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Selling Your Self-Published Book at a Trade Day/Market (Is It Worth It?)

I’m no expert, but I did self-publish my first book this past fall and am willing to try out different marketing experiences. I’m happy to share the outcomes in the interest of helping other independent creators succeed as well.

This past weekend, I went to a First Monday Trade Day as an experiment. Since publication in September 2020, I’ve mainly relied on social media marketing for my book It’s the Depression for Me: 3 Ways to Make Being a Teen Suck Less. While that has been relatively successful, I’m always looking for ways to improve and become more involved in the local community. Not to mention, it can be easy to get lost in the numbers and lose sight of the real people your book is impacting.

Going to a market was just the experience I was looking for and I learned so much in just three days! In this blog post, I’ll share everything I learned. This is perfect for anyone who is thinking about becoming an author or who has already published and is looking for ways to get the word out about their book.

First things first, before you consider doing any marketing, in-person or virtual, you need to know your audience. Know who your book was written for and who it will appeal to. Understand your prospective reader’s pains, obstacles, and desired solutions. You can talk about how good your book is all day long, but if you don’t connect it to what your reader is looking for, you’ll have very little success. In my opinion, market research is way more important than booth setup, so that’s what most of my insights are on. Though there definitely is an art to booth setup, I’m not well versed in that quite yet. I tried out a few different setups with my limited time and budget.

Day 1 vs Day 2

My book, It’s the Depression for Me, is written for the modern teen to help them gain self-esteem, confidence, and honestly just navigate life. Going to a trade day, I knew I would be more likely to run into parents than middle and high schoolers. Before even stepping foot on the event grounds, I made sure to have an idea of what parents may have gone through in the past year. Knowing how much young people have been struggling with loneliness and hopelessness, I knew parents must be hurting right there with their children.

With that in mind, I was able to have meaningful and sincere conversations with anyone who stopped by my booth. When meeting someone new, whether you have a product to offer or not, it should never be all about you, but rather about the person standing in front of you.

The best part of this weekend was all the people I met and the conversations we shared together. Though many of their stories were heavy, they were craving to be heard and understood. I could share with them about all I am doing to help solve the issues they are facing with their teens. When someone sees that you have the same goals as they do and they feel understood by you, they are more likely to invest in your good work.

If you wrote a book with the intent of making some extra money, I’m not sure I can help you. I’m not in the business of selling something just for the sake of it. Rather, I’m proud to represent my book because it is literally changing lives. And I’m not saying that because I think it will, I only stand by that statement because of the thousands of messages I have received from teens around the world sharing how much that book changed them.

Essentially, if you know who your customer is, you have a great product, and you genuinely care about understanding people, the selling of your books will come naturally. They might not be flying off the shelves, but they will be landing in the right hands. If you’re looking to make some extra cash at a trade day, do not sell books. They definitely are not the most popular item and there are many other options you should consider.

A few takeaways I learned from this weekend:

1. Your book won’t speak for itself

Even if you think your cover and title are the most brilliantly designed, people walking by will still have no idea what the book is about. You have to have extra signage, and most importantly be willing to speak on the benefits someone would get from reading your book, not just about its contents.

2. People don’t know they need your book, but you know they do

Most people don’t go to farmers markets or trade days for books, that shouldn’t be a surprise to you. But that doesn’t mean people don’t need your book. It’s your job to find the people who do need it (not everyone will.) Only after listening to what someone is struggling with will you be able to gauge if they need your book. If their pains and your solution align, go for the sale.

Share with them how your book will help them solve their problem. It’s not about you putting an extra $15 in your pocket, it’s about helping this person get what they are looking for. If someone clearly does not need your book, whether they are the wrong demographic or they just don’t understand your point of view, don’t sell it to them. If you can point them in the right direction of something better, do so; if not, let them go.

Your job as the author or representative of the book is to assess what someone needs and to help them get it. If what they need is in your book, then it’s a win-win.

3. Things will go wrong and that's okay

I anticipated this going into the weekend, but it’s something everyone needs to be reminded of. When trying something for the first time, you won’t be perfect and mistakes will happen. No one could stop at your booth and you might not have a single sale. That’s okay. The important part of all this is to learn quickly. Be willing to try new techniques and fail fast. For example, when no one was stopping at my table, I decided to go out and find people to give my books to. On the third day, I even tried setting up a make-your-own-vision-board station to draw people in. Be willing to change your price and alter your technique in an instant. The fastest way to learn and improve is to fail and then try again.

4. Focus on the connections, not the sales

The people you meet are the most important part of any event like this. Not because they have something that will benefit you, but because you can genuinely get to know so many unique people. Everyone has a story to share, so let them share it with you-- it makes life so much more colorful! And you may even make some awesome connections with people who believe in your mission and are willing to help. This is way more valuable than any book sale.

Is going to a trade day or farmers market worth it for self-published authors?

If your goal is to get some exposure and meet others in the community, then yes. If your goal is to sell a large volume of books, probably not. I would recommend TikTok for that instead. Granted, if I were to go to 5-10 more trade shows, I may have a different opinion, as I could have perfected the art of selling books in this environment. Stay tuned.

Above all, have realistic expectations. Or no expectations really. If you set an unrealistic goal for how many books you want to sell, then you will be disappointed. But if you go into the day open to whatever God has in store for you, then you will be more mindful of awesome moments you otherwise would have missed. Overall, I would do a trade day like this again, but I’m definitely not rushing to get out there every weekend. If I have a workshop to promote in the area, have a sponsor to give out free books, or have other products to sell in addition to the book, then I will definitely find another trade day to go to! Until then, I’ll be continuing marketing on social media and trying out more unique marketing for self-published books!

Thanks for reading, comment below if you have any questions or ideas of future marketing strategies you’d like me to try.

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