10 top tips for attending a bookfair

In the last month I have been to two bookfairs to sell my novel, Charlatan: the Collingswood Bookfair in New Jersey and the Hockessin Art & Book Fair. Both times I went with members of my local writing group, the Write Group of Kennett Square, PA. As a debut author, I was pretty nervous and not sure what to expect. So here are my top ten tips for surviving and maybe even enjoying selling books.

  1. Be prepared to set your alarm. In the case of Collingswood, the fair opened to the public at 10am but we were there at…7.30am. I wasn’t sure why: until I realised lots of other people were there too. Arriving early (but far from the first) meant that we got a good space for our two tables. This fair was supposed to be outside (in which case we would have needed a canopy and some way of tethering it to concrete…) but bad weather forced everything inside. Here’s my view for the day… and yes, that is a cardboard cut-out of the Pope!

2. Don’t go alone. I’m pretty sure I would have struggled to go to either event on my own. In fact I might not have even known about them. This is just one of the many reasons why finding other writers is one of the best things you can do. Writing might be a solitary act, but if your writing is going to be read, then having writing friends who know what writing/drafting/editing/getting published/marketing is all about is essential. Plus it was a lot less lonely sitting there with these lovelies and we could mind each others stock, talk up each others books and help share the costs of the table.

From left to right… Ed, Maryellen and Aurora.

3. Work out how to STAND out. I was a bit on the last minute with this. The day before we went to Collingswood it occurred to me that my small pile of books was not really going to look like much on a table. Thankfully, this light bulb moment happened while I was out buying tablecloths (for our folding tables – my contribution because I don’t own a folding table) and within minutes I had my hands on a suitcase which I was able to deck out like this…

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4. Be able to describe your book: So I thought I was done with elevator pitches and the like when I signed my publishing contract but no, that was naive. I’m not trying to sell to agents etc any more but it felt eerily familiar, having maybe not even a minute to try and get over what my book was about to people who stopped and took a look at my novel. Work out what you will say in advance. Practice it. Grit your teeth and sell your book. Selling might not come naturally to you, but at least at a book fair you can guess that probably eighty percent of other people there to sell, feel exactly as anxious as you do.

5. Set expectations low: On my way out of Collingswood, at about 4pm, I overheard a couple of other writers discussing their sales as they packed their car. One asked the other how many books he’d sold. His answer? 3. But he also quickly added that he felt that this was a reasonable number given how others around had done. Depending on how you are published and what you have paid for each book you are selling, that can mean many different things in terms of money earned. What it does mean though, is that the book fair pathways are not paved in gold. Far from it.

6. But be ready to make change. In my case I sold 6 books at each fair. That may not sound like much but when you describe your book to someone and they are prepared to put their hand in their pockets and pay you for it – that’s a pretty good feeling 🙂 Both times people paid a mixture of cash, check and card. I don’t have the gadget that does that on your phone so thank you Aurora Cannon, for facilitating that for me! The gadget can be obtained free from Paypal – something else to add to the list of things I have learned in the last month or so. Also, think about your price. I sold my book for $5 less than the price on Amazon and made that a selling point.

7. Take bookmarks. Or at least take something you can give away. I love my bookmark which is a good thing since I’ve got a stack of them. I’ve also seen postcards and business cards, free magazines, pens, mugs, you name it. I can see very clearly how easy it might be to slip into a rabbit hole of costly self-promotion. But having something to hand out when someone doesn’t buy your book (and also when they do) is useful and hopefully does help spread the word that your book exists. Here are some examples that I picked up on a mooch around the fair…

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8. Smile: Okay so selling doesn’t always come naturally to writers – at least not to me. I’ve only ever had one sales job and that was in a really tacky jewelers in the centre of Manchester where much of the merchandise fell to bits in my hands when I held it out for customers to look at it. At least my book won’t fall to pieces – thank you Fireship Press! But my point is that although this selling of books is tiring and tiresome… it is also kind of exciting to put your book in the hands of someone else. Even if your book is not selling on the day, keep smiling and be proud to be behind the table with a finished product. It’s a big achievement.

9. Snack: With all the stuff you need to remember – books, display items, giveaways, table coverings, chairs (very important!!) and cash to name a few – it is easy to forget that you will need to eat and drink. My day at Collingwood was LONG! Hockessin was nearly as long. I needed water and I needed snacks. All that smiling takes energy 😉

10. Socialise: So I didn’t make my fortune at Collingwood or Hockessin but I did have a very nice time! I spent the whole day with my local writing friends and feel better and stronger friends with them for having done so. I also met other people and shopped too! I’m particularly pleased with this:

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