Book Fair Buzz: The What-Tos and What Not-Tos
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
After you’ve been part of a book fair, all you want to do it put your feet up and rest. But wait! Not yet! Evaluate your fair experience before you forget anything important. I do this so I can refine the procedure the next time ‘round, or avoid it all together.
There are three ways to "do" a fair:
1. Renting a booth and doing everything by yourself. You do the work. You are the star.
2. Renting a booth and getting fellow author-partners to help you with the cost and the work—including publicity.
3. Paying your share of someone else's booth for a segment of writing time. (Caveat: This does not relieve you of the responsibility of publicizing your appearance. The booth won't benefit if you don't. You won't benefit either.
No matter what way you choose to do it, don't forget to take notes afterward. Doing so will help you refine your book fair technique—both the operation side of the venture and the marketing side. It will even help you gauge how many books you might sell next time around.
Here are some of the notes I took. Some I took after renting a booth on my own, but most were taken after I sponsored a huge booth—meaning I managed and publicized a booth at one of the most expensive and most highly trafficked fairs in the country.
“I’m tired, coming down off the Los Angeles Times fair. Advantages: Great fair. Tons of traffic. Festive atmosphere, seminars, talks, panels. Two days is perfect. California upheld the exclusive contract I have with it for perfect weather.
“I rate this fair worthwhile: For exposure. For the experience. For inspiration from readers who think authors are wonderful. Doing it as a service to benefit myself and other authors (there were plenty of them out and about on sunny Sunday) was a wonderful experience.
“Disadvantages: At this huge fair there is tons of competition for every dollar spent. I didn’t see many people carrying bags (watching this is a habit I developed when I owned retail stores). The price of the booth is so high it’s unlikely an author will sell enough books to cover the fee if he or she rents the booth on her own. Even if an author is part of a cross promotion effort, they may n ot break even on sales. Instead they should think of the effort as a marketing expense. Here's an alternative to consider: Rent space in a booth sponsored by your publisher or one of the bookstores where you’ve done readings, or one of the organizations you belong to.
“Tally: In our booth the highest number of books sold in two days was forty-five (nonfiction). The lowest was twelve (fiction). How well each author publicized their appearance also affected sales.
“I graduated from the School of Experience. Here’s what I learned. Before the event, ask about chairs. Try to have one for you and one for a friend. Our neighboring booth bought Staples’ three-sided display boards, the kind kids use at science fairs. One of these would have been great for displaying reviews, blurbs, pictures, and bookcovers.
“Selling books: I didn’t take enough change. My booth mates weren’t armed with a policy regarding checks. I decided I would risk taking a bogus check because I’d rather have my book read and the risks are slight. It may be better if authors accept credit card charges, but they won’t sell enough books to cover the expense banks charge for the credit card machine and their service. And then there is the learning curve required to apply for and process credit cards.”
Many of the nitty-gritty suggestions I share with you in The Frugal Book Promoter (http://budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo) were gleaned from notes like these I took after I participated in fairs—both the things I did brilliantly and the booboos I made. Sometimes the booboos were better teachers. I also managed to write a poem from notes I took at one of the fairs I participated in.
Hint: Keep the nametag you were given for your fair participation, especially if it says AUTHOR on it. Put it in your glove box or in the box of books you carry in your trunk for sales anywhere you go. If you come across a fair in your travels and decide to stop by, wear the tag as you walk the fair. You’ll be surprised at how many attendees will want to talk about your book.
Hint #2: Sometimes smaller fairs result in higher sales. The sales area will be smaller and easier to walk. Visitors may be more loyal to smaller fairs.
A final word that bears repeating. If you expend the effort to participate in a book fair, please, pullll-eeze promote your appearance. And, at the fair use handouts, business cards, tons of signs, even little book-related souvenirs. Stand rather than sit (when you can). And talk to people who walk by your booth. Don't forget to collect names and e-mail addresses to grow your reach for the next fair you do.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of book for writers (www.howtodoitfrugally.com). She blogs writers’ resources at the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites pick www.sharingwithwriters.blogspot.com and editing tips at www.thefrugaleditor.blogspot.com.
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