To Leave or Not to Leave?


Every author faces this question at one event or another. Maybe there is no one at the event or the people at the event aren’t coming near the author tables. How long do you stick it out?

It depends. If you’re paid to be there, obviously you stay the entire time no matter what. If you are there on your own time and sales aren’t happening, you have to weigh it carefully.

If people are approaching your table and taking bookmarks, you’ve got visibility in your favor. And you might make a few online sales later on. I can rationalize staying as long as I’m talking about the book and handing out bookmarks. Even if the sales aren’t happening, they could lead to sales.

However, I’ve been at author fairs where the only people who approached my author table were other authors and the event organizers. No one’s fault, but this wasn’t going to be a profitable event for me. It wasn’t even going to help with visibility.

Authors can’t be buying from each other every time they are vendors at events. We can’t afford it. And there’s no point in pitching to an author at the table beside you because they are there for the same reason as you–to sell books.

For the first half hour, I stood at attention at my table, waiting for a reader to come by, any reader. They didn’t. The next hour, I ended up sitting quietly and rereading my book. Because there was no one to talk with about my book, which was the reason I was there.

At one point a couple authors were talking amongst themselves and they were shushed because there was also a concurrent author talk happening.

That was when I decided to leave. If I’m not allowed to talk, there’s no point in me being at an author fair. If speakers are going to go on for the entirety of the time I’m supposed to be selling and no one is actually going to leave the speakers to check out the author fair, there’s no point in me being here.

And I’ve got revisions waiting at home. I’ve got a book launch with a million to do items waiting at home. And I took off two hours from work to be at this event and missed out on pay I need. And if I stayed, I’d miss out on the opportunity to get more work done tonight.

So I packed up early and left. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I usually stick it out at every event. But the factors conspired to make it clear this wasn’t going to be a night where I made a sale or had any visibility. It was a night that needed to be salvaged.

What would you have done? What would make you leave an event early?




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39 Responses to To Leave or Not to Leave?

  1. Those are the tough decisions. Glad you had the clarity of thought to do what needed to be done.

    • I like to honor my commitments. At the same time, if it’s clear that the event isn’t going to benefit me or my books, there comes a point when you have to call it. I’ve only left two events early because of poor turnout/lack of interaction in the past 3 years.

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    We have to make the best use of our time, so your leaving seems perfectly reasonable, particularly in the setting you describe. I’ve not participated in author fairs, but in a similar situation, I may have done the same.

    • Thanks Carrie. I hate leaving early if I said I would stay somewhere, but when it’s clear no one is coming near the authors, I felt like sticking it out would have been pointless. Usually, the authors are in a separate area from the speakers and they aren’t directly competing. I think it would have helped to have speakers for 1 hour and then just the author fair for the other hour. Maybe some of the attendees might have made their way over.

      • Carrie Rubin says:

        That would definitely make more sense.

        • I think the original idea was come hear an author talk and then go get their book. But when it’s all author talks no one wants to miss one and so the audience isn’t mingling with the authors. 🙁

          • When the organizers do not allow time for browsing among the tables/exhibits, it’s such a waste of time. (I don’t think people understand the effort and things authors/exhibitors must do to prepare and get there.). Some organizers plan a reception time/scavenger type “hunt” among the exhibits to encourage people to move through, but that’s rare.
            Being a speaker gives you the visibility, but outside that room, it can be grim. All you can do is remember for next time, and carefully ask questions before agreeing to appear (which sounds snobbish, but you are a small business and time is money) You did fine. Sometimes it’s best use of resources/time/energy to leave a few printed out flyers and move on. Graciously. Thanking them for the chance to appear.

          • I think the plan and the reality diverged. I think the organizer was expecting the audience to mill around tables and also listen to talks. But the audience was just there for talks. That scavenger hunt sounds like a great idea! Even just having 1/2 the event time be talks and 1/2 be author tables and sales. I think I will be limiting my appearances more. I’ve said yes to every offer and that’s not a good move. I need to pick and choose what is best for me and my books. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if an event will be good from talking to someone. It really can depend on who comes to the event.

          • It takes a while to get the pulse of events – and it does change. We felt lucky to get even an hour or two of only exhibit time. Organizers want lots of exhibits so it looks good, but they forget many attendees prefer to talk with friends over coffee – or escape to sightsee/shop if possible nearby(big conferences). Smart organizers direct/encourage people to browse – they know if people won’t want to come back next year if nobody walks by.These events can pay off big time for an author, but it’s always tricky. Went to one national conference where the a national guy was sure he could lure people to our book booth by offering a drawing for $100.- person had to be present to win. Word did spread and people did come by to put their name in the box, but he scheduled the drawing during a major speaker’s session/luncheon…he wouldn’t listen, he was going to show us how to get a crowd…I think 8 people showed up…it took forever to draw the winning name…you know me – so hard not to laugh. Go with your gut with conferences (and keep a sense of humor – sometimes that one person at a poorly attended conference can turn out to be a decision maker for a large organization – and word of mouth by a new fan isn’t too shabby either)

          • Definitely. Very tricky. Ugh, great idea, bad execution. He should have scheduled it during a break. Oh goodness it does sound pretty hysterical too. That’s true. You never know who will be a sale that spreads word of mouth around. It’s really cool how one person can change things.:)

  3. Not that I’ve had any book signings, but if I’m supposed to be somewhere for an appointed time, I would stay. That being said, under the circumstances, I think you did the right thing.
    I was surprised to read that authors don’t buy other authors books, Kourtney.

    • 95% of the time I completely agree with you. Commitments should be honored. But I would say in this situation I volunteered my time because I was given the impression it would be an author fair and I would be able to talk to readers and sell books. That was not happening.

