Facebook events to launch and sell books, or generate interest through cover reveals and giveaways, have been around for years. So they must work, right?
Well you never know until you try. And I’d never tried. But I’m determined to find ways of reaching readers directly, because Amazon is now a sea of nearly 5 million ebooks as I wrote in a recent post. What worked in the past isn’t having the impact it once did. As the newest article from Author Earnings reveals, indie author earnings are down and have been since May of this year.
Things have shifted in indie books sales. We just don’t know what or for how long. Is the new normal less sales on Amazon? If so, indie authors will either be looking for a new platform or finding new ways of reaching readers. Like Facebook events. If they work!
The Big Facebook Event
Virtual Fantasy Con, which took place last week, is in its second year after a very successful event in 2015 (as determined by the hosts and authors attending). With over 400 booths holding everything from authors to publishers to vendors this year, this seven day event that hosts a variety of participant booths, panel discussions, games, and giveaways sounds like a fantasy reader’s dream.
In fact, it looked like a well organized fantasy readers dream as each day of the event targeted different sub-genres!
Sun, October 9th – Epic/Sword & Sorcery (Includes High Fantasy)
Mon, October 10th – Sci-Fi/Sci-Fantasy/Time-Travel
Tue, October 11th – Fairytale/Punk (Includes all versions of Punk)
Wed, October 12th – Paranormal/Urban
Thu, October 13th – Series/Short Stories
Fri, October 14th – Dystopian/Apocalyptic
Sat, October 15th – Dark/GrimDark/Horror
Sun, October 16th – Children/YA Fantasy
So if you love urban fantasy, you just needed to cruise by the event on Wednesday the 12th and discover new authors! Take a peek at the author’s cache booth for a quick list of whose books are on sale that day. Look for the games and giveaway posts to scoop up a new book.
The concept of Virtual Fantasy Con sounds fantastic to me. And with 400 other participants, the chance of it being a success felt high. If we all just found 10 other people to come … well, the size of the event could grow quickly.
And that is why I signed up. Why go solo with my own event when I didn’t know what I was doing? Joining in with a lot of other authors six months before the event (I signed up in March) gave me a chance to learn, see what others were doing, and hopefully reap some rewards even as a novice to Facebook events.
Prepping for the Event
As a newbie to Facebook events, I decided to not only seek out guidance but to look for some help. It didn’t take me long to realize that 8+ hours on Facebook was simply not going to happen. Heck 8+ hours on a computer aren’t going to happen for me. I need food and tea. LOTS of tea!
With that in mind, I posted in several Facebook groups for tips, guest authors, and donations for giveaways from authors who couldn’t take part. No one ever said I had to only give away my own books! And being the great group indie authors are, I received a bounty of all three.
The tips were the most useful for getting organized. Ask questions, don’t just talk about your books. Giveaway suggestions were great and got my mind churning out ideas. I kept a notebook handy and jotted down questions to spark discussions. From the one other online convention I had participated in (a Goodreads event a couple of years back) I knew keeping comments going to “boost” my virtual booth up in the list was important. There was no point in attending if I stayed silent and my spot remained at the bottom of 400 other authors where no one would scroll low enough to see it.
With that strategy of keeping the booth comments flowing, I decided to avoid games that needed to be hosted off site like a Rafflecopter giveaway. Well at least make that a low priority. At some point I hit upon the idea of asking for social media posts with a link to the post shared in my booth as an entry for prizes like an audiobook or the series bundle. At that point I started getting excited.
How far could I make one event reach?
A Dose of Reality
All the while I was trying to temper my sudden inspiration for the event with two bits of reality. One derived from the fact that the previous Goodreads con I’d participated in was attended almost exclusively by the authors taking part. We talked amongst ourselves and really put in some effort, but the event pretty much summed up with “we’ll try this again next year.” But Virtual Fantasy Con was coming off a successful first year. Nothing to worry about there!
The second advice came from a very well selling author who said, “I’m of the opinion that too many authors waste too much time on FB events. I think they can work nicely for non-fiction, but I’ve never seen much value for fiction.” Hmmm… not encouraging, but a nice reminder that I hadn’t done one of these before. My strategy became to spend enough time prepping that it would be worthwhile if it was a success, but not a loss if it wasn’t.
