside time to assess later. 
  • Don’t be afraid to connect with other authors who are farther on the journey than you are. Everyone started from point zero. One author walked around the event with a hardback version of her book. As she perused purchasing book options, she asked authors she met to sign a copy of her own book and take a photo with her holding it and their book too. Her goal was to have this as a memento of her book growth! 

I sat across from two well-known authors in the fantasy fiction world during the conference. Between sessions and reader inundation, I observed how they interacted with readers and others at the conference. One was quiet, keeping to himself unless a fan came by and then he would “turn on” for the crowd. The other was reserved too, but instead of becoming someone different when fans arrived, he remained his humble self, making jokes, smiling and exuding kindness to everyone he met, myself included. He had become a glorious success over his lifetime, but he realized that he could still learn, too. 

No matter who you are, how far you’ve come or where you’re heading, learning is something each and every one of us will always benefit from.

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Stephanie Feger

Throughout her life, she’s been in the business of empowering people. She’s empowered her teams to collective success. She’s empowered individuals, groups and organizations to embrace perspective as a tool for deeper satisfaction and personal and professional accomplishments. And she’s empowered authors, small business owners and entrepreneurs with communications and marketing strategies to help them reach their goals.

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