Selling eBooks at Book Fairs

physical ebook1
Click to enlarge images.

Most of us, I think, participate in as many book fairs in our local area as we can. I’ve written before about how to make the most of a book fair appearance, but recently I’ve forayed into new (to me) territory. I decided to have some eBooks on hand to sell.

How the heck do you sell an eBook in person?

I considered a few things. First of all, I wanted a physical product to hand to a customer. Taking their money and then just emailing something or sending it over in any number of wireless ways just seemed… less personal. I wanted a real product that was stylish, easy to understand and upload, and of course a great book. I thought about using inexpensive thumb drives, but even the cheapest ones added more overhead than I cared to absorb, so I finally settled on mini-DVD discs. These come in spindles at about $0.50 each. My total package (see photo above) includes:

1.       A clear gusseted bag;

2.       A card-stock information sheet, printed on both sides with information about the book and contents of the discs. I printed three of these per sheet, then cut them apart, so they ended up being 8.5” by roughly 3.5”;

3.       A “topper” that I folded over the top of the bag to close it up. I stapled it on each side;

4.       The mini-DVDs, with printed labels;

5.       Clear, silicone hubs with sticky backs to hold the DVD in place.

physical ebook2The assembly was pretty easy; I printed up the card-stock info sheets, cut them apart and then stuck a hub in the space I’d reserved for that (over my logo). I burned multiple files to each mini-DVD: my books (I included a 2-book set in this particular product) as both mobi files and as pdf files, plus a read-me file that explained the files and how to upload the books. I printed labels for the discs, applied those and then fixed the discs on the hubs so they wouldn’t float around in the bag and possibly get scratched. Then everything went into the bag, and I closed it up with the topper and it was ready to go.

One thing that I paid particular attention to was the instruction for uploading. Not everyone is computer savvy, so I wanted to make sure that once my customers got their prize home, they would have no trouble figuring out how to get the book onto their eReaders. I’d hate to have a customer struggle to figure out how to do that, and then possibly end up frustrated and even unable to read the book. I of course include contact information on the card, but hope that if they do contact me, it’s for a good reason and not a bad one.

Something else to keep in mind is exclusivity. If you, like many of us, have your eBooks in Amazon’s KDP Select, that’s an exclusive agreement that your eBook won’t be available or sold anywhere else but on Amazon. My books were in Select, so I first went into my dashboard and unchecked the automatic renewal for each of them. They had a month or two to go on the 90-day period, but I did this far enough in advance that by the time my book fair dates came around, the books were no longer enrolled in Select. Some writers might wonder how Amazon would ever find out they were selling their eBooks like this, but I decided to go the safe route just to avoid any conflicts. I can always re-enroll my books in Select after the book fair season is over.

Why go to all this trouble? I want to be able to offer my customers a variety of products. I’ve had a few customers inquire about the price of paperbacks, only to hesitate because they didn’t have the cash or were short on funds at the moment. I then, of course, let them know that the eBooks are available at a lesser price on Amazon, but who knows (1) if they will remember that when they get home or (2) if they will buy them. The old saw out of sight, out of mind comes into play here, and we know the best time to make a sale is when the customers are holding the books in their hands. This way, I am able to cover all contingencies at the very moment that the reader decides to buy a book, whatever the form.

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

10 thoughts on “Selling eBooks at Book Fairs”

  1. When I launch a new book I always sell paper versions but this a great idea to add to my table for those who prefer e-books. How did you go about getting someone to produce the cd’s?

  2. Interesting marketing strategy, Melissa. I wonder: how was the turnout at the fair? What kind of marketing did the sponsors do in the days leading up to the fair. Is this fair an annual event and one well known in your community?

    I ask because a week ago, my wife and I participated in an Author’s Day/Book Fair sponsored by the Bucks County (PA) Free Library in Doylestown. To say our experience (and perhaps many of the 80 other authors present) was a disappointment is an understatement. From what we could see, and from what I learned later talking to librarians in the county’s public schools, there was virtually no marketing performed to alert library patrons and others to the fair. Needless to say, we will not participate in future events sponsored by this body.

    BTW, you’re correct regarding KDP. Some years ago I received a note from them regarding a pdf of a novel I had neglected to remove from one book seller’s site. But Amazon was fair about it, and they did give me time to remove the book from sale there, something that took but a few seconds. Today, I only sell eBooks through Amazon. Further, I find running discount sales using ENT (eReader News Today) my most profitable way of selling books.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Theodore. This book fair is a yearly event, and gets better every year. It’s put on by a local library and they do their level best to get the word out. The fair was only 3 hours long (9am to noon), but we had a good turnout, over 300 people by rough count. I sold 9 books, so that’s a book every 20 minutes, leaving time in between to chat up the people. I call that a success. I think advertising is crucial, as you’ve noticed. Next time you see a call for a book fair, ask them how they’re advertising, and what you can do to get the word out. In my small area, I will sometimes send an e-mail to my buddy at the newspaper and nudge him to make sure an event appears in the online calendar and the print copy of the paper. Sometimes these things start small, but build year after year. Good luck!

  4. What about having a laptop with a large screen set up beside your table that plays a short video about your book on a continuous loop? While CDs or DVDs may be cheaper now than in years past, it’s still somewhat cumbersome to lug a stack of them into an area. If you have a link to your web site, you can offer to send that to people via email or text, which then will provide instructions on accessing your book. After reading a brief synopsis (which you’d already have provided to them while still at the book fair, both verbally and in the video promo), they can then decide to buy the book and will have various download options. I still like the tangible feel of a book, so I don’t have an E-Reader.

    You’re definitely right about the human interaction, Melissa. Most people still like to communicate with others either in person or phone. But, as the literary market is changing, writers obviously have to change along with it. That doesn’t mean they can’t interject the personal aspect into the process.

    1. Alejandro, I think there are many ways we could display our books for our readers, and you’ve hit on a good one; the only issue I see is that people are bombarded with posters and banners and displays, and I’m not sure how many might take the time to watch a video loop. When I used to attend the Tucson Festival of Books with over 100,000 people, just getting people to stop was a challenge.
      As for the task of lugging DVDS, in the packages I made up, they took up no more room than a book (actually less), so it was no problem to bring a supply along with my books. And again, I think it’s much more satisfying to people to buy something and be handed a physical product. There’s just something lacking (to my mind) in a transaction where I say, check your e-mail, after I take their money. But, as we’re pointing out here, there are many ways to present and market our books. It’s good that we’re thinking of new ways to do this. The more, the better!

  5. Really good idea, thank you. I’ve been using my computer and a poster with a special price and a coupon number from Smashwords and my writer’s card with the coupon info to give to people. not good at burning CDs but will ask family’s experts!

    1. Burning CDs or DVDs is really easy, and you may not need any extra software; most computers come with some method built-in. But yes, ask friends and family who have done it; I’ll bet you’ll be burning in just a few minutes. Good luck!

  6. Love this idea, Melissa. I’ve got a fair scheduled this weekend, so it’s nothing I can pull off anytime soon, but it’s something I’m going to keep filed for reference. Can you talk about the vendors you used either here or in another post? (I’m a firm believer in not reinventing the wheel!)

    1. Thanks, Bob. Right, this takes a bit of time just to get it all organized, but once it’s done, you’re good to go! I bought the mini-DVDs, the clear rubber hubs and the gusseted bags from a local service publisher in my area, but I believe she got them all from Uline. I did find similar things on Amazon, of course. Uline may carry more bulk quantities than you need, but check them out. I figured up my cost, and it was something like a couple bucks. Not bad at all. Good luck!

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