Sales. Revenue. Profit. These terms make the world go 'round, because business cannot sustain itself without them. Because of that, currency is the simplest and typically the only metric used to determine success. When it comes to participating in events, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking "I spent $X on this event and I earned $Y." If $X exceeds $Y, was the event a failure?
When it comes to business, determining the return on investment on marketing activities is tricky. Sales don't normally happen right away. Oftentimes, potential customers need repeated "touching" to build awareness and stimulate demand. Then, once a potential customer opens the wallet and buys, the vendor must do well enough to satisfy that customer's expectations for the customer to both justify a second purchase and to recommend others to purchase, too.
I have read that an authors's main focus in participating at event should not be sales, but marketing. I can see why folks would say that, but I cannot entirely agree. Sales must factor into the decision to return to an event.
If I participate as a vendor at an event and there's no traffic and/or few potential customers, then the excursion is a waste. A roomful of vendors trying to sell to one another is no fun. There must be opportunity to recoup costs if not make an actual profit. If I participate as vendor and there's no traffic and/or few potential customers, it indicates that:
In either case, that's not an event I care to lose money on again.
Some events change. One, the Imaginarium in Louisville, Kentucky, completed its turn of focus from being a gaming event with readers to a writers conference. Writers (or aspiring authors) are not my target audience; therefore, that is not an event to which I'll return.
Because my modest budget cannot sustain repeated losses, I do factor in cost and revenue. Some events are free, thereby incurring little in the day of direct costs beyond mileage, inventory, and time. Especially when I have a cheap (or free—thanks, brother!) place to stay, these events make sense. I can build my brand and fan base while minimizing the financial stress. (At the last Beech Grove Artists Collective Art Walk, one woman ran across the street to tell me she'd loved my book, FOCUS. What a giddy feeling!)
With some events that are young, meaning they are first-time events or recently begun events, I often give them more than one chance to mature into profitable venues for me. The Monday Creek Publishing Book Festival held in Nelsonville, Ohio is one of those events with lots of potential. My costs were time, mileage, and inventory. I did better than anticipated and will be happy to return in 2023. The organizer is working hard to make this the premier literary event of southeastern Ohio. I just returned from Lust in the City, a brand new event focused on the romance genre and taking a different tack by soliciting committed attendees through advance ticket sales. I didn't come close to breaking even, but I can see the immense potential of this event. It, too, has an extremely dedicated organizer who I believe will make this an extraordinary book fair as it matures. I want to be there as both events grow and mature.
Other events that oftentimes work out well are not book-related at all. I've gone to various art shows where I sold no paintings, but did sell books. The lack of similar competition makes my wares memorable and stand out from the other vendors' offerings. I'll be taking advantage of that uniqueness next weekend at the Northwestern Band Association Fall Craft Show in Springfield, Ohio and Art on Vine at the Rheingeist Brewery in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Although I've been doing this for several years now, each event adds to my experience and helps to adjust my expectations and manage my hopes. I like to think I'm getting better an judging which events will prove profitable from both financial and marketing standpoints.