Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Homeschooled Authors at OCEANetwork Conference Recap

So it's come and gone and here's how it went...

Back at the beginning of May, I put out a call to see if any of my fellow homeschooled authors were interested in going in together on a booth at my local homeschool conference. I told them I would handle setting up the table, running it, selling and promoting their books, and sending them their earnings and any leftovers. I divided the table cost per title so authors, like myself, with more titles (thus using more table space) would be paying more and those with only one title wouldn't find it too cost-prohibitive. I had a good response, ending up with 23 titles by 18 authors.

The day finally came and we had a blast talking to people, answering questions about writing and self-publishing, and promoting the different books according to each customer's reading tastes and those of their children. Friday's sales were a little slow--you could tell a lot of people were taking time to look at everything and would make decisions and do their purchasing the next day. (This is how we recall shopping at conventions, too.) Sure enough, Saturday saw sales pick up.

After a long weekend, we packed up, came home, deposited the mess in the living room and slowly began taking stock of the experience. All told, the booth sold 80 books. The most copies any one title sold was 10 and the least was 1. In addition to this, we distributed a good amount of promotional materials (business cards, bookmarks, flyers, sample chapters). People were so interested, and many aspiring writers and their parents said they were encouraged and inspired. One person said it was a very visionary thing we were all doing--working together to redeem literature. Even those who couldn't purchase right then took business cards and said they'd be looking things up online and purchasing later.
One of the most encouraging customers was a grandmother with 15 grandchildren. She literally wanted to buy one of everything on the table. As I was giving her the tour of all the books, she said, "You're doing a good job at this, you know. I want to buy everything now!" When she realized she didn't have enough cash on hand for it, she purchased what she could and had me give her a list of the titles so she could buy the rest online when she got home.

It was an amazingly fun experience and was successful in more ways than one. While some of the sales numbers aren't that impressive, the amount of interest generated and the huge way we were able to get the word out was entirely successful. Lots of people now know that there are homeschoolers writing real books, publishing them, and doing their part to redeem literature.

As a matter of fact, one person was so encouraged and inspired he has offered to cover the booth fees for any of this year's participating authors who decide to participate if we do this again next year.

Ever since the conference ended and we started looking at the numbers, I've been asking myself the question: "What factors effected the sales numbers?"

My husband and I have been analyzing everything. Here are four key areas we've identified:
  1. Convention size. Oregon's convention had about 2,100 adults in attendance last year (I haven't heard how this year's numbers compare). This is about half the size of--say--the Arizona convention. If only a small percentage of the people attending actually purchase from your booth, the varying sizes of convention will make a big difference in sales numbers. With the amount of interest and success we saw at this convention, can you imagine what we could do at the bigger ones?
  2. Demographics. Quite a few of the participating titles were written for a Young Adult audience. Unlike the Arizona convention, which Tyler and I both remember to be teeming with teens, Oregon's demographic is significantly younger. I remember us watching the people in the vendor hall and wondering to one another, "Where are all the teens?" And the overwhelming majority of parents we talked to were purchasing for children between the ages of about 6 and 13.
  3. Appearance. I'm more convinced than ever that people do judge books by their covers. I just watched several hundred people interact with 23 books, and it's true. Books with beautiful, appealing front covers and well-summarized, intriguing back covers sold well.
  4. Pricing. We noticed books that were priced a bit on the lower end for their perceived size tended to sell better. We had a few short books and a booklet priced under $8. These naturally saw a higher sales count because people don't mind as much plunking down $5 on an impulse buy.
In short, I think homeschooled authors banding together is a great idea. I think working together to promote excellent material in an excellent way is a smart move. I think the market needs a hub for finding homeschooler-authored books. I just think it will take more than one, more than two, more than three tries for the market to think of us all as the leading suppliers of good books. But once it does, we'll be set. We'll have worked together to form this hub, and our customer base will know us and know right where to look whenever the need for decent reading material strikes.

Questions? I just might have answers!
Another time I'll detail how I put this whole thing together and thoughts I've had on what I would do differently and ways it could be improved.


