Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Promised "Art Gala" Recap (And Some Marketing Comments)

Okay, readers, this is a long post. So if you have something pressing to do, I advise returning later.

Last Thursday, BryonySeries illustrator Matt Coundiff and I participated in an art night/paint gala event.



Through the years, I have participated in vendor events with mixed sales results. Overall, I have found them not to be very use for sales. So I stopped doing them for a few years.

But as I worked on my 2017 marketing plan, I revisited the idea and attended one on Thursday night. More on this in a minute.

Yes, vendor events often aren't terrific sales venues, but the right ones do play a role in marketing and keeping one's brand visible, which sets the foundation for future sales.

Why they suck for book sales (at least my book sales):

1) Vendor fees

Vendor fees make money for organizers, but they're one more hurdle for self-published fiction authors on a slim budget to scale. Meaning, in order to profit from the event, one must earn back the fee, too. Sometimes I did, sometimes I broke even. Mostly I didn't.

2) Unpredictable, broad spectrum of patrons

All one can do is hope some of the people strolling through the door will be intrigued with my books enough to buy. And that's even hoping some generally read the genre in which I write.

But don't pin hopes on that happening, at least not in any substantial way. Usually the organizers aren't doing any niche marketing for the vendors because

3) Organizers are hoping family and friends of vendors will be supportive

Meaning even if the general public doesn't attend in droves, family and friends will still buy stuff.

4) Finally, I always end up feeling I could be writing.

And when writing time is as scarce as gold on a sidewalk, a day standing behind my wares to sparse foot traffic underscores that sentiment as each minute ticks by.

Why I took another look at vendor events and when I feel authors should participate in one

1) Vendor fees

Unless we're talking a high-profile event related to your topic, an event tailored to your book topic, or an event where it's certain you'll generate great sales, pass on any event with a fee. They say a fool and his money are soon parted. Don't be that fool.

I'm not saying never spend money on marketing or vendor fees. But spend wisely. Be reasonably certain you'll either make that money back and then some or receive such great exposure the fees are well spent.

2) Unpredictable, broad spectrum of patrons

As I said, could be bad for sales, but great for meeting new people and promoting one's work. Consider the event an opportunity for  pleasant conversation and a chance to distribute book marks, business cards, or free samples of your writing. You never know who will leave with interest piqued or knows someone who might be.

Yes, you might sell. But consider the sales bonuses, not the main purpose.

3) Organizers are hoping family and friends of vendors will be supportive

That's awesome the first time around, but if you've been writing for five years, and this is your fiftieth event, odds are no one loves you that much.

But if organizers aren't making money from fees or your loved ones (and assuming you're not Stephen King or J.K. Rowling either), what benefit does your presence offer? I don't of anyone who sees my name attached to an event and starts thinking, "Oooooh, gotta make this one!" (Although it would be nice).

So the benefit?

Cross-marketing with other vendors and THEIR family and friends. The reach of ten or forty is greater than than the reach of one. Unless, again, you're Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.

4) I always end up feeling I could be writing.

That feeling might not go away. But here's what I used to tell my kids when we homeschooled and ran newspaper routes in the middle of the night.

Bring a book.

Yes, that's correct. Bring your laptop, Or a notebook. Or something. Plan ahead. If it's a dead day, write, visibly and in a way that may attract interest. Just don't become so immersed (as we writers do) that we miss opportunities to connect with passersby.

When my family ran those newspaper routes, nothing messed up our day more than late trucks. But if the kids brought books, they could jump-start their homework. I always brought my laptop and wrote stories for The Herald-News sitting cross-legged on work stations at 1:30 a.m. while waiting for trucks. It can be done.

Now the kids didn't always bring books. But when the trucks were late, they always wished they did.

Oh, and BTW, almost every time, someone was curious enough to ask what I was doing. And almost always, that person pitched a story. So I'd make my editorial deadlines AND had at least one new story idea. When one is paid by the piece, as I was back in the day, that's always a good deal.

As for the art gala.

Some might feel the night was not successful, especially since an ice storm equaled sparse attendance, but I felt otherwise, and here's why.

1) I didn't pay a vendor fee.

The event was invitation only. The request (not a mandate, a request) was to promote the event on social media. I did and blogged twice (but I would have done that anyway).

2) Matt Coundiff, the illustrator for Visage and Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles from "Bryony" was participating. 

I have a great working relationship with Matt and love his other work. Plus we ended up being table mates. This was a draw for me.

3) The atmosphere rocked. 

It was in a furniture store. Matt had a long table. I had a coffee table and comfortable chairs, perfect for showing off the fun of reading and chatting informally with those that stopped by.

4) The organizer was super-friendly and upbeat, had promoted the event through the story with some lovely plastic-coated flyers, extremely apologetic about the turnout, and invited us to return in April.

What's there not to like? And if I'm invited again, I'll definitely return.

5) I sold one pastel BryonySeries candle to one very unlikely customer: a middle age Hispanic man.

He'd cruised by earlier in the night. Toward the end, he came back, smelled them all trying to make up his mind, and then decided to buy a pink "purple rose" scented candle. He left happy with his purchase.

I messaged Valerie the good news, and she was thrilled.

6) I left with a story idea

'Nuff said.

7) As I was packing up, one of the vendors approached me to ask if he could contact me about self-publishing. 

And he left with a BryonySeries card and a WriteOn Joliet flyer.

8) I had a good time. 

It was a relaxing, low-key night. And the coffee was good.

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