First day at the Book Fair by myself!
Even my dear wife was here to help me out, thanks!
First book signing off of the book fair!
The 2nd and 3rd days were good at the fair!
My son and nephew were here to help the poor old man!
All of my readers were university or high school students!
As you have probably noticed by now that I had been at the Hong Kong Book Fair for the whole last week, it was my first ever participation as a new writer and the main purpose of this blog is to share my firsthand experiences from the exhibition. I cannot say for sure if the same rules apply to other places, there must be certainly many differences between different fairs in various nations, and I am simply writing from my own experiences here in Hong Kong. And I sincerely do hope that it can be beneficial to all the new writers out there who have been persistently working hard for the much needed exposures.
I am not sure if the other so-called big book fairs also offer trade opportunities such as meeting with agents, publishers or distributers for writers, but here it was only for selling books directly to the publics, and that made the competition very tough. Unlike me, all of those exhibitors were big bookshops or publishing houses, they were seasoned veterans, and they have been continuously doing it for many years. They had all the big names, different genre and type of books, and needless to say, they knew all the tricks and tactics on luring customers towards their stand. Most noticeably, their stands were big, colorful and pleasing to the gallivanting eyes that attracted almost everything that passed nearby them. What’s more, the whole place was full of gimmicky, whatever new and old tricks that they could come up with were applied to attract peoples’ attraction, and the whole place was starting to buzz like a beehive with overly excited people. In no time, every stand was full of potential buyers, with playful children running and carefree students pacing around, all the wishes of the exhibitors were about to come true sooner, and those empty bags were filling up very fast. By the end of the day, the place had become so much so crowded and noisy that it felt like all the Hong Kong people had come in for the party and the business seemed brisk for all.
But sadly for me, I hardly managed to sell even a copy for the whole first day and it was a pretty scary and disheartening situation for me. It must have been only my stand that happened to be empty in the entire hall, not even a fly was seen flying in and that put me in a very difficult position. Needless to say, if I were to save my day, I had to come up with some new plans and they had to be fast. If not, my exhibition was over even before it could start, it could have put a big dent in my nascent aspiration of being a writer and we all know that I cannot let that happen. That night, I tried really hard to analyze the situation around me, devised a new strategy on how was I going to change my luck and put it into practices the very next day. That day alone, I sold 30 books, and this is how I did it in real terms.
1. I turned my weakness to my strength – If the other exhibitors had hundreds of books of many choices, it happened to be only me who was selling only my own books and that fact alone put me already out of the race even before it started. But if I think it differently, it was in fact only me in the entire hall who was selling only his own books, everyone was just selling somebody else’s works, and it had provided me the much needed strength. I had to feel proud of my own works, talked with confidence in front of the public, and enjoyed presenting myself as a writer. After all, I was the rarest breed there, and I had to use it for my good.
2. I could be the best ambassador of my own works – Who else? Since they were my creations, the only person who can describe them in the best possible way was no other than I and inevitably I could easily be the best ambassador for my books. If I cannot talk about my own books then who will, I had to come out of my comfort zone and eventually started talking about my books. At the end, I was able to tell my story in many different ways, explain them in great details, and make them believe it. Needless to say, it was a pretty hard nut to crack at the beginning, I somehow managed to handle it quite nicely after many tries and became quite good at it at the end. Writers are naturally quiet, shy and less talkative bunch, talking to the stranger is the last thing they have in mind and it could be a really daunting task at the beginning. But trust me, it will get easier after sometime.
3. Display it at the fullest and brightest way possible – It is all about attention, e.g. attracting peoples’ attention, and that is the reason why gimmicks mostly work. Due to our nature, it is a bit hard for us writers to use so many gimmicks like the other exhibitors, but in order to stand out, we must at least try our best and display our books at the best possible way. I pulled my display tables at the forefront of the stand, displayed my books at the most colorful way, and put all the covers of my books allover the walls and at the front. I also made posters with quote, price, and other information that I wanted them to know and stuck it allover the walls. So much so that I even scribbled some words on a white paper and displayed it on top of the pile of books so people can see as they passed by.
4. If they don’t come to you, go to them – It is undoubtedly the hardest part for us all, we rather prefer to hide in a corner and do our own stuff, and talking to those total strangers is probably very intimidating. However, if you don’t approach them, they won’t come, and there is no sell. Unless you are selling Apple Inc’s product or can pay someone to do your job, you have no choice and sooner or later, it has to be done by no one but you. Therefore, I picked myself up, took a long breath and started to talk with my potential customers. Luckily for me, I had already done it many times before while I was running my furniture business, and I was feeling pretty good after the cold ice was broken. Still, if it is not for you, find someone who could do it for you (If you have found a big name publisher then of course, this article is not for you, and you can take a hike, thank you) or forget about being a widely known or respectable writer for anytime soon. Sorry to dishearten you all but it is the reality.
5. Find your good points and wholeheartedly advertise them – We humans are strange creature; we always look for new and interesting things and if you happened to be having some, no matter how absurd it might be, just flaunt them as the most precious thing in the entire universe. People just love them, if you can attract some, the other will follow as the sheep’s herd, and the loop can ballooning up to a big crowd. Being a lonely writer in a super-hyped place can be an asset, shout it loudly, and believe me or not, people want to speak with the writer. Thankfully, I had two more good things that played well on my favor, I am an ex Gurkha and people of Hong Kong love them, and I was doing it for my charity and people have respect and sympathy for genuine charity.
Last but not least, offer it in a bargain price, people just love them, and won’t have to think much before making the final decision. In order to feel good for myself about it, I tried to see it differently, I was not selling cheap but buying their readership and loyalty, and if they read it and liked it, they will not only come back for my new book but also bring theirs friends along. In other words, it was an investment and I could at least hope for the good future.
Selling an English book written by an ex Gurkha/Nepali guy in a Chinese dominated society was indeed a tough job, I have sold almost 300 books in total and learned a lot about this trade of selling books. Being a self-published and a new writer is not easy at all, the market is also fully crowded and my suggestion to the new writers will be this – please don’t leave your daytime job until you have became someone in the field and it definitely need a lot of hardship, patience and money to become that someone in the literary field and if you don’t have any of them as listed here, you have to reconsider your decision of becoming a writer. Above of all, you must have a heart to put into it. Good luck!
TIM I GURUNG/AUTHOR AT ISSLCARE – http://www.timigurung.com