Book Signings at Trade Shows: A Primer

By James J. Gormley

As an author, it may seem self-serving for me to talk about book signings to suppliers, but there are good and realistic reasons to host book signings at your booth 
 and bad and unrealistic reasons.

I have had the opportunity to write six books, five niche health books starting in 1999 and one (the most recent) health politics book in 2013 (Health at Gunpoint: The FDA’s Silent War Against Health Freedom), and I have done book signings at natural products industry shows for a few of them, including Expo West 2013. I have also planned book signings for books by others when I was on the supply side.

One thing that companies sometimes think, and wrongly in those cases, is that sales of any given book will not only defray the cost of the book signing but will also create a separate revenue stream from sales of the book, especially if the book is on a topic that is generally or specifically supportive of the given company’s products, ingredients, or philosophy.

As Brian Jud wrote on his website, Book Marketing Works, “Although sales are important, you will rarely sell enough books at a show to defray all your expenses.” That’s an understatement, especially if you are giving the book away to retailers.

Hosting book signings can accomplish a few interrelated things: (1) generating buzz at a show; (2) generating booth traffic; and (3) getting the word out about a topic or nutrient that is important to your business.

I have seen book signings  — when properly promoted pre-event, in the show program, and at the event  — generate a good-to-massive amount of booth traffic, especially at retailer-focused shows. For finished product manufacturers, brokers and sales/marketing staff can easily pull aside book-signing-attending retailers afterward to see if they have any questions about their orders and to sell them on new (or other) products.

Books on topics that help raise “all boats” can be very helpful because they are written by outside experts and typically constitute third-party support.

That all being said, offering a book that is too supportive or specifically linked to what you are selling can lead to FDA warnings related to “extension of labeling” violations and FTC actions (if the book violates a consent decree), so it is probably best to do a book signing for a book that is generally supportive of your key category without being a “sleaze out” to your company, brand, or product.

Another excellent use of books is as giveaways via social media (such as your brand’s Facebook page) to encourage engagement or for radio shows that feature the author and/or topic you are supporting via show sponsorship.

To sum up, the best way to use books and book signings is as tools, specifically marketing and promotional tools that drive traffic, build followings, and reward engagement.

[Note: Adapted from an article which originally appeared in Natural Products INSIDER Supplement Perspectives]

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