In other words, I didn’t want to go overboard.
So I planned to have a single page with a schedule of guest authors/giveaways, all day games, and some info on the guest authors. Then some graphics to use with social sharing when announcing guest authors and such. And I needed a banner for my FB author page, as that was what would be used to create the “booth” for the two days I’d signed up for. Add to that having some questions ready, and I felt that would be a worthwhile amount of preparation. It would provide framework while leaving things loose enough to develop.
Ok, so the schedule page for my first day, epic fantasy, became a big bigger than I expected. But I was so sure it was going to be success that I wanted to really be ready and not wishing I’d done something different. I’m pretty quick with developing webpages and graphics, but I still had about six hours into creating everything. Keep in mind the organizers had begun planning a year before with quite a bit of work beginning in the spring to organize the panels, giveaways, and more. This was a huge event that has taken up a lot of time to put together.
As part of the prep, I made sure I told people about it. I announced the event here on my blog and to my mailing list, inviting them to join Virtual Fantasy Con and look for me.
My first day was also the first day of the con, Sunday October 9th. It was dead slow when I popped in around 7 am to post a few things after finding my booth. But I figured I was the odd-ball who liked to get up at dawn even on the weekends. No worries. When the first guest author, who was from the UK, came by at 9, it was still slow. Despite needing to grab a late breakfast, I tried to stay around to give her someone to talk to. But everything she posted would be up for the full day, heck the full event at least. Nothing was wasted.
Poking around the FB group for organizing, I finally found a thread that said the event began at 10 am. Well that explained the slow start, but after 6 months of being a part of this I wondered how I didn’t know the event kicked-off at 10? It gave me a chance to warn the next two guest authors at 11. Between the three of us, we had a lovely time.
My first reader comment came around 2 pm. I was starting to fuss a little at that point, realizing things might not really get going until mid to late afternoon, time slots I’d give to guest authors. But then I’d have early evening again and could stay up late if I needed to. I wanted to make the most of the event.
By 4 o’clock another reader wandered by. That made two.
Where are the readers?
Other than my guest authors, it was crickets. Four hundred participating authors along with a handful of vendors and publishers, and so far I’d seen 2 readers. I scrolled through the day’s event and saw comment numbers way down. In fact I had some of the highest comments of any booth because I was chatting with the guest authors and we were having fun!
I tried to enter the con as a guest without using my booth permalink, just to see what it was like and where my booth ranked. Despite all the comments going on in my area, my booth sat near the bottom of a loooonnnnnngggg scrolling session. It still had some of the highest comments, but they weren’t bumping my booth to the top (I admit I didn’t check my settings, but assumed they would follow the FB normal setting of “newest” on top). Hunh.
All the while I was sharing updates of the event, including giveaways, games, and activities in my booth, on my FB page, twitter, and Google+.
By mid-way through the session with my last guest author, I knew everyone who was checking out my booth. Oh a few readers wandered by, but not more than 5 for the whole day. Most of the other activity in my booth came from guest authors and author friends.
The day was a complete bust.
But wait. I signed up for two days!
The event continued through the week, a work week, but who doesn’t jump on Facebook during the day? I wondered if participation would increase during the week, so I scrolled through the con each day, watching comment rates. Plus I kept tabs on the closed behind-the-scenes group where a lot of folks were lamenting the low reader turnout. A lot of booths seemed to be unstaffed as well.
Participation didn’t seem to be getting better even by Thursday, so I warned my guest authors schedules for Friday and decided I wasn’t creating a scheduling page and no graphics beyond a banner change on my FB page to match the genre/series focus. That was it.
I had four guest authors, two who stopped by when they had time and two scheduled. I stayed online and chatted with the two scheduled authors, talked to the other two authors when they stopped by, and did have two other readers who came along and entered the giveaway I had going. Mostly, I packed my house.
All that work for the organizers as well as for the authors had to result in something, right? Well sure, but you tell me if you think it was worthwhile.
