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How to Sell More Books: In Person and at Events

How to Stand out from the Crowd and Make an Impression


Selling in Person – Even if You’re an Introvert and Have No Idea Where to Start

As authors in the twenty-first century (most of us, anyway) our focus is almost always online. But what about in-person options?

While it’s never been easier to grow an audience and connect with thousands of readers via email, social media, and other internet-y things – it’s often those “personal touches” that can only come from personal interactions which really set you apart.

That being said, how exactly do you go about bringing in new readers in person? Is it something that can work?

Joseph Cillo Jr. says “definitely”. And, despite not initially feeling comfortable standing up in front of crowds, he’s got a great process for getting noticed at large events (so he can sell books, grow an email list, and boost his exposure).

If you’ve ever done live readings, gone to conferences, or even had a stall set up at a book event, this article will ring a lot of familiar bells. And if you’ve ever considered setting up shop and meeting some new fans, Joseph’s got you covered.

And while he refers specifically to Comic Conventions, you can use these tips for any live event, with any size audience.

Take it away, Joseph…



Bam! Promote Your Books At Comic Cons!

Even if your book is not a comic book…

By Joseph Cillo Jr.


Just having a little fun with the BP artwork…


Totally by accident, and with little forethought, my writing adventure has taken me into the world of comic books and graphic novels, but for me, it started with a challenge from a Hollywood producer. Yes, one of those guys, who said in an interview something along the lines of, “If you don’t like the movies you are seeing, you should write your own…”

So, I wrote a screenplay (well actually, I wrote three), then realized it is almost impossible to get a movie made the way you envisioned it, if you can get it made at all.

So, I soon found myself looking for other ways to tell the stories I had written, which led me into the graphic novel writing business, and the novel writing business, and ultimately, the blog writing business to promote the new category of works I seemed to be creating.

Basically, since I had written a comedy, Carlton St. Michael In The Afterlife, a classical tragedy masquerading as a thriller, When The Wood Is Dry, and a supernatural thriller, Blind Prophet, I found the uniting factors in my work to be that they were not appropriate for the whole family, yet contained overtly Catholic religious content, and I call that “Edgy Catholic.”

Just a quick plug, on that one. You can check out my blog at Oh, and you don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy these stories, which is kind of the point in making them “edgy.” But if you are Catholic, you won’t have your beliefs assaulted, and may feel quite at home with the content, even though it is a bit edgy.



So, I am a bit of a creative sojourner, jumping from genre to genre and media to media, trying to tell stories that I would like to hear, which I plainly do not advise as a publishing strategy, but I did in the process learn a bit about selling and promoting books at Comic Cons…

It was a dark and stormy night [ed. Nick: LOL writer humour], when first I began my venture into transforming my supernatural thriller screenplay, Blind Prophet, into a graphic novel. Actually, that is a lot of rubbish. I have no idea what the weather was like, or even if it was at night. But I do remember it took too darn long to illustrate, so I decided to roll it out in episodes, which would help me to develop a marketing strategy, and led me into creating comic books.

Having hopped, skipped and jumped into comic book publishing before knowing anything about how to market a comic book, or graphic novel, or, well, just about anything else, I ventured into the Comic Cons as a venue to sell my books.

But, I found many traditional authors selling their pictureless fantasy, horror, and science fiction novels alongside my comic books (Blind Prophet, Episodes1 thru 4, and the Blind Prophet, Part 1 collection of episodes 1 thru 4).  So, if you are a writer in a genre that may have fans at Comic Cons, you may want to jump in.  If you have written a nonfiction book on how to repair antique cars, however, a Comic Con is not likely the best venue.

I learned a great deal by watching other writers sell their books, and incorporated what I learned into my strategy. Some things I saw really were not for me. Others, I made my own. And, I come up with one or two more on my own.

Many of the underlying concepts that I have adopted are resonant with the tactics Nick talks about in his “Your First 10,000 readers course,” except that they are real-time, in-person interactions, rather than online, internet and email strategies.

The basic concept of building trust, of giving something of value first, engaging the prospect in a conversation leading to a possible sale, and then introducing some urgency to try to close the sale.

But rather than this being about me, and my story, I would like to focus on giving you some guidelines, some lessons learned, and peppering it with a few anecdotes of things that I have done or tried. I have not been terribly disciplined about keeping records of how well each strategy does, but I will share my impressions and a few numbers.

And remember – these tips will help you wherever you have opportunities for in-person events (like book readings, conferences, book fairs, or similar).

