IN OTHER WORDS: E.D.E. Bell on Hand-selling at Events

Last week I put out a call for guest posts from people who have something genre-related and creative to share. It didn’t take long for someone to step up. If you’d like to promote something send me an email via my contact form. — Jason

One of my favorite things to do as an author and editor is to interact with readers at in-person events. I tend to do Comic Cons, as people are there who might enjoy speculative work and it’s an indie-friendly environment. If you’re a writer of any path, you understand the excitement of talking to readers. It’s why we do it, after all, to hopefully make someone’s life a little better. (Don’t let yourself forget that! It’s true, and we’re out there doing it.)

My advice is for authors who don’t just want sales, but want readers. So keep in mind not everyone is geared that way. You may see your neighbor selling loads of books but they may  not be making the longer-term connections that you are. And let’s be clear, I need the sales because of kids and bills, but never at the expense of getting them into the right hands and making genuine connections.

The most important thing I could note is that what works for one person doesn’t work for another. It sounds obvious, but it’s important to keep in mind when receiving advice, which you will once you’re out there. On-genre paperbacks with standard covers have a completely different selling model from something that diverges more. Each audience is different, too—mine is full of people who are quiet or have anxiety, and selling to them requires a completely different technique. For example, while some people would argue to push for the sale, my readers don’t want that. They often stand and scan the book, and I’ll purposefully look away, to let them know they have no pressure and should continue to think about it.

My best advice is to be authentic, interact authentically, and watch what works and what doesn’t and adjust. When you accidentally say a line that makes people’s eyes light up, you think, okay, I’ll say that one again. And thus a pitch develops that’s way better than what you could have written alone.

At group events, a lot of other authors are eager to tell you what you should be doing differently. I’m talking about authors who mean well and want to help. But again, it’s so audience dependent. My quiet fantasy readers don’t want a big, flashy display. They don’t want me in a costume or want anyone else at the table. (Sexy cosplay to sell books is a topic for another day!) They don’t want dedicated display copies because they want the books to be pristine. I could go on.

Yet, here’s the single-most valuable thing I’ve ever learned. I hope this helps someone, because it’s been life-changing for me. You don’t have to listen to negativity.

I’m sure there are power structure factors in this; I don’t know if men have this issue as much. But it happens to me all the time. Someone—never someone who would actually read my books I’ve realized—walks up and criticizes me in hushed tones. The covers aren’t right. The format isn’t right. The display isn’t right. My vibe isn’t right. I’m portraying the wrong genre. I’m missing the mark. Their expression is usually pained, like it’s not easy to tell me this. But I need to know.

Writers have learned to accept feedback. We hire editors. We gather beta readers. We watch reactions. Our work is reviewed by critics. Right? So it’s not that we don’t want to listen. It’s that we don’t want to be emotionally brought down by a randosplainer when we’re already in an overwhelming environment.

My breaking point happened in Columbus. A man stood there and tore down everything I had going on. Commented on my lack of visitors. Said if I switched everything up, I could succeed. When he patted the table and moved on (they always pat the table), I was so drained that I couldn’t sell a book for three hours–in the time that normally would offer the peak sales. And that was it. I realized I couldn’t let that happen again.

From that day on, I watch for the warning, which is often, “Can I tell you something?” I now answer: “If it’s going to be something negative, then now isn’t a good time.” If it doesn’t stop them, I interrupt, “Excuse me, I need to keep this space positive. Thanks for understanding.” Step three? Turn away. Pretend to answer your phone. Anything. You don’t owe them. I try to be polite, so I had to learn this.

Another thing I’ve really grown to appreciate is my commitment not to gender people at the table. You might think, oh that’s easy, you’re in second person. But a lot of us older folk are hardwired, when a kid drops a toy, to say “oops, he dropped that” and point. It takes some retraining to say “oops, that dropped” or “they dropped something.” (And yes, some people are offended when you refer to their child or partner as “they” but that doesn’t stop me.) Even though I slip sometimes, this has gone really well. I strongly recommend it. I’d tell you the reactions I’ve had from people on this, but it would be a whole nother blog!

It’s beautiful. All of it. I just love interacting with people, and it’s such a great feeling when someone walks off hugging something that you wrote.

Anthologies are often easier for me to sell, because it’s easier to promote someone else than yourself. In fact, what sells them the best is just my enthusiasm, as well as explaining that our themes and guidelines tend to bring out each writer’s culture and perspective in their stories. “Oh! That actually sounds really interesting,” they say. Yeah, because we are interesting. We’re all so different and beautiful and when we use our writing to show that through our stories, we make the world a brighter and more loving place.

Want to join me in making something special? Through the end of November, our next anthology, Community of Magic Pens, is funding via Kickstarter, and I’m looking for help using pre-orders to pay professionally qualifying rates. Check it out, along with other projects we may have, at Or if you’re interested in my own writing, sign up for updates and buy signed copies (no pressure 🙂) at

E.D.E. Bell (she/e) was born in the year of the fire dragon during a Cleveland blizzard. After a youth in the mitten, an MSE in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan, three wonderful children, and nearly two decades in Northern Virginia and Southwest Ohio developing technical intelligence strategy, she now applies her magic to the creation of genre-bending fantasy fiction in Ferndale, Michigan, where she is proud to be part of the Detroit arts community. A passionate vegan and enthusiastic denier of gender rules, she feels strongly about issues related to equality and compassion. She revels in garlic. She loves cats and trees. You can follow her adventures at

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