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Tips for Trade Show & Convention Booth Success

Thanks to our membership in the Independent Book Publishers Association, we can afford for Be a Better Writer to have a presence at all the major book shows and book-related conventions. We did the Book Expo last year, which was OK, but we ultimately decided the return we got wasn't worth the effort. We won't go again unless it's in a city where we have other business and, potentially, free accommodations! Our advisors at IBPA suggested  the American Library Association's convention might be a better fit, so we checked it out with some librarian friends and decided it was worth a try. It didn't hurt that this year's event was in New Orleans, where I've got family, so I could loop the trip into a visit and "house sit" for a family friend who was out of town.

How to Generate Trade Show Traffic and Market Your Book (or anything else)

Even with the low cost of exhibiting and a free place to stay, the convention was only less expensive, not "cheap". So we needed to eke the most out of our appearance.

Book Marketing: Pre-Event Activities

Here's what we did before the getting feet on the ground:

  1. The Word Factory's Margot Lester in front of a sign promoting her appearance at the ALA Convention, June 1028Sign up for meet-the-author appearances/book signings for each of the most populated show days. I scheduled mine during break times to benefit from higher foot traffic. IBPA promoted the heck out of these events, socially and via signage along a well-traveled aisle.
  2. Use the app to find people from North Carolina (where I'm from and where we live), Washington State (where Steve is from) and Louisiana (where we have family). I sent a personalized message within the app to about 25 people inviting them to stop by the booth during one of my appearances, or to let me know to save them a signed copy. I also looked for anyone representing a grade school and sent them a similar offer. About half the folks I reached out to wrote back saying they would stop by (all of them did), and a few more came by without notice.
  3. Leverage the #alaac hashtag to get our social promotion noticed. I created posts about our prep ("ordered books for our signings!", "reserved my flights", "using the app to choose sessions") and to announce my meet-the-author dates and times. We got a bunch of likes and RTs from that activity, and a few folks who came by the booth said they'd heard about us on Twitter.
  4. Be a Better Writer Bookmark and Promo CardCreate promotional materials to get people to the booth. We have promotional postcards and bookmarks featuring quotes about the book from a librarian, a teacher, a parent and a young writer. We intentionally designed them with space for a sticker promoting an award or, for the convention, the times of our signings.  These materials are also great for people to take back to decision-makers.
  5. Provide light-weight give-aways, which is critically important at book shows for a few reasons: a) books are heavy and some people are so weighed down when they get to you that they really don't want a book; b) you need a branded take-away for the main table for people who stop by the booth when you're not there; c) maybe you get lucky and give out all your books before you're signing time is up. I repurposed a set of integrated literacy strategies that work for both reading and writing that we'd created for schools which did double duty promoting the book and Steve's consulting business.
  6. The Word Factory's Margot Lester and her niece, Ella Murphy, at the ALA Convention, June 2018Line up booth help from my niece, Ella, who helped distribute promotional materials, assisted me with signings, and took photos for social media posting. She also was a great draw since there aren't many kids at the ALA Convention, so people liked stopping to talk to her!

Conventions & Expos: Promoting On Site

I did a few things at the show to market the book and bring traffic to the booth and my signings:

  1. Work the booth. I was at the booth for about an hour before each of my signings, promoting my own title, of course, and directing people looking for something else to books elsewhere in the booth. This created a good opportunity to hand out promotional materials to passersby and invite them back to the signings to get their own copy. It didn't hurt that we were around the corner and across the aisle from two very popular imprints who had long lines for their meet-the-authors. I was successfully able to soft-poach those folks in the queue, to have great conversations about kids and writing and marketing to librarians, sign a few books, and build our email list for follow-up and review copies of upcoming titles.
  2. Attend sessions and socials. I signed up for some sessions and made sure to attend social, networking and special interest group events. I went to each armed with our promotional materials, handing them out instead of business cards, and left a few on seats in every session and on break tables.
  3. Deploy social media. We scheduled some canned tweets promoting that day's signing, and made live tweets and Instagrams from the booth. IBPA staff amplified our social posts and created some originals of their own. I also invited anyone who wanted a picture with me to share on their own accounts and got permission to share on mine. Here's a favorite:

Margot Lester with young writers at the ALA Convention, June 2018

The strategies worked and I had nothing left to bring home, and not because I trashed anything or created a fire-sale environment. I brought 75 books, and had only 5 left for my final signing, along with just enough integrated literacy handouts and promotional items to last the duration of my appearance.

For us, the event was a win. I gathered a ton of customer intelligence on marketing tactics and new product/service ideas. I got lots of qualified leads for reviewers and buyers from business cards I collected and the badge scans. Financially, we saw the highest weekly sales since our launch week in the the 7 days during and after the show and had higher than average sales for the next week!

While we used these strategies to promote our book, many of these principles apply no matter what you're selling at what kind of trade show or expo.

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