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Conventions, Events, and Sales Tax

Sales tax for authors

We consider ourselves old pros at attending conventions. We can schpiel with the best of them, schmooze and deal, and have big book-carrying muscles. While we’ve got a really great blog post on conventions, today, we’re going to focus on the less-sexy aspects of events: sales tax and other business legal stuff.

Disclaimer: Not lawyers or financial advisors.

Sales Tax is A PITA

Sales Tax is one of those things that most authors don’t think about until they’re signing up for a convention and there’s a paragraph about them having to manage their own number. So how does one go about doing that?

Just like every state has their own sales tax rate, every state has a different process for granting a license for selling. In most cases, the convention will provide paperwork for you to apply for a temporary license or a special event license. For that, you’ll need your business’s EIN number and enough time to get your certificate in the mail.

But for other states, like the great state of Texas, you have to actually set up your business in the state. That means every quarter, you’re logging into the website and telling them how much money you made. Yes, even if you aren’t a Texas resident. Yes, even if you made zero dollars.

Do You Have To?

A lot of authors see all this work and ask themselves, “Yeah, but do I really have to?” Some conventions won’t let you register for a show unless you have a state-provided ID #. Others, they post a warning that state tax auditors are wandering around and will want to see your certificate. And the wonderful state of Louisiana will show up at your table at 2pm in the afternoon on Sunday and ask for a check.

What happens if you don’t submit your stuff? Well, you’ll be hit with a fine (it’s not too much, maybe $10, depending on the state). Or they could bar you from selling in the state again.

Bottom line: Ignore Sales Tax at your own risk.

What About Online Sales?

This is the source of a lot of confusion for US-based authors. Here’s the bottom line: For online sales, you pay sales tax for customers who reside in your state. 

So if you’re based in Florida, all Florida sales will be charged a sales tax. If you live in Florida and your customer lives in Alabama, then no sales tax is necessary. This law is constantly being deliberated, but as of right now, this is the way it is.

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How to Set Up Book Signings – An Author’s Dream Come True

When most of us sit down to dream about “life as an author,” many of us envision rolling up to a Barnes and Noble for our book signing and seeing our books on the shelf and fans streaming out the door. Unfortunately, the mere act of setting up a book signing doesn’t always conjure up this reality. But, with a few tips and tricks, you can fulfill your lifelong dream of having your very own bookstore book signing.

The Fine Print

Setting up author events: be wary of events that require books to be returnableA few weeks ago, we had a long discussion about the merits of CreateSpace vs IngramSpark. Here is where IngramSpark pulls ahead in the horserace. Because of Amazon’s policy of making all books printed through CreateSpace nonreturnable, most bookstores will not allow you to sign in their store. This protects the bookstore from having a glut of books that won’t sell, but it also limits your options.

Now, this generally applies to larger chain bookstores and established indies. Some bookstores will let you bring your own and work out a consignment deal (usually 60-40 with you getting the larger chunk). This is an ideal situation, but lacks the funness of walking into Barnes and Noble and seeing your books already there.

Speaking of the B&N, our experience is that it usually takes 3-4 months to get on their schedule. They generally limit their signings (our local store only does one per month). So if you’re planning on doing one in conjunction with a release, plan ahead. Each store has an event coordinator on staff (they may have a few stores in their purview) that you’ll work with.

Getting the Word Out

One of the big differences between a bookstore book signing and, say, a comic book convention, is that with the latter, there’s usually more of a draw. People are coming to a comicon see Steven Amell and all the Doctors, and you just pluck them off as they walk by. At a bookstore, you are the draw. Which can be a blessing and a bit of a curse.

You’ll want to start spreading the word about your signing early. This is a good opportunity for a Facebook Ad, especially as you can localize the advertising to a smaller area and interest. It’s also a good idea to put together a press release (we’ll have more on that next week) and submit it to your local news organizations.

You can also put up flyers in local coffee shops and restaurants. Maybe add an extra incentive if people say they saw the flyer, such as a signed bookmark.