      A few authors do. But from a business perspective, it’s not something we can constantly do at author events. Our purpose is to sell books to readers not each other. That being said, usually if another author vendor buys my book, I reciprocate and buy theirs. But we can’t just be buying each other’s books at every event. It gets way too expensive especially at multi-author events. And there are authors who don’t reciprocate.

      • When you said you don’t buy other authors books, I thought you meant anytime. 🙂 Thanks for the explanation.

        • Goodness, no. I have hundreds of books by other authors, waiting to be read. Many that I picked up at writing conferences and book festivals. Several that are blog buddies. I was talking about at author events where I’m a vendor. Other authors pop by my table, but they are being nice. They rarely make a purchase because they are there with the intent to sell books not buy books. 🙂

  4. EllaDee says:

    It’s a good question and I think the answer depends. How long to stay depends on why you are there. If you’ve fulfilled the purpose/obligation = Go. If the event isn’t fulfilling its purpose/obligation = Go. If you’re not having a good time = Go. If you’ve got better things to do = Go. I think it’s a gut feel thing. You know if it feels right to stay.

    • I agree. It’s never an easy decision and all the consequences have to be weighed. I usually stick it out even when sales might not be going well, as long as I’m able to rationalize being there by promoting and creating visibility. I like your decision tree. Very helpful. I will rely on it in the future. 🙂

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    I think EllaDee summed up my thoughts very well!

  6. Lori says:

    You gave it a good amount of time. I would’ve done the same.

  7. I think in the end you have to do what you did in this case – weigh the value of your time on something that’s proving fruitless versus what you could be doing. Sounds like you made the right choice.

    • If I didn’t have so many other pressing things going on, I might have stuck it out. But the opportunity cost of staying was very high. Plus it’s incredibly hard to just sit and do nothing for 1.5 hours even when you don’t have a dozen things you need to be doing.

  8. Good for you, Kourtney. Our time is precious, and I would have done the same thing. Actually, I might not have known it would be okay to leave something like that, so kudos for being brave.

    • Kate, it really depends on the venue. Some won’t allow you a spot there again if you leave early. Generally, I man my spot and don’t leave, especially if I paid to be there. I’ve done about 60 events at this point and I’ve only left two of them early because the venue didn’t/wasn’t able to hold up their end of the deal. I was planning to stick it out up until the shushing started. Then I just felt like it was impossible to do anything there.

  9. Sheila says:

    That’s a tough one but it sounds like you made the right decision. I recently read a book that advocates blog events and hops over public events for that same reason. You can’t afford to waste too much time waiting for someone to stroll over. And at least a blog event can be done in your pajamas.

    • I think an online blog tour is a cost effective and time efficient way to do a book tour. But there are people who don’t love the online stuff and you can only meet them out in the real world. It really depends on the event. I unfortunately have found certain venues are better than others and sometimes I move 30 books in a few hours and other times it’s 4-5 if I’m lucky. With the new book launch, I’m really picking and choosing events in the real world. 🙂

  10. TBM says:

    Can’t talk? Not even with your inside, whispering voice? Sorry it was a bust, but I give you kudos for going and for leaving.

    • I think the idea was good but the actuality wasn’t working. The speakers overshadowed the author fair. And not every author was given a slot to speak so some of us were just left sitting in silence. Probably could have whispered but I can’t sell a book that way. 🙂 Thanks. I always want to take advantage of an opportunity, but some opportunities don’t pan out.

  11. Time is valuable and if you had projects to attend to elsewhere then I think you made the right decision to leave early. I wouldn’t ‘shush’ you either 🙂

    • Thanks Christy. I felt like there was a major disconnect between the event authors came to and what the attendees were wanting/doing. It happens. And Then we just have to decide how to deal with it. 🙂

  12. I think you’ve got the experience now to know when it’s worth your while staying or leaving – it is ultimately about business after all. I haven’t got to that stage yet, but your wise words are going to come in handy one day 🙂

    • It’s tough. You want to honor all your commitments but sometimes the venue isn’t able to hold up their end and you have to decide if you stick it out or go. I usually try to stick it out and turn things around but sometimes you just have to accept when things can’t be turned around.

  13. I think you were wise in your decision Kourtney.. I tried selling some of my painted jugs and metal several church day events of a friends Baptist church.. It had a wonderful large area and Kitchen in which on the days we were invited with our stalls it was the cheap meal day for pensioners.. Although people would come by and say how nice.. No one was buying because it was not the right venue.. All were there for the cheap meal at lunch time.. so I gave up going.. As I would get out my knitting lol not to feel I had wasted time.. Its a lonely place sitting behind a stall when no one approaches..

    I know there will be lots of Better venues right around the corner for you.. Special Hugs Sue xxx

    • Thanks Sue. I bet you would do well at craft fairs. People tend to come there wanting to shop and spend money. And you have such amazing handcrafts. It really is about right place, right time, right people. Sometimes you can do well and other times none of that aligns and it’s tough. It’s very hard to maintain a positive outlook and it saps my energy to sit there and do nothing. I don’t mind talking and pitching the book and not making sales nearly as much as I mind sitting and doing nothing. 🙂

      I think that the same is true for you!

      • yes thats why I took my knitting along.. LOL.. it also became a talking point. And yes maybe I need to find the right pitch.. But at the moment its all systems go in the allotments.. 🙂 xxx

        • Smart. 🙂 Being a salesperson is really hard. It took me a long time to figure out how to sell my book. No need to do it unless you have the time and the bandwidth. I just think you have great products and didn’t want you to let that event discourage you. 🙂 Hugs!

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