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Opinion: Show, Don’t Sell – By Lucienne Boyce

Opinion: Show, Don’t Sell – by Lucienne Boyce

How successful was your last author event – and how did you measure its success? British self-published author Lucienne Boyce, who writes both historical fiction and non-fiction, makes the case for measuring the success of author events in terms of connection with readers rather than number of books sold.

Author photo of Lucienne Boyce

Lucienne Boyce, author of historical fiction and non-fiction

I wish I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked after an event: did it go well – did you sell many books? As indie authors we’re bombarded with advice about how to sell more books, how to beat the Amazon algorithms, how to get gazillions of sales using BookBub or Crowd Pleaser or whatever the next Big Selling Thing might be. It seems that author events are seen as part of the writer’s “selling armoury”.

This is the point where I should hastily insist, “Of course I want to sell lots of books because obviously I’m just a silly unprofessional amateur if I don’t” – but I’m not going to. Fire up the stake, but I’m going to come right out and say it: I do not equate success as a writer with money transactions. By the same token, I do not measure the success of an event solely in terms of how many books I sell.

Author Events as Creative Endeavours

So I don’t believe that the sole or primary function of events is selling books. For me, their first importance is that they are creative endeavours. Writing a talk, putting together the illustrations – these are obviously creative activities. But so too are the more mundane aspects: the planning and organising and checking, dealing with all the tedious detail (is there a projector? a table? how do I get to the venue?). Perhaps it’s no coincidence that we talk of “making” something happen or “creating” the right conditions and atmosphere to make an event a success.

What might feel like success? It could be turning up to do an event where you’ve been told to expect fifty people, discovering there are only ten, and not selling a single book, but at the end someone comes up and says your talk inspired them. For me, that’s what writing is about, connecting with people, sharing an idea, creating an understanding.

Cover of "The Bristol Suffragettes"

Lucienne Boyce's local history book forms the basis of many of her public events

Only Connect With Readers

You might think it’s a pity they weren’t inspired enough to buy a book, and of course book sales do look like pretty obvious indicators of connection. If someone buys my book, presumably I’ve piqued their interest in my work. But it’s not the indicator (the sale) that matters so much as what’s indicated (the connection). Of course I hope that if I’ve made a connection with someone they will want to read my work and build on that. A sale is no guarantee that’s going to happen. After all, they might just pay up because they want me to leave them alone, or I make them feel guilty if they don’t buy, or they buy on an impulse which they later regret.

For me, then, the value of events lies not only in their commercial possibilities, but their creative ones. They are not just about selling my books, but about sharing my creative vision. So don’t ask me did you sell many books? Ask me: did you give a good talk? Or, Did you interest or inspire anyone? Or, Did what you said fit with what you’re trying to achieve with your writing? These are much more interesting questions than: did you sell many books?

Here's our suggested tweet to help you share this thoughtful post with other indie authors:
“Why author events are about much more than selling books – by @LucienneWrite via @IndieAuthorAlli  http://wp.me/p44e6Y-1I9”





Author: Lucienne Boyce

Lucienne Boyce writes historical fiction and non-fiction. She published The Bristol Suffragettes in 2013. She has published two historical novels, To The Fair Land (2012) and Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery (2015). Bloodie Bones is a winner of the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016 and was also a semi-finalist in the M M Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction 2016. She has also published a Dan Foster novella – The Fatal Coin – with SBooks. The second Dan Foster novel, The Butcher’s Block, will be published in July.


This Post Has 19 Comments
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  3. […] SHOW, DON’T SELL How successful was your last author event – and how did you measure its success? British self-published author Lucienne Boyce, who writes both historical fiction and non-fiction, makes the case for measuring the success of author events in terms of connection with readers rather than number of books sold… [read more] Source: The Alliance for Independent Authors […]

  4. I agree totally. To sell a book is fun but, if that’s all we do, we’re no more than shopkeepers. To share our ideas with readers who come back to us is even more delightful. One of the joys for me, as an author who runs an on-line writing program, is that I can talk with writers about their work, as they write it. I know they appreciate that far more than the illusory prospect of becoming a blockbuster author one day. (At least, I hope they do!)

    1. Hi John, yes an important distinction between shopkeeping and being an author…I know sales skills are important and valuable but we’re in the “business” of doing more than selling a product I think…interesting to hear about the writing program, that must be a fun way of talking with other writers.

  5. H Lucienne: As an independent author and self publisher I fully agree with you. The personal contact and ability to speak with readers and show respect for their attentions is a prime marketing tool. Pile(s) of an author’s books on a table at an event, llke oranges, will do virtually nothing for sales. Discussion with readers will help tenfold. I attend conferences to meet readers, talk to them, find out what they think, want to read and their likes… and dislikes.I have given free books after conversations. This is worth more when they tell their friends and book club members. I always conclude with my businesss card. Seeding, bears more long term fruit than Selling.

    Stay well… Warren..

    1. Hi Warren Interesting idea of giving free books at an event, and of course using the business card is essential too. I agree too that piles of books don’t do much for sales, especially since there are so many piles of books for readers to choose from these days. Making the connection is a way of making your book stand out I think – hope! Sort of ties in with Helen Hollick’s advice the other day about not selling books but selling yourself…well you know what I mean!

  6. Have tweeted using the prepared tweet – a clever bit of soft marketing, O webmistress!

    Yes, events, signings, fetes, etc. are fun – you get to talk about your favourite subject as well as have fascinating conversations with interested people who may actually teach *you* something.

    I love hearing about people’s writing as well as what they enjoy reading that I take that as a given at such events.

    But yes, selling some books is also uplifting…

    1. Hallo Alison… Yes, never underestimate the pleasures of talking about your favourite subjects! And it is also true that you can learn so much from talking to other readers and writers.

  7. Thanks for this post, Lucienne – a very healthy and productive viewpoint on measuring success. I also try not to be discouraged about sales at an event, because I’m always hopeful attendees might make that decision later. One thing that I’m trying to get better at is to just capture the email addresses of those who attended, so that I might send a follow-up thank you note with some added bit of information related to what I spoke about at the event. That’s a second point of contact that might turn a tenuous connection into an ongoing relationship.

    1. Hi Kathryn, I’m glad you liked the piece. I agree about capturing email addresses at events – I’ve at last got my newsletter going and I think that adding subscribers to that is another good way of making contact with readers.

  8. Lucienne,
    I LOVE your philosophy…I can’t wait to share this with friends who `mean well,’ but really depress me when they ask about the number of books sold. I love writing, but love interacting with readers about my books even more. For me, that is the joy of it all. Selling books allow me to do more of it.

    Thank you for letting me know I’m not completely bonkers!

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