Guest post by Carol Paur
Five Ways to Have a Successful Book Fair Without Selling Books
Author fairs are events that stir hope for most authors. You get the invitation. Excitedly, you register and send in your money. You post it on social media. On the day of the event, you drive, sometimes hundreds of miles, to your destination. Often you have to park blocks away and haul your books over uneven gravel. You don’t mind. You’re going to sell books. Upon arrival there might be someone to help you set up but there might not be, so you find your spot and set out your books and swag.
Five o’clock rolls arounds. Books sold? Zero.
“What was the point?” you ask yourself. “Why did I spend the money and all my time preparing to be at this event? I am not doing another one again.”
It’s especially frustrating when the author next to you has swarms of people buying her books.
Recently I interviewed author Jerry Apps, who wrote Meet Me on the Midway: A History of Wisconsin Fairs. He said the original idea behind county fairs was to gather farmers together to discuss best farming practices. Today county fairs make money but learning that the original fairs were about networking shifted my focus.
Selling books was no longer my primary goal.
I would be dishonest if I told you I don’t like selling books. My pulse quickens when someone looks at one of my novels and starts asking questions. After what seems like forever, he buys the book and wants me to autograph it. I try not to jump up and down but calmly ask, “Who should I write this out to?” If I hold that as my only objective, however, I am losing all the other benefits of author festivals such as networking, adding to my author email list, promoting myself or a new book, inspiring future writers, and having fun.
They say writing is a lonely profession but when you go to author fairs, you get to meet other authors. Some of my favorite author friends were made through author festivals. We exchange business cards, send support emails, and offer helpful advice to each other. Sometimes we go to lunch after the festival.
It’s also a great way to connect with bookstores. They need us as much as we need them. Being a gracious author at an author festival might get you an author book signing at a bookstore.
Grow your email list.
Another advantages of having an author table is growing your email list. More and more authors are discovering that they are able to reach more fans via email than relying on the algorithms of social media. Print out a sign-up sheet and attach it to a clipboard. When you’re talking to potential fans, get them to sign up. It helps if you have a blog or podcast but if you don’t, tell them it’s for updates of your events, speaking engagements, and book signings.
Often, people might not buy your book, but they will sign up to be on your email list.
Connect with readers.
Since most of us are not J.K. Rowling or John Grisham, festivals are a great way to promote yourself and your books. I’ve been to festivals in my own city and people didn’t know I was an author.
“Yes, I am,” I reply. “Do you want to buy a book?” Okay, I don’t go that far, but back to the social media algorithm – you can’t expect your website to surface to the top when people “Google” your name. But your name will pop up in their email boxes.
If you have a new book coming out, this is also a terrific way to promote it. From your publisher preorder link, create a QR code. (Test it before going). Insert that along with an image of your book into a plastic sign holder. If you have a book trailer, bring a laptop (or iPad) and play it. If it’s on YouTube, put it on the loop feature so it replays. I don’t understand the psychology, but people seem genuinely excited when they see you have another book coming out.
Inspire new authors.
When you’re at author festivals, there are people who come out to learn about writing. They don’t want to buy your book; they want to pick your brain. The conversation might start like this, “How do you write a book?”
I usually ask, “Do you want to be an author?”
If they say yes, then I give them a few pointers and my business card. “Please email me so we can discuss this further.”
One woman wrote back who was trying to figure out the correct genre for a children’s book. I sent her an extensive email, which she said was very helpful. Taking time to inspire and encourage authors is a great way to pay-it-forward.
Finally, enjoy yourself. I’ve been to festivals where some authors are grimacing and hiding behind their tables as if they’re about to get dragged to a root canal. Relax. Smile. Pat yourself on the back, even if you didn’t sell any books. There’s a lot to celebrate. You stepped out of your comfort zone, you engaged and encouraged others, and you promoted yourself and your hard work.