Here are some things to think about:


Try to Keep Costs Down

If you are just starting, get the cheapest table you can find.  Typically, these will be in “Artist Alley,” and will have a limitation that you can only sell your own creations.  Some Cons only allow “drawing artists” in Artist Alley, so be sure to check.

I was able to get an artist table once at one of theses show even though I was not “drawing artist,” so if there are tables available, they may not enforce that rule. I would not pay extra for a prime location, or anything like that.

Often, you can share a table with another author, if you know someone else interested in selling books at the Con.  That’s a good way to keep costs down.  If you only have a book or two, half a table is plenty of space.

Check with the Con to make sure it is okay, since they all have different rules.  At larger Cons, it may be over $300 for a table.  Smaller, local events will be less, and some very small comic book shows will allow creators for free.  If you are stressing about breaking even, think of the cost as an advertising and promotional cost which any sales revenue will offset.

Just try to have fun, and look at it as an opportunity to talk to lots of people about your book. If you optimize your sales strategy, you may approach or exceed break-even, but you are not likely to get rich.

Anecdote: At my first major show, I paid $300 for a table, and had only one comic book to sell. I sold 75 copies at $4 each, and grossed $300, which I considered a respectable showing, given I had no idea what I was doing. One thing I did right was that I had one item to sell, so there were few distractions.

Basically, my approach on this one was just to try to get eye contact, then say something like, “Would you like to check out my comic book?” This was a show in Richmond, Virginia, and I have found that the religious symbolism in my work is more attractive the further south I go in the US.



Ways to Maximize Sales

Unless you are already a very successful author, no one is coming to the Comic Con to see you and talk to you about your book.  Few people go to Cons looking for unknown writers to talk to, or even to find a new and interesting book.

Mostly, they are looking for autographs from celebrities, or artwork from artists they know, or fan art of characters they know. You will need to draw their attention from all those other shiny things and get them to take a look at your new, unproven, what-ever-it-is.  Generally, if you sit quietly at your table, few people will take the first step to approach you.

If you sit at your table busily working on your next book, even fewer will want to interrupt you. Many artists miss opportunities to talk about their work, as they busily work on drawing their next project.  If you want to gain attention, there are some strategies to consider that you can tailor to personal style:

1. Have a one-sentence pitch that sums up your book.  

The shorter, the better.  E.g., “it’s about a high school football coach who is a serial killer,” or, “it’s a new take on Cinderella, where the fairy godmother is actually a wicked witch,” or, the one I use for Blind Prophet that is on the long side, “It’s about a kid born blind and autistic, who undergoes an experimental procedure that gives him the power to see demons and angels.”  Don’t get bogged down in details.

Your plot may be intricate, but don’t confuse people with it. Hit on the concepts, and don’t dive into a story summary.  Let them discover the intricacies after they buy it.

So what you don’t want is a long synopsis like, “It’s about this young, ugly girl with two beautiful step-sisters, who wants to go to the ball to meet the prince, who is actually a demon, but they won’t let her go, until her fairy godmother, who actually is a wicked witch casts a spell on the step-sisters, who then become even uglier than the ugly girl, and the wicked witch turns this ugly old pumpkin into a black corvette stingray, and Cinderugly gets to the ball, where she loses her converse all-stars high top sneaker, and the…” Ugh!

If you can get it to one sentence without any commas, that is best, but do try to work in anything that may have special appeal.  That’s why I like to mention my character is blind and autistic, and the experiment, which makes it science fiction, not just supernatural, which probably makes my one sentence description a little longer than optimal.


Don’t be this guy!


Also, don’t be afraid of comparing your work with works that people will know. Saying something like, “It’s a cross between Constantine and Daredevil,” for example, for my Blind Prophet story works because Constantine is a supernatural story, and Daredevil is about a character who is blind, and even more aptly, Catholic.

A prospective customer came up with that comparison for me. That’s part of the fun of talking with customers. So, listen to what people say. They often have valuable insights, even if they don’t buy.

Anecdote: I did an interview with a blogger, and he asked if my story was like any movies I had seen. He caught me by surprise with this question, because, well, yes, I know there are some similarities to existing movies and I would rather people just figure that out.

If you wanted to consider movies that are like my Blind Prophet story, likely you would come up with the Sixth Sense, a child seeing into a supernatural world, and the Dead Zone, a prophetic vision of a dark future in Washington, DC. A literary reference would be The Screwtape Letters. I really did not want to volunteer any comparisons, so I kind of avoided answering the question.

