Locus is a collaboration between two small independent publishers in Melbourne, aduki independent press and Vignette Press, run by Emily and Lisa. They got together to run market stalls (and now also a blog) because they knew doing it with a friend would be more enjoyable than going it alone. They were kind enough to share their advice on selling indie books and zines.
Doing market stalls probably won’t make you rich or sell a truckload of books. Our best market day ever made about $750, mostly we make a lot less than that. Beer money, really. But even if you don’t sell a lot you’re still spreading the word and marketing your product, which is important in the long run. We learned what kind of markets work for our particular books and what sorts of places just don’t. The only way you can figure this out for yourself is by getting out there and trying different markets. Here’s some tips for running a successful market stall.
- Get the word out. Help promote the market or zine fair and let potential customers know you will be running a stall. You can do this by your email list, posting it to your blog or making an event on myspace/facebook. The more people who know what’s happening the busier the event will be.
- Make your table pretty. We have a tablecloth and spent a few bucks at the Reject Shop buying plate holders to display our books. Take a look at the table from the front when it’s set up to make sure it looks appealing to passers-by. Keep tidying your table so it looks neat all day. Free cookies or lollies will draw people to your table.
- Be friendly. You have a better chance of selling stuff if you engage with the people who stop at your stall. Start a conversation, ask a question or make a comment about a particular item that they are looking at. This was quite hard for Locus at first because we’re not super-salesy people, but after a few goes we got much better at doing it and now it comes naturally.
- Keep starting conversations. At a non-book market or zine fair, people often won’t even stop to look at your table; books aren’t for everyone. This is when initiating a conversation is really important, because once they know that the books you have are recipe books or graphic novels or a literary magazine, they might remember that they have a niece’s birthday coming up and she’s into that sort of thing.
- Have one or two lines ready to describe your stuff when someone asks ‘what’s this?’. This can be surprisingly tough but after a while you get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. For example, with one of aduki’s books, Stick This In Your Memory Hole, we mention the cultural commentary aspect of it rather than drop the P-bomb (politics); with Mini Shots it works best to open by saying it’s a new concept magazine series rather than that it’s a short story magazine.
- Encourage people to pick up your books and flick through them. Again, something might catch their eye. If they buy, give them a fresh copy that hasn’t been thumbed through by a hundred people.
- Offer a discount. We sell all our stuff cheaper than retail price at markets and zine fairs. Tell people that everything is on special or put the old price and the sale price on clear display. Even if it’s only a buck or two, it can help to sway a decision to buy.
- Take loads of change. It’s the one commodity that’s always in short supply at a market and you don’t want to miss a sale because you don’t have the right change or have enough change. A receipt book can sometimes come in handy too.
- Keep a tally of how many of each item you are selling. If you have a busy day it’s easy to forget exactly how many copies of a certain zine or title you sold.
- Have small items for sale. Locus make badges to sell for $1 or $2. Many people just don’t buy books or don’t have the $10-20 cash on them to buy your stuff, but will drop a few coins on a little item that catches their eye. We spend our badge money on lunch or use it to cover stall costs.
- Have a business card, flyer, free chapbook or magazine (Emily uses aduki magazine, Lisa uses business cards) to give away. Again, people might not buy your book there and then but might be interested in finding out more. Giving them something with your web address means you might make a sale further down the line.
- Have a signup sheet. If you send out email newsletters have a sheet so people can put their email address down if they want more information.
- Have a variety of things for sale. If you’re an individual with one book, team up with someone else or stock other titles if you can. Having a few things to look at means people will spend more time at your table and there’s an increased likelihood that there’ll be something they’re interested in.
- Charge a commission. If you do stock someone else’s titles, don’t be shy to arrange a commission or fee with them to help you cover costs. After all you’re the one doing the work on the day.
- Take food and water. It can be surprisingly tiring standing around for hours talking to people and selling your stuff. If you don’t know what’s going to be available to eat, take food so your energy doesn’t flag halfway through.
- Keep track of what you sold versus what you paid for the space. Some markets are free, which is great, and others are cheap but may be quiet. Paying $50 for a table at a busy inner suburban market might seem like a lot, but if it’s really busy or an affluent area there’s a fair chance you’ll make that money back. Know when to give up though – if you’ve been to the same market two or three times and had a dismal result, it’s fairly likely it’s just not your market. Likewise, if you find a good thing stick to it.
- Don’t lose heart. Some market days are awful and you can sit for hours without selling anything. Other days you don’t cover costs. Doing markets with someone else is always a bonus in these situations, because they will help keep your spirits up (and watch the table if you need to go pee).