HOW TO WORK A BOOK FESTIVAL SO IT WORKS FOR YOU
by Patricia L. Fry
If you have a book to promote, sooner or later you’ll probably participate in a book festival. There are hundreds of book and author festivals held throughout the U.S. each year where you—or your publisher—can rent a booth and sell books. Organizations such as the Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network (SPAWN) often purchase booth space at book festivals and invite members to come and sell their books or to send books for display.
Authors can also secure booths at trade fairs, flea markets and so forth. I had a booth at our county fair one year and sold nearly 200 copies of my brand new local history book. I’ve also set up booths at arts and crafts fairs and various other community events.
How Many Books Can You Sell at a Book Festival?
We’d all like a guarantee, before getting involved in a book festival. The truth is that you could walk away $300 richer or it might cost you money to participate. Your success depends on several factors. While no one can second-guess the public’s book-buying habits, there are steps you can take to ensure greater success. For example, it’s important that you choose the right venue. In other words, bring the right books to the right place.
If I’m doing a book festival or craft fair close to home, I always bring my local history books. If I’m out of town, these books won’t be of much interest to festival goers. When I’m participating in the SPAWN booth, I bring my writing-related books. Many of the folks coming to this booth are interested in writing and publishing.
I generally sell anywhere from 6 to 20 copies of my books at a book festival. There was one time, however, when I sold nothing—because I chose the wrong venue. I joined a fellow author in his booth at a large book festival in Los Angeles. I had a metaphysical adventure story and books on writing. A large banner above this booth advertised that we were selling mysteries and children’s books. So, people came to our booth to purchase mysteries and children’s books.
A booth displaying a large variety of books attracts a lot of attention. If your book has a dull, uninteresting cover, chances are it won’t get noticed. People are first drawn to books with colorful, eye-catching, appealing covers. Next, they seem to gravitate toward a book on a subject of their interest: horses, writing, history, poetry or a period novel, for example.
Focus On Exposure Not Sales
Of course, you hope for sales when you participate in a book festival. But what if you don’t sell as many books as you expected or you don’t sell any? Sure, it’s disappointing, but this doesn’t mean that the festival was a failure.
The sale isn’t the only way to measure success. Exposure has value, too. And a book festival is a good way to get exposure for your book—to make people aware of it. Any time you display your book or talk about it, you’re getting exposure. There are those sales you make on the spot—spontaneous sales. And there are those that come only after exposure. The point is to view each person you talk to as a potential customer. If he doesn’t buy your book now, there’s a possibility that he will in the future.
It’s important that you hold to this belief. It will help you maintain a good attitude and a good attitude will go a long way toward making friends and making sales.
Create Great Promotional Material
Whether you’re sending your book to an out of town book festival for display or selling your books from your own booth, you’ll need something to hand out. Your handout should be every bit as professional and appealing as your book.
I’ve studied a wide variety of promotional pieces. While some seem like an afterthought, others are so appealing that I can’t bring myself to discard them. A good promotional piece should reflect the tone and appearance of your book. What is the function of a promotional piece? It’s a reminder, it’s a sales pitch and it provides necessary information.
At one author festival, I found a lovely poetry book featuring photographs of charming kittens throughout. On the cover was a basketful of adorable kittens in full color. I wanted to remember this book and possibly order copies for holiday gifts. To my dismay, the promotional material for this beautiful book consisted of mimeographed flyers.
What comprises a good promotional piece? I prefer a color copy of the book cover on one side of light to medium-weight cardstock. Put a brief description of the book, your qualifications (if pertinent) and ordering information on the other side. I also recommend designing your promotional material in postcard or bookmark size. Anything much larger poses a problem when displaying them with your books at book fairs. The smaller size is better for mailing and is easier for potential customers to handle.
What to Bring to a Book Festival when You’re Sharing a Booth
If you’re participating in a booth with several others, find out from the organizer how much space you’ll have and what you can and cannot bring. If your area of space (generally on a table) is 18 inches across and you have one title to display, you may want to bring a display stand, maybe a small standing poster showing off your book cover, 50 or so books, promotional material and maybe even some candy or stickers to hand out. The SPAWN booth often offers visitors stickers that say, "I love books." I’ve also seen authors provide a display of advertising pencils as giveaways. Give people a reason to come to your area.