On both my booths and in the day’s author cache post, I linked to the first book which is free for both series. These are my amazon downloads on free books. Notice any uptick beyond the average on Oct 9 or 14? There is one after the 9th of about 10 books. So a few people did scroll through the event later and pick up my book.
I also got some more page likes out of the event as other authors and a few readers scrolled through the booths and liked pages.
I gave away one fantasy book and a dystopian bundle. Otherwise sales stayed relatively the same and mailing list sign ups stayed normal. I really didn’t notice much from having participated in a Facebook event.
What did I get out of this?
I won’t say I got nothing out of this. I networked with some authors I didn’t previously know and now hope to team up with in promotions in the future. Based on my ability to create a schedule page and come up with giveaway ideas, I realized that I could put together a Facebook event if I wanted to. In about two weeks, I managed to recruit authors, prizes, organize times across the globe, and I actually had a lot of fun when there were interactions.
Despite the failings of Virtual Fantasy Con, I saw the potential of a small event, one where you might not be competing with quite so many authors for attention (remember my booth seemed to be stuck at the bottom of a long scroll). I wondered if a smaller event that only lasted a few hours, was more successful.
So I asked someone who just held one.
The Facebook Launch Party for A Bond of Venom and Magic
Author Karen Tomlinson launched her awesome fantasy novel a Bond of Venom and Magic last week and hosted a three hour Facebook party to celebrate. She had four other authors join her and everyone brought books to run giveaways. I jumped in briefly and things were happening there! A lot more commenting and engagement than at Virtual Fantasy Con. I asked Karen if she’d share her thoughts on the event and she did!
“I organized the face book party at least two months ago if not longer, therefore I think the time frame gave me plenty of time to organize and promote it. I have promoted on my Facebook page, profile, twitter, instagram, tumblr and my street team. I also ran at least 4 competitions for ebooks and paperbacks for posts to share and promote #ABOVAM. I was also lucky enough to have some awesome authors who generously took part and partied with me.
“You asked how the party went. From my perspective it was a success. For me the party was about celebrating my release not selling books, so yes I would absolutely do a release party again. For me it made my release day special to share it with all the people who had supported me for months before. They also got chance to win some fantastic giveaways and it was nice to see them come and show their support and share my special day with them.
“I also had some new people who came to join in the posts. I expect quite a few joined in just for the giveaways as is the way of things but maybe a few will decide to read my book at some point. With that in mind, it is difficult to say if it increased book sales, particularly as it is my first book. However I am not measuring success of this launch in sales. Readers do not know me, and have no reason to buy my books. I also have only a few reviews, albeit some really good 5* ones, therefore the fact that more people now know of me and my book for me is a success.
“I gained a few more sign ups to my mailing list and have gained a few new followers on my street team. I had about 120 said they were coming and 60+ people interested. I think in the end about 40 people attended.”
That sounds like a huge success to me. With a lot less planning, Karen reached new readers, and she had fun celebrating her book release.
What went wrong with the Con?
This post is hitting epic length for me, but I don’t want to wrap up in a later post so bear with me a bit longer. There are a few things that went wrong with Virtual Fantasy Con and some things that went right with the release party and in organizing my booth. Remember, I had some of the highest comment counts for both days I attended. I want to touch on those in case you think this idea isn’t a total bust. I do think a well organized, small Facebook event, could be great.
The things you need to get right are:
- Clear communication
- Set a schedule
- Make it easy to find and share
The bigger the event the more important it is to clearly tell people when they need to be there, what to expect, and what they should (or shouldn’t do). And it should be EASY to locate this information as people will forget it and want to look it up again.
Virtual Fantasy Con was huge. After a crazy summer, I spent hours reading through FB threads and comments trying to get a grasp on what I’d signed up for. I read through the document files, which often linked to older threads that had been supplanted by new threads with different information (but the document hadn’t been updated).
