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How to Work a Book Festival So It Works for You

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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 United States
each year where you can rent a booth and sell books. And if you belong to an
association that rents booths at book festivals for its members, you may be
able to get booth space at a savings.

 

You can also secure booths at
trade fairs, flea markets, and art and craft fairs. I had a booth at our county
fair one year and sold nearly 200 copies of my then-brand-new local-history
book.

 

How many books can you sell? We’d
all like a guarantee before getting involved in a book festival. The truth is
that you might walk away $1,000 richer or noticeably poorer, given the costs of
participating. Your success depends on several factors. While no one can
second-guess the public’s book-buying habits, you can take some steps to make
success more likely.

 

Choose
the right venue.
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 (that’s the group I head,
Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network), I bring my
writing/publishing-related books.

 

I generally sell anywhere from 6
to 50 copies of my books at a book festival. One time, however, I sold nothing.
And it was because I chose the wrong venue. I joined a fellow author in his
booth at a large book festival in Los Angeles. I was presenting a metaphysical
adventure story and books on writing. He was presenting mysteries and
children’s books; that’s what a large banner above the booth featured, and
that’s what people came to our booth to purchase.

 

A booth displaying a large variety
of books attracts a lot of attention. If your book has a dull, uninteresting
cover, however, chances are good that it won’t get noticed. I’ve participated
in dozens of book festivals, and I’ve seen that people are drawn first to books
with colorful, eye-catching, appealing covers. Next, they seem to gravitate
toward books on a subject they’re interested in—horses, writing, history,
poetry, children’s books, 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? Sure, it’s disappointing, but this
doesn’t mean that the festival was a failure.

 

Counting sales 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. Anytime 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. Someone who doesn’t buy your book now may very well buy it
in the future.

 

Hold to this belief. It will help
you maintain a good attitude, and a good attitude goes 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. And
your handout should be every bit as professional and attractive as your book.

 

I’ve seen a lot of promotional
material. While some pieces seem like an afterthought, others are so appealing
that I can’t bring myself to discard them. A good promotional piece reflects
the tone and appearance of the book it’s promoting. It’s a reminder; it’s a
sales pitch, and it provides necessary information.

 

I like promo pieces with the book
cover in color on one side of light- to medium-weight card stock. Put a brief
description of the book, the author’s qualifications (if pertinent), and
ordering information on the other side. I also recommend designing promotional
material in postcard or bookmark size. Anything larger is difficult to display.
The smaller size is better for mailing, more functional, and easier for
potential customers to handle.

 

Tip: Ask everyone who visits your
booth for their contact information. Have them sign up for a contest or a
drawing for a prize at the end of the event. Put their names on your mailing
list and send promotional packages to them periodically.

 

What to Bring to a Book
Festival

 

When you’re sharing a booth, find
out from the organizer how much space you’ll have and what you can and cannot bring.

 

If you have one title, you may
want to bring a display stand, a small standing poster that shows off your book
cover, 30 books (or so), promo material to hand out, and maybe even some candy
or stickers to give away. The SPAWN booth often offers visitors heart-shaped
stickers that say, “I love books.” I’ve also seen authors give away pencils
advertising their books.

 

Bring change in appropriate
denominations. I generally round off the prices of my books for festivals.
Instead of charging $15.95 plus tax, I’ll ask $15 or $16 and I’ll pay the tax.
Sometimes I ask $7 for my $6.50 book, letting the customer pay the tax. If you
have a merchant account, come prepared to take credit cards.

 

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. At some book fairs, the booth
signs are tacked to the front of the tables, which means that 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 behind you in case you need the extra signage.

 

A small sign that says
“Autographed Copies” will impress and draw some shoppers.

 

We find that a small folding table
(the kind you can get at stores like Office Depot) comes in handy when placed
at the back of our booth. Bring a large tablecloth to hide boxes of books and
other stuff that’s stored under the table.

 

Also bring extra pens (at least
five of mine walk away during every event), felt markers, tape, bookstands,
scissors, paperweights (we use painted rocks or clay animal shapes), and
advertising posters. Don’t forget your promotional pieces and business cards.

 

Virtually all book festivals have
food and drinks for sale, but you might want to bring your own water and lunch.
Also bring sunscreen, a hat, and a sweater. Pack an extra folding chair.
Organizers typically provide two chairs per booth.

 

Invest in a luggage carrier with
wheels to transport boxes of books. I bought mine at a garage sale. Or use a
piece of luggage with wheels.

 

Partnership Possibilities

 

Booths can cost anywhere from $75
to $900, 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 share it with
you. By sharing its cost, you’ll all stand a better chance of profiting.
Additionally, people are drawn to booths that are interesting and inviting. A
larger display of books attracts more people than just one or two titles.

 

Choose booth partners carefully.
Avoid those who have books that compete with yours, but consider those with
books that relate to yours somehow. A book for preschoolers and one for teens
might be a good combination. A book of poetry and a book for young writers may
complement each other. A book about extreme sports and an action novel might be
a good match.

 

You might also 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 toy-shop owner or someone who makes
wooden toys from home.

 

Display with Pizzazz

 

Presentation is everything. If you
have a sweet little book of poems, wrap some copies in pretty paper tied with
ribbon to create an appealing display.

 

Add something to make your book
even more special. For the next book festival, I will package my book on
journal-keeping for teens 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 artwork from 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.

 

Create special interest in your
booth. For a children’s book on trains, set up a small train that circles
around your book display. For a book on making living wreaths, have a wreath in
progress for everyone to see. 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.

 

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.”

 

Clues to Better Customer
Relations

 

A key to selling books at a
festival is connecting with potential buyers. When someone looks at one of my
books on writing or publishing, I ask, “Are you a writer?” Invariably, we
become engaged in conversation that affords me the opportunity to give my sales
pitch.

 

I once watched a man with a
children’s book 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 they walk 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 people oversell their
books and turn potential customers away. And I’ve observed authors avoiding
contact with people who, with a little nudging, might have bought their books.

 

There’s a happy medium in there
somewhere, and it’s up to you 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 Toastmasters club.

 

Make your book easy to buy:

 

·      Have plenty of change.

·      Accept checks and credit cards.

·      Provide bags for purchases.

 

To locate book festivals and book
fairs throughout the United States, go to <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>www.loc.gov/loc/cfbook/bookfair.html
or <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.lights.com/publisher/bookfairs.html,
or do a search using the keywords book festivals<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> or book fairs.

 

I’ve found that festivals and
fairs can be very worthwhile if you’re well prepared and willing to stretch and
grow.

 

Patricia Fry is the
president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and the
author of 23 books, including The Successful Writer’s Handbook and <span
class=8StoneSans>How to Write a Successful Book
Proposal in 8 Days or Less
, both from Matilija Press, which she
founded 22 years ago. To learn more, visit www.matilijapress.com.

 

 

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