With book marketing consistently ranked as one of the top challenges for the self-publishing author, you might wonder whether paying to participate in book fairs is worth the money and the effort. Indie author and ALLi member Sue Rovens provides recommended do's and don't's for a successful book fair, based on her personal experience.
Planning for and attending a book fair, aka an author fair, can be both the best of times and the worst of times, if I may borrow and amend the well-known phrase from Charles Dickens. Taking part in a book fair, even for the experienced among us, still leaves many writers scratching their head, wondering how to approach this undertaking. Or, at the very least, how not to feel as if we’ve wasted the past weekend hauling out our wares and schlepping out our boxes of books and swag for one measly sale. What we want is to come out the other end thinking we've had a successful book fair.
While I can’t promise that you’ll leave the next fair with empty boxes and a wad of cash in your pocket, I can provide you with a list of things I’ve learned over the past seven years. I’m an indie suspense/horror writer with four books (2 novels and 2 collections of short stories) and I’ve participated in a number of author fairs.
I’ve garnered together bits and pieces of what I believe are credible tips that you might find helpful in preparation for your own upcoming book fair promotions.
Let’s take a look at some key concepts in a Top Five/Bottom Five list! (Lists are always fun, aren’t they?)
Top Five Tips for a Successful Book Fair
1. Taking Money
Always provide a variety of ways to take money. The Square (which I use) or whatever device that allows you to take credit cards is crucial. I also have change/cash and have taken local checks as well. I’ve seen more folks lose sales lately because they didn’t have a way to take credit cards. This is vital. People don’t carry cash like they once did. Trust me – pay for the service and take cards.
2. Business Cards
Have business cards. They don’t have to be expensive or fancy, but it really makes a difference when someone asks “Do you have a card or something with your email/blog/website/whatever on it?” Handing someone a card with all your pertinent information makes you look professional and prepared. Again, I’ve seen many “first-timers” have nothing at all and look a little embarrassed when scrambling for a scrap of paper and pen/pencil at the last minute. (Have a number of pens at the ready. Not one, but many. Pens tend to walk off during the event)
Engage with people even if they don’t like/read your genre. I’ve had some great conversations with folks who hate suspense/horror. They physically back away from the table when I tell them about my books. BUT…I ask them what they DO like and maybe my table-mate writes that. Or the folks at the next table over. It’s good salesmanship and shows people that you listen and are open to helping other authors. Also, maybe their friends/family enjoy your genre and they’ll end up purchasing one of your books for them
4. Be on Time
Arrive early to set up. Even after seven years doing events, there’s always the feeling of rushing around and wondering if I forgot anything. Lists are handy – I even write down “bring books.” Yeah…don’t take anything for granted.
Have a chance to walk around (before or during the event) to see what other folks are doing. What kind of swag do they hand out? What do their posters look like? How do they set up their area? You can get some fantastic ideas by seeing what other people are doing. Also, don’t be afraid to ask them how [blank] works for them. Do they find a table poster catches people’s attention better than one on a tripod next to the table? Does providing candy as a “free handout” really engage people or do they just come over to “eat and run”?
Bottom Five Tips for a Successful Book Fair
1. Don't Focus on Your Phone
Please, for all that is good and right in the world, don’t just sit there on your phone and ignore people as they walk by. Think of the author fair as your store – your tiny business – where you want to be as welcoming and engaging as possible. You never know who will buy your goods.
2. Don't Leave Early
Don’t leave early. I know, there’s always emergencies. I’m not talking about those times. I’m talking about the “Oh, it’s so slow…I’m just going to pack up and go home” routine. Please don’t. Author fairs need credibility. Indie authors need credibility. You initially committed to be there from “this time” to “that time”. Make a good showing and stay the course. You might make that final sale at the very end. I’ve experienced that almost every time by staying to the last minute.
3. Don't be Rude
Don’t be nasty to your table-mate. I’ve sat next to all kinds of people over the years. Some of their genres and audience were 180 degrees opposite (is that possible?) of mine. But we are all there with one purpose – to sell our books. Be helpful. Don’t “take over the conversation” when they are trying to make a sale/do a pitch. Watch their stuff when they need a bathroom break. Just be nice.
4. Don't Judge
This goes for someone else’s book, genre, swag, layout, etc. They’re doing the best they can for where they are at. Maybe this is their first time at a fair. Perhaps they couldn’t afford an editor (I know – can of worms here). Or they don’t have anything on their table but a pile of printed pages (I’ve seen all of these things). Perhaps offer suggestions in the vein of what has worked for YOU instead of saying “You should do THIS.” Again, just be nice.
5. Don't Worry
Finally, don’t take author fairs as the be-all and end-all of your writing profession. There will be occasions when you don’t sell a thing. Perhaps there’s no crowd because the venue didn’t advertise. Or it rained. Or something else was going on that day. It’s a little soul-crushing to pay out more than you take in, but remember, there will be other author fairs.
Look at the author fair and book fairs as an opportunity – to grow, to experience, to learn, and to sell. May we all leave with empty boxes and wads of cash someday.
OVER TO YOU
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