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Opinion: What Does An Indie Author Fair Need To Succeed?

Opinion: What Does an Indie Author Fair Need to Succeed?

Headshot of Catriona Troth

Indie author Catriona Troth, a member of the Triskele collective

To help indie authors who are planning to set up their own literary events in 2015, Catriona Troth, part of the Triskele collective, shares post-event feedback on the first Indie Author Fair which took place at the Chorleywood Lit Fest last autumn, and calls for YOUR opinions as to how such events might be improved.

Yes, the dust has barely settled and we’re already thinking about next year.

The feedback we received for the first ever Indie Author Fair has been overwhelmingly positive. Check out this report with pictures on the Triskele Books blog.

Everyone commented on the warm and buzzy atmosphere and the variety of activities going on: a pop-up bookshop, author readings, children’s storytime, afternoon teas, photography and interview sessions, and probably most enjoyable, meeting readers and other indie authors.

Indie Author Fair promotional bannerNot to say there weren’t a few problems. In our planning for IAF#15, we need to address these and think about what we want to get out of the new, improved Indie Author Fair. Which is where we’d like your thoughts, and we hope that by sharing this feedback we’ll help indie authors run successful events, wherever they are in the world.

  • Space – we knew even before the day began the venue was not ideal. Even with a few last minute drop-outs, we were packed about as tight as was physically possible. On the plus side, the room always seemed busy and full of energy – but display space was severely limited and at peak times it was difficult for people to stop and chat.
  • Location – Being part of the Chorleywood Lit Fest meant shared publicity (though perhaps more could have been achieved). And visitors to the other Lit Fest Events could pop down and see us between talks. But we were tucked away behind the main venue and didn’t attract passing trade.
  • Author Readings – authors loved having the chance to read from their books, and people loved to hear them. It gave the event ‘a literary feel’ (as Ricardo Fayet of Reedsy put it). Readers are more likely to buy your books if they catch a flavour by hearing a passage read aloud. And yet having those readings in the midst of the Fair meant everything stopped for the duration and put off potential browsers in the doorway. Would it be better to have the readings in a separate venue?
  • Sales – for all the reasons given above, very few authors made any significant sales (or any sales at all). Bringing so many indie authors together in one place meant we garnered a lot of attention – culminating in an article in the Bookseller. But it also meant that authors were in competition with each other for sales. How can we address that?

Suggestions about a suitable location range from other, larger Lit Fests where we could have a more visible presence, to the middle of a shopping mall. Which approach we take depends a lot on what we believe the main purpose of the Fair to be.

Do we want to aim for a more commercial event with a focus on sales, or a literary showcase? Would it be better to attach ourselves to a major event to garner national attention or encourage a series of smaller local occasions, perhaps geared to location/genre?

We’d love to hear your views. And if you’re planning to stage your own indie author event, wherever you are in the world, please feel free to ask questions via the comment box, and I’ll be happy to answer them drawing on our experience in Chorleywood.

OVER TO YOU

ALLi will be running its own Indie Author Fair as part of Indie ReCon and London Book And Screen Week on 17th April in Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London’s largest indie book store. If you’re a member and you’d like to take part, send an email to [email protected]ntauthors.org.
Are you planning to hold an indie author event in your area in 2015? If so, connect with ALLi for input and ideas – and if you’re not already a member of ALLI, now would be a great time to join!

 

Catriona Troth

Catriona Troth is the author of the novels "Ghost Town" and "Gift of the Raven", and a member of the Triskele Books author collective.
She has also been the key organiser of a number of live events giving a platform to indie authors, including this year's inaugural Triskele Lit Fest on 17th September at LIFT in Islington.

This Post Has 17 Comments
  1. Hi, I know this reply is a bit late. My thoughts are:

    A great networking event but we need to focus on growing sales. Linking with larger established literary events or related activities would be great, if possible.

    More space would be good too – especially from the point of view of visitors being able to wander round easily and talk to people, and feel they could browse.

    I thought the readings were a key part of the event but a separate room or enclosed space would be much better.

    I don’t think us all being together matters (competition-wise) – what’s important is that we’re either linked to an event so people will attend and know we are there, or that we’re in a location which attracts potential customers.

    Looking forward to this year’s event.

  2. You are all giving us some great food for thought. Thank you so much. We will be starting to plan 2015 v soon and be sure we will be taking your ideas forward!

    Very keen to hear from anyone who has run or who is planning something similar elsewhere!

  3. For this year, I think a lot of the ideas above are definitely worth absorbing. I’d also like to throw out a suggestion. How about having a series of location-based IAFs? For example, authors who set their books in Wales, or France, or Scotland or Spain could work ‘like stink’ together on as smaller teams. Using the IAF brand to sell books, promote the Indie Author quality message, connect with local readers and each other. I’m thinking we use the concept like a franchise. We could also have one big bash when all those teams come together and enjoy the indie network effect, perhaps organising the sales/Human Library/readings element as separate sections/rooms. I hereby volunteer to organise a mini-IAF in Zürich.