But, people who like the Sixth Sense, The Dead Zone and The Screwtape Letters are the people who will like my story. So, looking back, I really should have owned the comparison. In fact, more comparisons are probably better. So, I could fully own the influences and say that Blind Prophet is like a blend of the Sixth Sense, The Dead Zone and The Screwtape Letters. Fans of any of these works would likely enjoy my story, and fans of all three would really like it!



2. Make some noise!

If you have a more aggressive personality, the best thing is to stand in front of your table, and put your book directly in the hands of people as they pass by saying something like, “Today, we’re talking about my book,  It’s a new take on the Cinderella story where the fairy godmother is actually a wicked witch.”

This strategy is most effective with comic books, since people can leaf through the book and check out the artwork.  Check the rules for vendors at the Comic Con, though, since some will not allow you to be in front of the table.  This aggressive strategy is the most effective I have seen, but for me, I’m just not that kind of guy.

Anecdote: When I first saw a guy using this strategy, I thought I might try it, but it would have been really awkward if we were both standing out in front of our tables which were only a short distance away. I tried this at a different Comic Con, but I just could not get comfortable being that aggressive.



3. Draw people in with an irresistible offer

For the less sales-oriented personality, like me, or perhaps for traditional books where the quality of the work is harder to evaluate by glancing through the pages, try a subtler approach, an approach more like the “Reader Magnet” approach, except you probably don’t have a free print book to give away. Bytes are cheap. Paper and ink, less so. But you can make your first move a “giving” move.

Stand, do not sit, behind the table, and offer something for free.  If you are standing, you meet people at eye-level.  If you are offering something for free, you are always inviting.  Bookmarks are great for this, because they cost next to nothing to print, and they actually have a purpose related to books, and you can get a lot of good info about your book onto a bookmark.

Your opening to people passing by is to offer something free.  You’re not just shoving the book into their hands and jumping into a pitch.

If they accept the freebie, ask them if they like your genre of fiction.  Most people will feel obligated to listen to you a bit, if they accepted something for free.

Perhaps, offer them a copy of the first page of your book or some other 1-page excerpt, as you start telling them about it.  I saw one fantasy author do this very well, having a basket filled with the first page of her book folded in thirds and tied with a ribbon.   The approach goes something like this:


“Hi, free bookmark?” You can either invite them to take one off the table, or hand it to them.

“Sure,” often, they will take the freebie and turn to walk away.  Just keep talking if they do.  Most times they will turn back.

“Do you like fantasy novels?”

“I guess?”  Doesn’t matter much what they say, even if they say they hate fantasy novels.

“Here’s a copy of the first page of my book, “Cinderugly.”  It’s a new take on Cinderella where the fairy godmother is actually a wicked witch.”


If you have gotten this far, you will likely have a conversation that has a good chance of ending in a sale, or perhaps a referral, and at minimum, you’ve gotten two promotional items into their hands.  If they ask what the price is, that’s usually good news.

If they don’t ask, make sure you tell them the retail price, then the Comic Con price. Yes, you will want to have a special discounted price, and I would advise setting it at a level where you are comfortable dropping it further. You should post the regular price, and the discounted price, but you also need to tell them. Don’t expect that they will read your signs, but be sure to be consistent with what is posted.

Often, they may say they need to think about it, or they want to check other things out. Typically, this is a polite way for them to say “no.”  You have little to lose by trying something more to get them to buy.  I typically drop the price below the Comic Con discounted price, to something really convenient.  Something like this:


“The retail price is $15.99, but here at the Comic Con we’re selling them for just $12, and I’ll sign it for you!”

“Well, we want to make sure we check everything out before we buy anything.”

“If you buy it right now, I’ll give it to you for 10 bucks.”


Some percentage will go for it, at this point.  If they walk away, only a few will ever come back after thinking about it.  If they leave, they will find the Spider-Man or Batman sure thing to spend their money on rather than your perhaps really great new book they never heard of, even if they will be getting a signed copy at no extra charge.

Oh, I would not charge for a signature, unless your signature actually is worth something more than just an added incentive for them to buy. Mine isn’t.  So, I always offer to sign the book, to help them to decide to buy.


Blind Prophet Bookmarks: I get these printed by the thousands and hand them out to anyone who will take one…


I have attempted to gather statistics on this technique, but I find the environment is too chaotic, and the stats are less important than making sales and talking with people. My feeling is that the dropping of price to close the sale at the end works maybe one-third of the time. Occasionally, it does seem to annoy people who do not want to buy. But, likely they would never be buyers, and you probably will not see them, again.