I made a lot of assumptions, didn’t know the “official” start time until after the event started and only discovered the event had a website after it was over. From the many questions bouncing around, I saw that a lot of other booth-holders were confused, which made the event organizers jobs that much more difficult as they answered questions (probably for the upteenth time) when they needed to focus on putting the thing on. Heck, a few authors commented that they’d just found the behind-the-scenes group dedicated to organizing the event! Eeep! No wonder they were lost.
Keep it simple. Have links and info all in one spot. Virtual Fantasy Con was a multi-day event with different event pages for each day, plus a reader’s corner event page that was supposed to be a staging area but I never went to, and nothing seamlessly linked to the other.
Host a single event with a single page with all the links to participants, websites, profiles right in the top of the description. Don’t make people hunt. Make sure you look at what you’ve set up from an outside perspective. It is easy to miss something like a key link or time when you know the information. Ask yourself “When is this happening? Where is it taking place? Who is attending? What will I get out of going? Why should I attend?” Answer those questions, be able to tell people the answers very easily in the event info, and you’ll be ahead of the game.
Set a Schedule
Virtual Fantasy Con had a set schedule for the focus of each day of the event. I thought that was great until I realized I didn’t know when the event started or ended or when the giveaways would be held. I donated books for a giveaway and I’m not sure who they should go to or when I’ll find out.
Your time is valuable, and so is your reader’s. Everyone is busy, has a life, a job, family, has to buy groceries and … They need to know when they should show up and what to expect just as much as any guests helping you out. Even better, if there is something they specifically want (like to win a certain book or meet a specific author), they should know when that is going to happen.
I set up my schedule page so that anyone interested could jump to the giveaways or guest authors, scroll through to see what was being given away when, so they knew when to show up for that event. Karen put the author schedule of the event in the description.
Waiting around for hours to see what is going to happen and maybe win a free book doesn’t cut it. I’d avoid that event too.
Ask any guest author joining to promote. Heck, don’t just ask them to do it, ask them specifically how they are going to promote it. Or ask them to send it to their mailing list and post. If you don’t get a plan of action, they might forget about it and put it off.
With Virtual Fantasy Con I think a lot of attendees relied far too much on a few to promote the event. The organized kept reminding people to share the event or it wouldn’t be a success — in those words. They didn’t say “please share this announcement” and then given some great ad copy with a graphic. Or “please use the hashtag #VirtualFantasyCon on all posts so we can reshare.” That would have been so easy!
And if it is a Facebook event, don’t shy away from spending $5 or so to do a Facebook ad or boost a post. You should know what you are doing when targeting your audience so you don’t waste money, but a few bucks could help bring in new readers.
Make it Easy to Share and Find
It seems like all Facebook event urls are numbers. Ugh. But once you have a post about the event along with a catchy graphic, you just need to share it or boost it. So make some pretty graphics, announce who will be part of the event and what they are giving away, and then hand out the graphics and url to everyone who might be willing to share it.
I had to swipe and then tweak/make a Virtual Fantasy Con log for my graphics because I didn’t find anything available in the prep group. That makes it a little challenging to share and promote, to say the least. I’ve been a part of an Instafreebie giveaway where the organizer handed out the html for a blog post as well as great graphics. AWESOME! Was it a success? Holy kittens, YES!
What was even more problematic with Virtual Fantasy Con is I couldn’t share my booth permalink until it was created the day of the event. Those 3000 emails I sent out asking people to attend — I could only give the day’s event page and tell people to look for me. Looking back, I should have told them to go to my Facebook page to get the link. Live and learn. But not being able to say how to find me was annoying. It worked to send people to the full event, but I bet even they could get frustrated looking for something specific in that huge list of authors.
If you are the event organizer, don’t expect your participants to do all the work or figure out what work needs to be done. Delegate some specific tasks along with the tools so the task can easily be completed. Post rules or instructions and schedules in an easy to see/find location. Look at the event from an outside perspective and see if you can find when it is, what is going on, who is attending, and why you should bother going. Do all of that and everyone will be happier and the event a success!
Hunh. Apparently I learned something about event planning in that leadership class I took. 😉
Thank you for hanging in there for this mega-article. Seriously, my epic fantasy writing seems to be spilling over to my blog posts! I hope you found this article useful and if so, let me know.