Being a writer is rewarding, exhausting, and sobering. Particularly if you’ve recently published your first book and are trying to make a name for yourself. That means you get to experience the wonderful world of book promotion. You get to try a million suggestions (which everyone will have) to find those fleeting moments of joy when you get a positive review or sell a book. You get to learn what works and what doesn’t. And as I go through these growing pains, I’m happy to share the lessons I learn with you.
In my ongoing quest for book publicity, I participated in the 2014 Dallas Book Festival a few days ago and purchased an author booth. It was my first time being an author at a festival, so I was hyped! I had my table set up, my books and marketing materials stacked neatly, and a gatorboard poster of my book cover displayed. I was ready to sell millions of books!
I fell a bit short of that goal. I sold THREE books (and I thank those wonderful readers who bought them). In fact, those three might have qualified as one of the top sellers at that festival. All famous authors had to start somewhere, right? I guess I’m moving in the right direction.
In addition to earning enough to buy three-quarters of a tank of gas, I learned some things that might have me better prepared for my next festival. If you plan to sell books at a festival to create publicity, maybe this will help you as well.
Understand the venue
If you want to meet local readers and support your community, a small festival is great. If you don’t care about all that and just want to sell lots of books, you’ll need a bigger one. The Dallas Festival was small and it wasn’t promoted very well. The author section was on the 2nd floor of a library, away from ground floor traffic, and with space for about ten or twelve tables. Some people on the first floor didn’t even know we were up there. Meanwhile, the bigger festivals can accommodate well over a hundred authors and they have promotional budgets to spread the word. Of course, the registration fees can be several hundred dollars (versus the $40 for Dallas), so you get what you pay for.
Hold reasonable expectations
One author at the Dallas festival had traveled from another country to participate. He didn’t sell one book. So unless you have lots of book-buying friends, you’re a well-known author, or you’ve got one of the big publishing houses advertising you, don’t expect to recoup your expenses for events like these. In fact, don’t even bother wasting time calculating how many sold books you need to offset the cost of traveling, registration fees, shipping books back and forth, etc. You won’t see a return on that money for a long time. Just think of it as building awareness for future books. At least most of it is tax-deductible.
Stand frequently and greet everyone
Don’t sit at your table all day. Stand up for a while. Greet people. This makes you approachable, making it easier to sell your book. On the flip side, you have to learn when to cut off certain people. Practice excusing yourself tactfully, because you’ll run across people who just want to talk all day. You’d think otherwise, considering it’s a book festival, but some attendees will have no intention of buying books. They are there to people-watch and talk. At the Dallas festival, I seemingly attracted people who stood at my table for what seemed like hours, telling me unsolicited details about things like their marriage and sex life. They didn’t seem to catch on that I had no interest, nor did they seem to care that I was trying to greet people behind them–people who looked like they would actually buy a book.
(Public Service Announcement: if you are a reader attending a book festival, don’t monopolize the writer’s time when other people are trying to check out their booths. Especially if you aren’t buying anything! If you want to chat, grab their contact information and email or call them later. Or simply step aside while they introduce themselves to another guest, and continue the conversation when the coast is clear.)
All in all, the festival was a great learning experience. I had fun meeting other authors and swapping stories about our experiences and the strange people we met. I still have my 99 problems as I continue this journey, but I’m having fun doing it.
Maybe my 100th problem is that I’m crazy enough to keep doing this mess.