Anecdote: I like to use this technique to help close the sale, but I often feel a bit guilty about not giving my best customers the best deal. So, I try to drop the price early if I think they will buy at the Comic Con price, and typically I just tell them, “Make it $10” when they take their money out to pay. A few times, people have refused to pay the lower price, and insisted on paying $12. I’m not a haggler at heart, and I like giving everybody the best price.



4. Have one book that you are pushing.  

The more items, the more distractions.  One of the best comic book sales people I have ever seen simply lays his product out on the table, and gives a promotional card away.  He has no banners, no knickknacks, no posters, no tee shirts.  He typically says things to me like, “I only sold 135.  My goal was 200.”  The most I ever sold at a 3-day event was 112 copies of my graphic novel.  At the event where he sold 135, I think I sold a disappointing 35.

Anecdote: In my initial foray into the comic con artist alley I sold 75 copies. I had a banner and one book, and a poster of the cover. I did sell a poster or two, but don’t bother with that kind of item, unless you have some prestigious artist or something who did your cover. Just focus on the book you want to sell.

I later tried having postcards of the various panels made, which helped to show some of the artwork in the book, but I do not believe it increased sales, and I have seen people with much simpler approaches sell more than me, so if you like doing these extras you can, but they really are not likely to increase your success, and it confuses things a bit. I now use the postcards as display items, but I don’t try to sell them.

5. Upsell!

It is a great idea to have some extras to sell, but I would not bother in the beginning.  Don’t invest in a lot of inventory unless you plan to do lots of Cons.  Sometimes, people will want to buy more just to support you.  I have seen one fantasy author who sells a “swag-bag” with small items related to her book for an incremental price.

This is totally optional.  If you have more than 1 book, push one, then offer a deal on a bundle.  You certainly can add a “do you want fries with that” element to your approach.

Anecdote: One time when it paid for me to have a lot of the extras displayed for sale was at the a Comic Con in Atlantic City, New Jersey. A woman who liked the message of my story, basically just bought everything I had to sell. She bought a copy of every post card, poster and comic book.



Promote your Appearance at the Con and have Fun!

Think of your time at a Comic Con as a promotional event. Promote it to fans and potential fans, and media contacts, if you have them.  It is a reason to talk about your book.

Smile, and have fun, even if sales are light, or foot traffic low.  People typically will buy, if they like you.  If you are sitting behind your table grumbling about how you are never going to make enough to pay for the table, no one is going to want to buy from you.

There are many reasons for a lousy attendance at a comic con, or for there to be a lack of buyers. It’s a bit of a gamble. The promoters have to balance what to spend on, in terms of paying celebrities to appear, for example, and what to charge for admission.

The comic book crowd is a little fickle, so some comic cons come in and out of favor.

Grumbling about lousy attendance or sales doesn’t help anything, so if these things happen, take note and consider whether you want to attend the con next time.

Anecdote: I attended a Comic Con in Pittsburgh which was particularly bad, where one of my fellow artists was complaining that the promoters spent too much on celebrities, and charged so much for admission and celebrity autographs, that no one had money left to spend in artist alley.

I went to another in New Jersey where they had virtually no celebrities other than comic book artists and cosplayers, and, well, they also had virtually no foot traffic. The promoters of the lousy Pittsburgh con threw in the towel and did not have it the next year. A fellow artist of mine told me he won’t be coming back to the one in New Jersey that was not well-attended.



To Dress Up or Not to Dress Up?

Comic Cons are fun places, where people dress up as their favorite characters.  If you have extraordinary characters, consider dressing like one.  Or, have a friend dress up, and wander around directing people to your table.  Don’t poach other vendors’ customers, however.  I have had people do this to me, and it is really annoying.

If someone is talking with another vendor, make sure they have concluded before approaching them.  On a slow day, you may manage to get some free press by dressing like your character.

Whatever you can do to get more attention, and not frighten people away is worth a try.  You will likely want to dress like a positive character.

If you are dressed in a way that scares people, you may frighten away more than you attract, even if you are dressed like a really cool-looking villain. Dressing up is totally optional, so if you are at all uncomfortable with it, don’t bother.

Anecdote: I tried dressing like a character with a snake around my neck, but it seemed to scare people, so I stopped.  I sometimes dress like an angel, with much better results. I tried to gauge how effective it is to where a costume. Since religious themes can be a bit divisive, I don’t bother unless traffic is low. I think about as many are turned off as are turned on by the angel costume, but you do get some people who really like it.

