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How to Sell Books at a School Visit

In my last blog post, I shared steps to get started doing author visits. I'm continuing the topic because so many authors have asked me in the past month for details about author visits. The most common question is related to how to do book sales.

Below are some of the questions I've been asked recently. 

How do I sell books at an author visit?

Every school I've worked with for in-person author visits has wanted students to have the opportunity to purchase books or they have purchased books for their students. However, I do not require it as part of my author visit contract. Nor do I require a minimum purchase. (I have heard librarians' horror stories of closets full of books because of required purchases from authors. They didn't like it.)

Books are always ordered in advance for me. (More on that later.) 

Edited: When I shared this post on social media, author Marty Kelly shared a different perspective that I hadn't considered. He always has the forms go home on the day of the visit. He says he sells more books if the book flyer goes home after the visit. (This makes sense!) He personalizes books from his stock at home and mails them through insured media mail. I don't plan to change my process because of the cost of shipping, but others may feel differently.

I love supporting small business, so my first question to the school is if they have a local bookstore they would like to work with (and sometimes the bookstore provides a discount to schools) or if they want me to order books. I also let them know I need book orders a full month in advance to ensure delivery of books on time. 

For those of you who have a bookstore close to you, consider working directly with them to purchase your books. 

Whether you sell your inventory of books or work with a bookstore, parents need a book order form.

What should be included on a book order form?

To sell the books at an author visit, I suggest sending home a book order form. Parents want to know they're getting a quality book. They often want to guide their child in choosing the best book for them. This takes time. And an order form makes it possible.
As you can see, my order form isn't fancy. I created it in a Word document. But it works! 

Please note the different things you can include on the form. I include
• A title and brief introduction of why they have the form.
• Cover images. I also try to include one page spread. When I had fewer titles published, I included more. 
• Short blurbs for each book. Since my books are middle grade and picture books, I also include a page count. 
• I leave blanks for the due date, who checks should be made out to, and who to contact with questions. Please note: It is much easier for the school to collect checks and cash and write you one check then for you to collect a large number of checks. 
• Organize a chart for easy ordering.
• Make sure you have a place for subtotal, tax, and total due. Consult your state's department of revenue or your tax consultant if you have questions about collecting and paying sales tax if you are the one selling the books and not a bookstore. (In Pennsylvania you apply for a sales tax license.)
• At the bottom of the page I include an order summary with the student's name, homeroom/teacher name, as well as the number of books ordered, amount of payment enclosed, and if they are paying by cash or check. 

Do kids just bring money on the day of the author visit to purchase books?

No. I don't recommend having students bring money the day of an author visit for sales. I suspect my book sales would be significantly less than half if I counted on day-of sales. The other issue is time. Typically my school visits are very scheduled. Students' schedules are already altered due to the visit. And there's little time to meet students standing in line to get their books signed.

How do I collect money for book sales at an author visit?

Schools collect the money in the way they prefer. Most accept cash and checks. I do not accept digital payments for author visit sales because I want the school to verify and collect all payments. The school writes a check to the author and typically provides the check on the day of the school visit.

How do I work with a bookstore to sell books at an author visit?

I provide the form and have the event coordinator consult with the bookstore of their choice. I don't work with the bookstore directly, though you might let the bookstore know you'll be in town if you think you'll have the energy to stop by after a visit to sign any additional stock they might have.

Most authors likely have a bookstore close by. I do not. So I let the school choose the bookstore. (I don't consider 45-50 minutes close...)

When do you sign books for a school visit event?

If the school works with a bookstore, make sure time is built into the day for signing. It takes a shockingly long time to personalize each book. (A pile this size takes hours. Big Name Authors might just sign their name or use a bookplate. I write the child's name, a phrase, and sign my name.) 

If I order the books, I prefer to sign them at home. It still takes a shockingly long time to personalize each book. And sometimes the "help" isn't as helpful as you'd like (as seen below). And yes, I know cats on a table makes many cringe. 

How many books will I sell at an author visit?

The more books you have, the more books you'll sell. The more topics you write about, the more books you'll sell. For my books, some kids love history. Others love science. Some readers love my book The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion, but it's not a big seller for school visits sine it's written for fans of the Little House books. (Other titles might sell 20-30 and the LIW Companion might sell 5.) Other history lovers appreciate The Story of the Wright Brothers. But by far, my most popular books are the books in The Truth About series. And honestly, I have fun seeing which book is the most popular at each school. It's typically Woof! The Truth About Dogs or Meow! The Truth About Cats

How do I sell books at a school-sponsored family event like family literacy night?

Make sure you have help. Your job is to meet the families and sign the books. The school should provide someone to pass out sticky notes so the names can be written down. Another person should collect payments. But YOU have to provide all the cash to make change as well as a way to collect credit card payments.

How do I purchase inventory to sell books at an author visit?

Some people use the nice discounts publishers offer. I don't do that because those discounted purchases typically do not count toward royalties. Mostly I use Laura understands the importance of getting the largest discount possible and with free (or minimal) shipping. 

I send an email letting her know which titles I need and how many of each. She tells me the cost as well as any relevant details. Then we finalize the order. I pay (through PayPal), and then she orders.

Do I need to collect sales tax on book sales?

This question is best asked to your accountant. You can also use your state's revenue department website. But yes, you almost always need to collect (and then pay) sales tax. I have a sales tax license for Pennsylvania. Delaware is a tax-free state, so when I visit I don't collect sales tax since the school's location (not mine) is relevant.

Do you have a tip to sell more books while getting students excited about author visits?

Make sure students see a preview of your books in advance. (For most full-day visits, I send a collection of books at no cost to them.) Remind your event contact of any teacher guides available for your books. 

If you write for the educational market, you can still have book sales and author visits! It's how I got established with my author visits. Those books may not be as enticing as trade books, but school visits are an incredible way to connect with readers.

Don't forget to read how to get started with author visits which I shared in my last post.
There's a lot to be learned about author visits. You might want more guidance. Check out School Visit Experts

And you don't want to miss this valuable resource. Even experienced presenters learn a lot from Kim Norman's book called Sell Books and Get PAID Doing Author School Visits. (Affiliate link at no additional cost to you.)
I really appreciate all of the notes about the last blog post. This seems like a topic we need to talk about more. Please remember to let your local writing group know I have presentations about author visits (and more). You can see my event schedule here though more are in the works (but not finalized) that are not listed. I teach in-person and online. If you're ready for a personal consultation, I'd be happy to help. 

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1 comment

  1. Your website is a goldmine of information! My first picture book is publishing this year, and I hope to be doing author visits in the fall. Thank you for all this information that will be incredibly helpful to me!