Most importantly, use your local network! Tell your friends to tell their friends, tell your mom to bring all her friends. You never know who might be a secret reader of your genre, so make sure you spread the word far and wide.

The Big Day

If you’re doing the consignment deal, give yourself a few days buffer if you’re having the books shipped in. Also, keep in mind that books are heavy, so you’ll want to have help getting them inside. The last thing you want is to be sweaty when you’re in a bunch of photographs.

It’s also smart to bring takeaways, such as bookmarks, businesscards, or any other swag you have on hand. And don’t forget pens or Sharpies!

Arrive about an hour beforehand to make sure your table and books have been set up. You can also bring any banners that you’ve created to stand up behind the table.

And then… get to work!

The truth is, unless you’re a NYT bestselling author with a legion of fans who’ve all preordered your book (which may happen someday!), most people are going to be at the bookstore for some other reason. You’ll need to convince them why they should come visit you and your book. This is a great job for friends and family who’ve (presumably) already bought your book. Send them out into the store to find prospective readers and ask those folks to come visit.

And don’t forget to take lots of photos and enjoy this big day!

The After

For our money, book signings aren’t the best way to utilize our time. Especially ones where the bookstore purchases our books and then returns them if they aren’t sold.

If you do Barnes and Noble, about six months after your book signing, you’ll get a box in the mail with the remainders. Now, if you’re an author who does a lot of in-person events and conventions, you can sell them later. But if you don’t do a lot of events, you might be stuck. Additionally, IngramSpark will charge you the cost to print + $2 for each book they return. If we’re talking a box of 20 hardcovers at $16 each to print, this can add up quickly.

But, on special occasions, it is nice to get the star author treatment.

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Attending Conventions – An Author’s Guide

Attention conventions - an author's guide

If you’ve spent any time around our social media, you know we love attending conventions as vendors. We’ll throw six boxes of books in our yellow sunmobile and drive fifteen hours for one weekend. Why? Because of all the various marketing tools, it’s the one that provides the biggest bang for the buck, in both reach, engagement, and customer retention.

We’ve attended 40+ conventions since 2014, and perfected the art. Today, we’re sharing our best tips.

Find an Event

I don't always sell books at conventionsFirst and foremost, find one! Most every city across the great US (and abroad, too) has some kind of comic book convention. The trick is to select one big enough to make your costs, or make sure you’re going into it knowing that you’ll lose money.

There’s pros and cons for going big and the same for going small. Big Cons with Big Celebrities bring Big Numbers of people. But you usually don’t get the kind of one-on-one attention that turns passers-by into superfans. Also, they usually cost more, so if the event is a bust then you may lose money.

Small cons are inherently riskier, even when you’ve only paid $50 for a table. We went to one three day convention where the only books we sold were to other vendors and the convention chair’s mom. You want to do a little research before you put your money down. If you can’t name any of the celebrity guests, don’t pay more than $50.

9 times out of 10 all conventions need is your hard earned cash to get a table. Some cons do a little screening of their participants, so be aware if that’s the case. If you’re a small-time author, you’ll usually be a good fit for an Artist Alley.

One thing to note: Many states have different rules around sales tax. Make sure to see what you’re on the hook for as an attendee.

Get Yer Swag On

Once you’ve got a con and a date, it’s time to focus on your booth. You’ll be pulling people into your booth with your pearly whites and charm and charisma (right?), but you need to make sure your booth set up looks professional. We’ve invested in a set of 8 foot banners (You can go shorter, but the 8′ makes a statement), and we can tell–definitively–they draw people to our booth.

Trad pubbed kids–talk to your publisher. They might even have stuff that they can send you to use and then you don’t have to make your own. They can also send you books.

Not everyone you talk to is going to buy a book. So you want to bring some kind of something for them to take away. Our old standby is a business card offering info about both our free downloads (Here and here). We’ve also started piloting a larger bookmark that contains a brief summary of our books, the cover, and the age ranges. The bookmarks also have a coupon for 25% off books sold on this website.