The reason to do it on a low-traffic day is that you may attract more of the few people there. You may also attract press, podcasters or bloggers, which can give you some attention and make up a bit for the slow sales. I have had people ask to take my picture when I am in costume, not so much when I’m not, though occasionally, a buyer will want a picture with the author, and the book they purchased.


Don’t Dress up like this guy! You’ll scare people.


Be Smart with Merch…

Don’t get too wrapped up in fancy displays or lots of derivative items to sell.  If you like, invest in a banner, but make sure it is a quality design.  At Comic Cons, professional artists are all around with high quality artwork.  Vistaprint often has deals on printing banners.

You often can get up to 50% off on a regular price of $24.  The stand would be about $75, regular price.  A banner is totally optional, but the less aggressive you are in meeting people, the more important is your display.  You have to do something to distract people from all the wonderful things the other creators are displaying.

Anecdote: I went all in on the banners, and have three of them, the Episode 1 cover, the Episode 3 cover, and the Part 1 cover. I have had people tell me that they were attracted by the banners. But, as I have mentioned, the guy who always outsells me just lays the books out on the table. Generally, the more comfortable you are in approaching people, the less you need to do to try to draw them in.


Blind Prophet Table setup – You don’t need any of this extra stuff…


Build That Email List!

Have a way to collect email addresses, especially if you plan future book releases.  You should especially encourage buyers to sign up, but you may get other people to sign up who have blown their budget on autographs or whatever.

Remember, people don’t have infinite resources, and they pay admission just to get into the Con, and may blow a lot of money on all the other wonderful stuff.

Your book to them is likely unproven, so understand that not having money is a legitimate concern.

So, give people a way express support that doesn’t cost anything, like signing up on your email list.

Anecdote: I had a women buy my book and tell me that one of her kids would not be getting a pretzel.  I also prepared copies of Blind Prophet, Episode 1: A Prophet Is Born with a sticker that says, “Free Comic Book, Never Throw It Away! Give It To Someone Who Will Like It.” If someone really seems to like my concept, but just doesn’t have the money to buy, I offer them one of these, but I tell them they have to agree to share it with a friend, not just keep it for themselves.


I put these stickers on Episode 1 and give it to people with no money


If podcasters offer an interview, do the interview and offer a free copy of your book. The nicer you are, the more favorable they are likely to be.  Remember, a primary concern is promotion, which justifies your presence even if you don’t sell enough books to cover costs.

Anecdote: I have done several interviews with podcasters and bloggers right at my table at a Comic Con. Sometimes, the audio is just terrible, however. I had one podcaster come back at a later Con and redo the interview, since the audio was so bad the first try. In the second try, I was dressed in my guardian angel costume.



Final Remarks

The most important thing at a comic con is to have fun!  It is a bit of a chore standing all day talking to people about your book, but it is also a fun way to meet real people who may become fans of your work.  We do so much these days remotely and online. It really is a great experience to talk with real people.

So that’s my two-cents-worth on how to promote and sell books at a Comic Con. I hope you will find the advice helpful, and the anecdotes entertaining, and not too self-indulgent. If you write more in the horror genre, I have also found even better success at Horror Cons.

The Horror Cons typically cater to a more specifically adult audience, and are more open to supernatural concepts then the general comic book audience. Even if you are writing science fiction, the horror cons may work well for you. There are not as many Horror Cons, though.

In all, I have sold 777 copies of my 112 page graphic novel, Blind Prophet, Part 1 in about a year and a half, with only a small number of copies sold outside of Comic Cons and Horror Cons. I have also sold 353 of the comic book sized Blind Prophet, Episode 1: A Prophet Is Born.

As expected, the sales of Part 1 have cannibalized the sales of the individual episodes, so each of the other episodes has sold somewhat fewer copies. It is a much better deal to buy the collection in Part 1 than the individual episodes, and it is also more profitable. So, getting to a graphic novel state, is much better than the comic book state.

Have fun out there!

Joseph Cillo Jr. is the author of The Blind Prophet Series, a graphic novel series in the “Edgy Catholic” genre. To get a copy of Blind Prophet Part 1 at a discount just for readers of this blog (you don’t have to be Catholic), just click this link and enter the discount code 10kreaders for an additional $2 off: click here for your discounted copy



And now we want to hear from you! Have you ever tried selling your books in person? If so, how did it go? If not, is there anything holding you back? Leave a comment below:

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