Selling books is great; making an impression is even better

image By Ned Hickson

Two years ago tomorrow, I attended my first book fair as an author. Today, I’m going to share that experience in a post I’m calling:

Reasons to Hide Liquor Under Your Book Fair Table

Admittedly, it’s very exciting to walk into a room of 50 or so booths with publishers and authors offering their latest releases and services. And when you see your own booth tucked among them, with your book cover on display and a large photo of yourself hanging on the wall behind your table, you can’t help but pause and quietly think: I have arrived as an author and, judging by its size, my nose arrived about an hour before I did. My point is that book fairs are about taking the opportunity to become three-dimensional to readers and making a connection beyond the printed page; it’s about revealing yourself to people in ways that are spontaneous, real and unrehearsed, and giving them an experience they can take with them and talk about with others. This led to another realization almost simultaneously: Why is there no liquor at this thing?

This notion was underscored moments later, when a woman appearing to be in her mid-60s approached my booth and began telling me how much she loved my writing, almost to the point it was becoming a little embarrassing. “I NEVER miss your column!” she declared. “Really — If it wasn’t for your column, I doubt I would even subscribe to the Register-Guard!”

In my mind, I began pouring two fingers into a shot glass. Why?

“Um, I write for Siuslaw News,” I said with an awkward smile. “I think you’re talking about Bob Welch. He’s got a table right over there.”

“…Oh… I see.”

In that moment, if there had been an actual shot glass on the table, I’m pretty sure she would have taken it from me, chugged it, wiped her lips with one of my bookmarks and gone to see Bob Welch. Instead, she stood immobilized and looking for a gracious exit.

“OK, actually I am Bob Welch,” I said. “I killed Ned Hickson and have assumed his identity to expand my writing empire. If you don’t tell anyone, you can help yourself to one of my books over there.” I pointed to Welch’s booth, which was unmanned but stacked with copies of My Oregon, Pebble in the Water and others. “If anyone asks, tell them Bob sent you,” I said, and winked.

The woman who I came to know as Joan, smiled. “So… who did you say you write for again?”

Those words led to my first book sale of the day, and understanding the importance of meeting readers face-to-face, even if yours wasn’t the face they were looking for. During the course of six hours at my booth, I met lots of people who had no idea who I was, many of whom were drawn to my keen marketing strategy…

As you can imagine, the corners went very fast...

As you can imagine, the corners went very fast…

At first, when I saw that some people were definitely unamused by my scone offer, I began to question the wisdom of my marketing strategy. Was it just an act of desperation in order to compete with the zombie book guy across the isle, who had creepy music, flashing lights and a mini fog machine? Oh, and actual BOOKS? As I thought about this, a woman made her way to my booth and looked at my scone and shook her head.

“My husband was just here and told me about your scone,” she said. “We’re visiting from Arizona and our paper doesn’t carry your column. Is it anything like your scone offer?”

“I’d say it’s exactly like my scone offer,” I told her. “The humor in my column is very dry.”

As I sold my next book, I began to see my scone as something more than just a cranberry-flavored marketing tool. It was also a barometer of sorts, instantly gaging people’s sense of humor. Those who didn’t get it because of their own internal high pressure system wouldn’t be happy with the book anyway. In that moment I stopped worrying about who did or didn’t stop by my booth; you can’t be everything to everyone.

At least, not without a mini fog machine.

When it came time to go to the “Authors Reading Area,” where I was supposed to read selected passages from the book, I was encouraged when I saw all the seats were filled! Some folks were even standing in the aisle! This feeling of elation was quickly followed by an even stronger feeling: The urge to vomit.

This wasn’t from fear as much as it was from advice taken from The Brady Bunch regarding talking in front of a crowd, which is to picture everyone in their underwear. This doesn’t work when your mother is in the crowd. So I fixated on my wife instead, which worked well, except that I almost forgot about reading…

Once I stopped thinking about my wife in her underwear (or whatever), things went smoothly at my “Author Reading.”

I eventually got focused and read some of my favorite passages, picking up a few more book sales along the way — including one from the zombie guy, who came up afterward and told me I “knocked them dead.”

High praise, considering the source.

Just imagine what I could do with a fog machine…



(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation and a member of the writing team at Long Awkward Pause. This has been an excerpt from his first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

37 thoughts on “Selling books is great; making an impression is even better

  1. As always, hilarious, Ned, and yet…there IS something to be learned here. I think it might be that one should never be a part of something of this nature without a bit of scone in one’s pocket, or at least a half a Snickers bar. And someday, I’m going to be at one of your book events…just you wait. It’s on my Bucket List, along with a month-long Kilt Admiration Tour of Scotland. (Be afraid, Ned…be VERY afraid! And you brawny lads in Scotland, as well!) 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was a funny blog post, Ned. But at the same time, I can empathize with what you experienced. I guess my sense of humor must be a little crazy, because when I saw the picture of your scone with the offer written underneath it, I started laughing and couldn’t stop. Thanks, I needed a good laugh today.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Selling books is great; making an impression is even better | Ned's Blog

  4. Hello Marcia and Ned,
    For context: I’m reading this while standing in line at a copy store. I busted out laughing enough for my fellow waiters to ask what I was reading.
    You never cease to make me laugh and warm my heart at the same time. Next time you participate in an author event, please let me know. I’ll come for the scone, but stay for a talented, genuine author I’m honored to call my friend!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Ok.. running out right now and buying scones!!! LOL! Great post Ned! I love the part about the woman who thought you were “Bob” wait! Is this really Bob????
    Hey Bob! My friend Ned has written an awesome funny book! I bet it’s better than YOURS!! LOL! ;-P
    It was sweet of Marcia to have you over “Bob” 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cracked up at your marketing ploy. That is exactly the sort of thing I would do. If I was still in the dating arena I would absolutely show that picture to potential mates, if they didn’t get it or found it disgusting then they don’t make the cut. 🙂
    Meanwhile, I am pretty sure that advise of picturing people naked when performing was not supposed to be extended to partners, that is just disract… …
    … what? Oh yeah, good post and stuff, have to run 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well done Ned – selling books to people who have no clue who you are. You’re a natural salesman. I think it was the free bite of scone for every book purchased that put it over the top for sales. Are book fairs like that popular? I must confess I’ve never heard of them, let alone attended. I have been to signings in bookstores and such but never where there were multiple authors competing for sales.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, you must check in your area, Paul. They are so much fun, both to attend, and to have a table set up at. I know down here (central Florida), there are several good ones every year, and authors come from all over, though maybe an extra helping of Florida writers. Google around and see what you can find. They are always worth exploring.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This post made me laugh. Thanks. Someday when we meet at an author event, I’ll tell you the story about my appearance on Good Morning America (It was the Sunday edition, don’t get too excited.) But it was beyond embarrassing and could only have improved with a shot. Or two.

    Liked by 1 person

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