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How to Successfully Promote Your Book at a Book Festival
By Patricia Fry
(Excerpted from Patricia Fry’s article How to Work a Book Festival So it Works For You.)
The huge Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is this month.
There are hundreds of book and author festivals held throughout the U.S. each year where you can rent a booth and sell books. Authors can also secure booths at trade fairs, flea markets and art and craft fairs.
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 $1000 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.
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 festivalgoers. When I’m participating in the SPAWN booth, I bring my writing/publishing-related books because many of the folks coming to this booth are authors.
I will 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. I had a metaphysical adventure story and books on writing. A large banner above the booth advertised that we were selling mysteries and children’s books and this is 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, it won’t get noticed. I’ve participated in dozens of book festivals and I notice that people are drawn first 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, 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.
Number of sales isn’t the only way to measure success. Exposure has value, too. And participating in a book festival is a good way to get exposure for your book—to make people aware of it.
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 appealing as your book is.
A good promotional piece should reflect the tone and appearance of your book. A promotional piece is a reminder, it’s a sales pitch and it provides necessary information.
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 larger is difficult to display. The smaller size is better for mailing, more functional and easier for potential customers to handle.
(Note: We have ceased distributing members’ promo pieces for books we display at book festivals. We urge members to list their books for sale in the SPAWN Catalog of Members’ Books and Services, instead, and we generously hand these catalogs out to booth visitors.)
Tip: Ask everyone who visits your booth for their contact information. Have them sign up for a contest or drawing and give away a book at the end of the event, for example. Put these names on your mailing or emailing list and send out periodical promotional packages.
Here’s 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 showing off your book cover, 30 to 50 books, promo material (handouts) and maybe even some candy or stickers to give away.
Bring change in appropriate denominations. I generally round off the prices of my books for festivals. Rather than charging $15.95 plus tax, I’ll ask $15 or $16 and I’ll pay the tax. If you have a merchant account, come prepared to take credit cards.
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.
When It’s Your Booth
Booths can cost anywhere from $75 to $1,100, 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. 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.
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.
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. 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 behind you in case you need the extra signage.
A small sign that says “autographed copies” will impress and draw some shoppers.
Bring extra pens (at least 5 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.
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.
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.
Create special interest in your booth. For a children’s book on trains, set up a small train that goes in a circle around your book display. 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.”
Sell More Books at a Book Festival
A key to selling books at a festival is to connect with the potential buyer. When someone looks at one of my books on writing or publishing, 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 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.
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.
To locate book festivals and book fairs throughout the U.S., go to http://www.loc.gov/loc/cfbook/bookfair.html or http://www.lights.com/publisher/bookfairs.html or do a Google search using the keyword book festivals or book fairs.
- Patricia is the President of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network). She is also the author of 28 books including, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book http://www.matilijapress.com/rightway.html. For the full version of this article please go to http://www.matilijapress.com/articles/promo_bookFestival.htm. Visit Patricia’s informative blog often: http://www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog.
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