Five learnings from the ABA conference

ABA = Australian Booksellers’ Association – a pretty important group for authors to access.

Thanks to the good offices of my lovely publisher at Odyssey Books and our dynamic distributor Novella, I was able to join the stand at the Sunday afternoon trade exhibition. This is where booksellers meet distributors and publishers. Our task was to interest booksellers (ie the folk who sell books to the reading public) in the books we had on display, so that they would consider stocking Odyssye titles (and titles from other publishers in the Novella stable).

I had a wonderful time and learnt many things about the book trade and about book folk. Here are  five major learnings that could change the way you approach marketing and self-promotion:

1. It’s hard to give away books

Even though all the sample books were free, it is quite difficult to persuade a bookseller that they need to add any specific 500g of brilliance to their luggage for the flight home. They have to be convinced that it’s worth their while. I hadn’t expected this – I mean, put me in a room full of free books and I’ll pay excess baggage any time!

2. About giveaways and gimmicks…

Some of the stands offered all manner of freebies, including champagne, chocolates, cupcakes, pens, notepads, neck massages and canvas bags. The neck massage included a chance to sample an e-book on an iPad. My impression is that the stands with canvas bags gave away most sample books, especially at the start, because folk could put the books in the bag. I wasn’t sure that the other giveaways resulted in more books being taken – but they certainly helped to stop the traffic so that booksellers actually looked at the stand.

3. Being an author counts

I had the best success when I was able to tell the person I had waylaid that the book I was offering had been written by ME (pointing to cover and to name tag so the connection could be made…). Booksellers appeared to be impressed by the fact that I actually had written a book that was being published! Congratulations flowed (more so than the champagne). Giving away review copies of my own soon-to-be-published book was comparatively easy, and indicating that I would be (more than!) happy to visit book stores to do readings/signings created a warm glow that I will definitely follow up 🙂

Being there to sign the actual book also worked for another Novella author who was present, Harrison Craig whose book Harrison’s Song has just been published by Wombat.

4. Folk won’t wait

At other events, I have also experienced this conundrum – either there’s nobody at your stand and you look sad, or else your stand is crowded with people and other potential contacts walk away without a backward glance. This is inevitable at such an occasion, but I wished for an easy (and light-weight) take-away for such people, along the lines of those tear-off contact details you see pinned to notice boards.

5. Books ARE judged by their covers

It’s quite true. Not saying that good books might not dwell inside dodgy covers, but it was definitely the cover art that made folk look at my book. (PS I love the cover art!) Another cover that drew interest on the day was for the children’s book The Whirlpool by Emily Larkin, also published by Wombat. High quality, attractive images that clearly indicate the book’s genre seem to be the way to go.

6. Bonus learning: say YES

OK, I said five learnings, but here’s number six: whenever you are offered a chance to spruik your book, do it! You and your manuscript have already survived the seas of rejection and heartache, so what does it matter if some people think your book is not worth its weight in their suitcases? Someone else will tell you they love the look of it – and just one of those comments is worth any number of ‘no thanks’-es!

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