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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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Press Releases and Author Media Kit – Old Media in the New Age

Author Media Kits and Press Releases: Old media in the new age

Last week, we talked about how to set up your book signing at a Barnes and Noble or other brick-and-mortar store. This week, we’ll talk about one aspect of marketing that a lot of authors (especially indie authors) overlook, your press releases and media kits.

Why Do I Need This?

An author media kit can mean the difference between an amateur and a career author.Many authors are already full-up on social media, between Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Adding one more thing onto their plate seems like overkill. But in this case, your press kit is one of those things that will set you apart from the amateur author. Taking a few hours to draft a well-written, informative document that you can leave on your website (and update once a year) shows reviewers, journalists, and the like that you mean business.

What is an Author Media Kit?

Your media kit is a collection of documents, images, and information about you, the author, and your books. Compiled into a single document, you can share that information with local press outlets (newspapers, TV, etc) and/or local press outlets can use it to find information about you. At a minimum, it should contain:

  • Author photo
  • Links to website, social media, contact email
  • Author bio
  • Book synopsis (shorter than the actual book blurb)
  • Cover images
  • Book excerpts
  • Interview questions with answers

You can also add individual press releases, review blurbs, and anything else that you think a news organization would like to know to help promote you.  Generally, you’ll want to compile all of this information into a .PDF (not a Word document) and stick it on your website near or around your About section. You should also have links to high resolution images of your cover and author photo on that same page.

For our alter-ego’s press kit, we broke out the book covers and excerpts into their own bullets, and kept the press kit focused on just the author herself.

What’s in a Press Release?

A press release is an official statement or description given to a news organization about a particular matter. You can use a press release to announce the release of your new book, or, more likely, you’ll use it to drum up excitement about a local event, such as a book signing or comic book convention.

Your press release needs to contain, at a minimum:

  • Introduction: What’s happening, where, and when.
  • FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (bolded, at the top)
  • Dateline (Your location and date)
  • Opening paragraph: A more storified version of your introduction.
  • Author Quote: This part gets a little strange, and is one of the only times you can quote yourself.
  • Author bio or more information about the books themselves
  • Contact information: How to get in touch with you (generally, email address)

You can adjust your content as needed for the specific event that you’re drafting the release for.

On Author Media Kits: Sometimes, reaching out to journalists on social media can net more coverage than cold emailing.Where Do I Send It?

First, you’ll want to add your press kit to your website. That way, if any reporter or media person is looking for information about you to use in a story (hopefully, a positive one), it’ll be easily accessible. This is also really helpful for bloggers and reviewers who might want to feature your book on their site.

When it comes to sending press releases, you’ll actually want to put the press release into the body of the email. Most journalists won’t accept attachments (because #internet), so if you want your words to be seen, it needs to go in the body of the email. Many news outlets have a Submit a News Story link on their website, but if you can talk to an actual person, then you might find more success. You also may not get any hits on your press release either. But like with most advertising, half of it works. The trick is finding out which half.

Don’t be shy about reaching out to journalists on social media (politely and professionally, of course). Our alter-ego scored an extended interview and wall-to-wall coverage for Pensacon in 2016 on the local news station–simply by reaching out to the news director on Twitter and asking if they needed more stories for the event.

You never know until you try!

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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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