Conventions also offer an opportunity to grow your newsletter lists. If you’ve got an old tablet lying around, you can use an app to gather email addresses from interested parties. We usually offer a free audiobook to anyone who signs up, and, of course, they’ll get a free download of our anxiety dragon book.

How Many Books?

The number of books you should bring really depends on the size of the crowd and the numbers of helpers you have at the table. For most large conventions (20,000+ attendees), we will bring 30 copies of each book 1, 15 copies of book 2, and 5 copies of books 3+. Smaller conventions, we’ll either bring what we have on hand or buy maybe 15 of book 1. Keep in mind, however, that we have 15 books across 5 storylines, so there’s a bit of cannibalism in sales. When we had fewer books, we would bring more of each (at least a box of 40).

Generally, you are selling people on the first book. For our booth, we offer a deal: Buy 1 book for $15, 2 for $25, or 3 or more for $10 each. If a buyer wants to grab just one, we can say, “Do you want to get another book for $5 more?” 80-90% of people who are offered this deal take it. This is especially beneficial when we’re sharing a booth, because our fellow authors can upsell our books, and we can upsell theirs. It does result in a lower overall number, but since you’re splitting the cost of the table, it all evens out.

Getting People To Your Table

The biggest reason why authors fail at selling books at conventions is they don’t understand their audience. We’ve spoken a lot about soft selling, the idea of building relationships first, then selling. At a convention, on the sales floor, that’s where you get to practice the hard sell.

Start by saying hello to every single human (and non-human) that walks by. Sometimes they’ll look like you’re going to murder them, sometimes they’ll ignore you completely. But sometimes, they return the hello.

Then ask, “Are you a reader?” Sometimes, a “No, thanks.” More often, “Yeah.”
“What do you like to read?”
“Uuuh…mostly science fiction and fantasy.”
“Oh boy, do I have something for you… Come on over!”

That one-second interaction is the difference between selling 10 books and selling 50 books. Want to hit the big leagues? Be prepared with your one-paragraph summation of your series.

The Schpiel

Once we’ve snared a potential customer, we’ll say: “I’ve got four kinds here: Space pirates, anxiety dragons, Romeo and Juliet stuck on an island, or Lady Harry Potter.” Quick and easy topic synopsis so we can gauge which is going to land. They’ll pick one, and we go directly into the schpiel.

You can pick from you back cover copy, but it’s best if you come up with a more animated version. Here’s our schpiel for Double Life, our space pirate bounty hunter series:

“Double Life is about a young woman leading a, you guessed it, a Double Life. Subtle title, no? (pause for laugh or eyeroll). In one life, she’s Lyssa Peate, planet discovering scientist, and in the other, she’s Razia–space pirate bounty hunter (the more interesting one is second to land the blow). Unfortunately, neither life is going very well (pause for laugh). As the bounty hunter, she’s one of the least (emphasize) wanted people in the universe and as the scientist, she just got a new intern who is definitely (emphasize) spying on her. Then that intern is mistaken for her hostage by the universal police (pause for effect).” Blah blah, more about the other books, release dates, etc.

Care and Feeding

Make sure to keep a budget with your convention. It’s great if you make $1,500 in a weekend, but if you spent $3,000 on a five star hotel and airfare, it’s not really sustainable. The price of books can be anywhere from $4 to $7, depending on your printer and location. If you’re flying, shipping books to the convention can run you into the hundreds of dollars.

We keep food costs down by staying at cheap hotels with free breakfasts, and also bringing food from home, instead of splurging on convention fare. Even better–choosing local conventions, or ones near to family and friends. At your booth, you’ll want to bring snacks, food, and water, and something caffeinated if that’s your speed. Our go-to are Bolthouse protein smoothies, as they’re quick to drink and last most of the day.

Working a convention is exhausting, but they also provide the biggest opportunity for making money and meeting new fans. We’ve picked up new fans at conventions who bought our entire backlist in hardcover (from our store, no doubt), or who’ve been one-person cheerleading squads for our books amongst their friends.

Selling books at convention is easy and fun

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