  4. Hello Writers,

    Some thoughts on the Chorleywood Fest: A great idea and the catalogue was excellent (without my photo). Meeting people, old and new faces, was heart-warming and for that alone the trip out was worthwhile. Congratulations to all the organisers who must have worked like stink to get it running.

    But … well, it was the first I believe so we’ve all learned from it … the space was inadequate and I’m not sure the readings were audible. They also interrupted the flow of things. I’m a bit deaf anyway and public readings never enthral me.

    1. Thanks, David. I loved the readings in one way, but do agree it brought things to a halt as well. So, that’s certainly something else to throw in to the mix. Space became an issue to due having to swap halls, so it was something outside of our control at that time, but certainly a big factor for arranging the next.

  5. Re. Chris’s comment, authors can leave pre-signed books on the stall. As was commented by one large commercial bookseller at a recent LBF, “a signed book is a sold book”.

  6. I think Ian’s idea is an excellent one. Books sold in one area, and authors shunted off to the reading area where they can better relate to their readers without any sales pressure (except of course those authors rostered onto sales duty, who selflessly sell everybody’s books without pushing their own.)

    We should also negotiate to set up camp in the central space of London’s busiest shopping mall (white city?) Naturally this will cost an arm and a leg to each author involved, but isn’t it worth it to sell your work? At the end of the day publishing is a business, or why are we here?

  7. That’s most impressive, Christopher. Well done, you! Yes, we had sponsorship from the Ingram Group, Matador and Reedsy. All three were very keen to sponsor us, in return for a presence at the Fair – I guess because that meant they had a chance to interact with indie authors.

  8. Great feedback.Thanks for this. CHINDI ran a Xmas stall where we just logged sales for each author each day. We sold about £670 books over 4 days. Authors worked in shifts to cover the sales and we all had a summary of each book so we could push it. If someone said they liked science fiction we pointed in the right direction.. Most liked to have books signed too if the author was there. Question: Did you get much sponsorship? We are thinking of running an event late summer and hoping to cover our printing costs etc

  9. Ian’s idea is a good one. I find when I myself browse book and craft fairs I’d rather look at the goods without feeling I’m under the watchful gaze of the author or creator. Some browsers are scared off by that and some of us authors find it hard to tread that fine line between being friendly/informative and giving the hard sell. It isn’t all about sales, of course, but also about exposure and publicity.

    The suggestion of having fiction and non-fiction in separate places wouldn’t work for me, however, as I write both. I may be on the way to having a split personality, but ….

  10. Hi Ian. We did briefly contemplate the idea of a central payment section, but the sheer terror of contemplating how to keep track of who was owed what money (like splitting the bill at the end of the largest and most complicated dinner ever!) was enough to make us dismiss it. But if we could work out how to manage the admin, then a central browsing and payment area could potentially be an interesting idea. Thank you!

  11. I like Ian’s suggestion very much. And thank you ,Catriona, for this: I have put a suggestion to a local-ish Lit Fest (for 2016) and it will help, if they take it up, to have had some feed-back from you, not just my own impressions from behind my little stall.

    I guess having a venue which is going to catch passing trade is a very important thing to try for.

  12. Excellent feedback, Carolyn and Ian. A central browsing section is something I’d not thought of before, so thank you. I think focusing more on book sales and attracting more ‘readers’ is top of our agenda this year. We seriously had no idea how it would pan out, and Kat put a huge amount of work into publicity, so this year we need to target the right market I think. We welcome any thoughts and feedback. Thank you.

  13. I attended the fair and was very impressed. I really enjoyed networking and meeting everyone.

    In regard to actual sales, I think that the authors and visitors were both feeling nervous about this. Having the books only available on the author’s table meant it became an unintentional high pressure situation for both. Perhaps, and it’s just an idea, each author should submit a pile of books to a central ‘bookshop’ area where people can browse the books without the high pressure situation of looking and commenting in front of the author. And then, with a central cash register, sales can be taken. This way the readers will treat it just like a real bookshop (albeit with merchandise limited to the partaking authors).

  14. Hi Carolyn. I think we all hoped we’d sell more books. We’d billed it everywhere as a ‘pop-up bookshop’ with the intention of attracting the reading public. It proved a lot harder to get that message across than we anticipated!

  15. Maybe if the event had been billed as an Author and Book fair, it would have attracted more readers. However, as it was geared towards showing new writers ways to publish their books it attracted a much smaller pool of interested parties who weren’t there primarily to buy books.
    I agree with the suggestion of having the readings elsewhere – in fact, wasn’t that the original plan?
    The author next to me thought the non-fiction books should have been together in a separate section. He’d travelled from the north of England and hadn’t sold any.
    I think the purpose of the afternoon wasn’t entirely clear to some participants, including the general public. I was there because I hoped to sell books and chat to potential readers, which didn’t really happen.
    On the positive side, there was a lovely atmosphere.
    I’d like to see a book market in St Albans Arena, for example, where authors could hire a stall and the public could buy a book signed by the author. Keeping it simple often works.

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