Bring change in appropriate denominations. I generally round off the prices of my books for festivals. Rather than charge $15.95 plus tax, I’ll ask $16 and I’ll pay the tax. Sometimes for my $6.50 book, I’ll ask $7, letting the customer pay the tax.
While virtually all book festivals will have food and drinks for sale, you might want to bring your own water and lunch. Also bring sunscreen, a hat and a sweater. It wouldn’t hurt to throw an extra folding chair in the trunk of your car. Organizers typically provide two chairs per booth.
I highly recommend investing in a luggage carrier with wheels to transport boxes of books. I bought mine at a garage sale. As a substitute, use a piece of luggage with wheels.
When It’s Your Booth.
Booths can cost anywhere from $75 to $600 or more, depending on the scope of the event. If you want a booth but have only one or two titles to sell, you might consider inviting others to participate with you. By sharing the cost of the booth, you stand a better chance of profiting. Additionally, people are drawn to booths that are interesting and inviting. A larger display of books will attract more people than just one or two titles will.
Choose your booth partners carefully. Avoid authors with books that compete with yours. But consider those with books of the same nature. A book for preschoolers and one for teens might be a good combination. A book of poetry and a book for young writers may compliment one another. A book featuring extreme sports and an action novel might be a good match.
You might consider sharing your booth with someone who has a product rather than a book. If yours is a children’s book, partner with a local toyshop owner or someone who makes wooden toys from home. Another way to attract attention is to wear a costume. If your novel is set in 18th century England, dress the part and decorate your booth appropriately. If the main character in your children’s book is a clown, become that clown.
Book festival organizers generally provide a table, a covering for the table and a sign. Make sure that your booth is appropriately categorized. You might want the title of your book on the sign instead of your publishing company name, for example. Additionally, at some book fairs, the booth signs are tacked to the front of the tables. People can’t see your sign when others are standing in front of your booth. I suggest making a large banner that you can post just in case you need the extra signage.
A small sign that says, "autographed copies" will impress and draw some shoppers.
A small folding table placed at the back of our booth also comes in handy at book festivals. Purchase these at Office Depot. Bring a large tablecloth that will hide boxes of books and other stuff that’s stored under the table.
Also bring extra pens (at least 5 of mine walk away during every event), felt markers, tape, bookstands, scissors, paperweights (we use painted rocks) and any advertising posters you might have. Don’t forget your promotional pieces and business cards.
Display With Pizzazz
Presentation is everything. If you have a sweet little book of poems, for example, wrap some of them in pretty paper and tie them with ribbon. This can make a most appealing display.
Add something to make your book even more special. I wrote a book on journal-keeping for teens. For the next book festival, I will package it with a journal book and a pen. This will transform a nice little gift book into a very nice gift package.
Maybe your book cover is particularly lovely. Create some note cards featuring the cover. Offer them for sale separately or together with the book. Have gift bags made with the cover of your book on the front.
Plant seeds about gift giving. Wrap a few books in appropriate gift paper. Put up signs that state, "Perfect Gift for Dad," "Easter Gift Idea" or "Do Your Holiday Shopping Now."
Sell More Books at a Book Festival
A key to selling books at one of these festivals is to connect with the potential buyer. When someone looks at my books on writing, I ask, "Are you a writer?" Invariably, we become engaged in conversation, which affords me the opportunity to give my sales pitch.
I once watched a children’s book author ask everyone who walked by, "Do you know a child who is around 12 years old?" Many people did and many of them bought his book. In fact, he sold out before the day was over.
If someone expresses an interest in your book, but doesn’t buy it, make sure he/she walks away with one of your professional quality promo pieces.
And this brings me to another important point. Know when enough is enough. I’ve seen authors oversell their books and turn potential customers away. Likewise, I’ve observed authors avoiding contact with people who, with a little nudging, might have bought their book. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere and it’s up to the author to discover it. How?
- Be observant.
- Learn to read body language.
- Know how to talk about your book.
- Practice your sales pitch.
- If you need help with any of the above, join a Toastmaster’s club.
- Make it easy for people to purchase your book.
- Have plenty of change.
- Accept checks.
- Accept credit cards.
- Provide bags for their purchases.
Book festivals can be worthwhile endeavors, but you have to be well prepared and willing to stretch and grow.
–Patricia Fry is president of SPAWN. She is also the author of 16 books including, "The Successful Writer’s Handbook," (Matilija Press, 2003). http://www.matilijapress.com