Why you should never submit your self-published book to book fairs

Today I received this email:

Sorry to intrude, I know you are very busy, but you are the best person to ask.
I have recently placed my first book on Amazon.com  MERLIN 2035. Recently a Chinese book fair sent an email. No one has bought my book so far. Would it be worth $245 USD to submit my book to the Chinese global book sellers show?
Thank you for your time,
Lee H. Andersen


After checking out the book’s amazon page, this was my answer:

Nope – spend the money on a better book cover and book formatting (your ebook looks like it’s all in bold, and not well done). The book cover needs a lot of improvement; but if you shop for premade book covers you can probably find one that is good for the genre. Do those first; then focus on getting reviews (right now nobody will look at the book because the cover and formatting, so everything you do will be a waste).

 After you get some reviews, run a free or 99cent promo and see if it sells. If it sells, and if the product looks nice, and you’re already making money on the English version from Amazon or other sites, and you want to double your earnings by getting it translated for foreign markets, then the $245 might be a good risk to take… but foreign publishers are just like all publishers – they want to make money; they want to invest in sure bets, and aren’t going to take time to check out a book with an unprofessional cover…
Sorry for the harsh news, I hope that helps.
It looks like a fun book, good luck!

But what if…?

I know what you’re thinking – not all self-published books are ugly. Maybe yours is really, really well-designed. First of all, after a decade in publishing, I find that hard to believe, and this is why:

1. Traditionally published books don’t give authors much/any control over the design. They just make it awesome.

2. Self-published authors usually hire designers, even great designers, but then tell them what to do; or make small suggestions or changes. Any time you, a non-designer who has never designed a bestselling book cover, take over the design project and decide what “looks good to you…” you have a problem.

Also since most indie authors are easily impressed, your amazing designer may not be doing his best work for you (either because he’s lazy, or he doesn’t think you’ll get it, or he’s sure you won’t be comfortable with a really amazing design.)

And furthermore, most book cover designers are good designers but don’t know a lot about designing covers that actually sell a shitload of books. “Good design” or “beauty” doesn’t really apply to book covers: they are functional. Is it attracting and converting the right readers and selling books? No? Then is sucks.

Wait, but…?!

Ok Ok, so you have an amazing book cover and excellent formatting. That’s totally possible. I’m friends with a dozen amazing designers who make brilliant covers. Maybe your cover and formatting is already world class, but nobody is buying the book, so you’re thinking about investing several hundred bucks to put it in a book fair.

Here’s what will happen: They’ll say “Damn, that’s a beautiful book,” and then they’ll check it out online and see if anybody is buying and reviewing it. You see, they don’t have time to read it and guess whether it will sell. If it’s in a book fair already, they’ll know it’s been published or self-published, and it should have some history. If it’s selling OK has good reviews, they might make an offer.

(I may be totally wrong about this… as a young indie author I put some books in book fairs; some people would check them out and make inquiries. I sold 4,000 copies to a Russian publisher but I don’t think from a book fair; they had just seen my site and book marketing).

Never say never…

My point is that international book fairs are not a solution to your book marketing woes. Have you run a free campaign yet and promoted it hard with Ebookbooster or a fiverr gig (to get someone to list your free book in all the free book websites). And by the way, you need at least 5 reviews up before you can even do a successful free campaign: I would shoot for ten.

Yes, 10 reviews. Yes it’s hard. But it’s much cheaper than submitting to book fairs. Email people. Partner with authors. Nag your family or coworkers (I would never do this, btw… I’d rather post to a Facebook group or reddit forum asking for reviews). Make it worth their while with someone fun, like a prize or gift (I know I know, it’s against the terms of Amazon’s new Draconian laws, but I do it anyway and it works for me.)

Check out this page I set up for my novel; I’ll be giving out posters and little mermaid charms.

Before launching the book, I’ll be building up my (fiction) mailing list by doing fun/cool/interesting guest posts, infographics and other content… so that when the book is pretty ready I’ll have a list of people who want to read and review it.

Get 10 reviews, launch a free campaign. Get as many downloads as you can. For fiction, I would shoot for at least 1,000 (I’m shooting for 100K on my first book, with a massive launch, but I’ll be happy with 25K).

If you’ve connected with your target readers, and you’ve given them a wonderful book that they totally love, you shouldn’t need to do more book marketing. It should just take off, like magic. (Don’t tell me it’s not working for you, until you’ve gotten the ten reviews and tried a free campaign and also promoted it right).

If you’ve done everything right and it’s not working:

1. your cover probably isn’t good enough

2. the book probably isn’t very satisfying

At that point, the best bet would be to write more books. Better books. Lots of books.

Or you can keep spending money to market it, hoping it will “get discovered” and somebody else will use it to make lots of money for you… but that’s unlikely.

On the other hand…

If it does do moderately well, keeps selling some copies every month without disappearing with a rank higher than 1 million, and keeps earning genuine, unsolicited reviews, then it might be worth putting in some book fairs to see what happens.

Personally: I would rather focus all my efforts on one platform (Amazon) so I can get a ton of reviews, a high sales rank, and keep driving bigger and bigger sales numbers. I’ll use those numbers for marketing articles that share my Kindle publishing successes, which will sell more books, and once I reach a certain level (probably 10K per month per book or so) I’m sure publishers and agents and international publishers will reach out to me to discuss terms.

If you ARE going to submit to a book fair, see if you can spend $100 and get a better cover first… you probably can.

Other Life Events

Books fairs are mostly for publishers and agents, not so much readers… and even if they are readers, they aren’t your target readers. I’d never send my book to an event that focused on self-publishing authors, because most of the attendees would be authors (good for networking, not good for book sales).

That’s also why I wouldn’t do big book fairs. But events where my readers are hanging out, or focused on my genres (YA, paranormal romance/urban fantasy), it would be great to put out some books there. But only if I had an amazing cover, with an amazing optin offer or something on my promo materials (which I will have).

I’m going to some writing conferences this summer, and I hope to launch my first book at RomCom in Denver, Sept 23 (the pressure is fucking on, now that I’ve set a date!)


About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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