  1. Enjoyed the pix! Thanks so much for including me, Perry.

    1. Thank you so much for participating, Katie! I enjoyed getting to represent and recommend your book!

  2. Great recap, Perry, and we all appreciate the effort that went into this! That is a great that you had such a terrific response, and I really think that this is exactly what the Homeschool Author community needs to have happen! Defintily need more awareness as a whole.
    One thing that really coems to mind is it seems to me there may be a need for some sort of centralization format; so someone in the East could go to their conferences, etc. without everyone having to make all the same decisions again. If there could be a "Hub" effect, that anyone wanting to market more books could easily access and use.
    Also, I've been an advocate for a Homsechool Authors Co-op, raising the level of all books involved by working together and advancing the product. Almost like a publishing house, cover design, formatting, editing, would be assured... with each service provider taking a share of the profits, that way someone with a good story but no budget would have a chance at selling on par with the advanced budget-writers.
    That might mean that some ms.s would have to be declined... perhaps have a separate category, but it would help with those who have good stories, good skills, but perhaps simply no taste in design or something. A lot of things can go wrong with a self-pub project, especially for beginners...
    But by having a solid stable of high quality literature successfully is getting out there we'd have a shot at replacing some of the book-buying habits of Hs families nationwide. No one of us can write fast enough to keep an audience's attention, marketing wise, but if there was a hub of reliably good releases periodically, then we'd be a big enough fire to hold an audience, and even build a solid following, perhaps?
    I know that author marketing is really geared toward e-books these days, but I'm also suspicious that a lot of hs-ers aren't up on all the latest trends, and might be reached best and most reliably by a pin-pointed source they could come to trust and come back to for repeat buys.

    That's what keeps coming to my mind! :-)

    Again, great job!

    1. Excellent ideas, Elizabeth! I have been giving a good deal of thought to this issue of us and our customers needing a good "hub." I am intensely interested in seeing something like this happen, I just have to figure out if it is something I can help get started or if I need to leave that to others... ;) Something for me to talk to God and Tyler about for sure! And something we authors should be talking about with one another!

    2. I think one of the key components for the "main team" would be marketing/optimization savvy, (along with the editor/designer/format work, which would also be important, but could be worked within the group more loosely,) But that marketing is a killer, and if whoever was heading the co-op up was skilled there, than the success would be quicker and more pronounced.
      I feel really swamped with that end, and my books have not sold so well that I would consider myself a candidate for the job... I've talked to Sarah Holman about it, but at the time got the impression she didn't feel up to that at all... so I have to say, I'm not sure who to volunteer for that post! :-) Clearly you have the initiative at the very least... so that's one important aspect there! :-)

      Just a few quick links... though an exhaustive investigation would turn up lots more info! :-)



    3. I like where this conversation is going, Perry and Elizabeth! Lord willing, I would really love to be involved in this if it happens one day. I don't know marketing, but I would love to help in other ways. : )

    4. @ Elizabeth: Thanks for all the thoughts. Tyler and I spent a while talking about all this last night. I'm looking forward to reading those links.
      @Kelsey: Me too! Sounds like others are pretty inspired by it, too... it's a good conversation to get going...

  3. Wow. That's incredible that someone wants to help make the booth happen next year too! Love your analysis of the demographics too. I wonder if there might be a way to gather data on the demographics of homeschool conventions around the country. Hmmm....

    1. Yes! Isn't that a blessing? I found his offer hugely encouraging!
      I would guess, since you typically give your children's ages when registering for conventions, each convention must be tracking their demographics in some way. It would be really interesting to find out that info from them. It would be a big job... but someone who loves that kind of research should totally do a study of them all and compile their findings!

  4. Congratulations on a successful Homeschool Authors booth Perry. It was SO exciting to see your booth come to life, and to hear how well it was being received. I'm SO impressed by your initiative and determination to meet a need for young homeschool authors. May God richly bless you for your efforts, and help you to continue to be encouraged as you sell your books.

    1. Thank you, Elanee! It was great to see you and have your book on the table! I hope it does really well, too! :)

  5. What a great recap, Perry! Thanks for all the details. I, too, admire your initiative and determination. You have been a blessing to many of us! I'm excited by what happened at the convention. I loved the anecdotes and analysis you gave us! I look forward to the second post on the subject.
    Thank you so much for including my book!

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It was a pleasure to represent your book... you know how much I like it. ;)

  6. I'm liking these ideas. :)
    I think Elizabeth's thoughts are great. I agree, marketing is hard. I am not good at marketing, but surely there is some HSer out there who is. I also think that along with editor/designer/ format help, we need a place for HS artists to team up with authors for illustrating. I have a wonderful illustrator who is just getting started, and I'm sure there are others who would love a chance to try illustrating a book.
    And what about audio books? My siblings and I grew up listening to books on tape (this was way back when mp3s and cds were non existent, you know) and I've had multiple people ask if my books were available in audio. But I don't have the voice or the equipment to try to record the books. Maybe this would be a chance for others who have the skills needed to connect with authors.
    This is sounding fun and crazy. :) Those are just a few other ideas I thought I'd throw out there.

  7. I've nominated you for the Liebster Award, over at my blog:)