how not to be awkward at book festivals, part 1: the awkward book booth
This weekend, I went to a medium-sized book festival with a mission: to observe which authors were successfully selling books, and why.
Like all situations where you are meeting face-to-face with the producer of an item you may or may not want to buy, book festivals can be sort of awkward. This particular festival was especially awkward, as many of the booths consisted of lesser-known, debut, or self-published authors who were selling their books “cold” with no name recognition to ride on. As a person who will herself claim the illustrious title of Lesser-Known Debut Author in about eight months from now, I am very curious to find out how other LKDA’s were making it work (or failing to make it work).
To begin with, some pointers to authors who are selling their books at booths or tables:
Team up with other authors
I found myself shying away from booths where an author was sitting with stacks and stacks of a single title. Why? Because it’s already awkward enough to walk away from someone’s booth without buying anything, but it’s even more awkward, not to mention personal, when you walk away from the ONE BOOK into which someone has poured their hopes and dreams.
I was much more likely to approach booths consisting of several authors with several different books, because then it felt like browsing, which is fun, instead of crushing someone’s dreams if I failed to make a purchase, which is not.
Unless you are supremely engaging and/or well-known, having your own booth at a book fair is a recipe for awkwardness. On the flip side, if you team up with two or three other authors in your genre, people will feel less pressured and will be more likely to chat, browse, and buy books. Even better, you and your author-friends can talk up one another’s books, instead of (awkwardly) talking up your own.
Be supremely engaging
You would be amazed how many authors were either sitting in their chairs looking bitter and possibly murderous or aggressively flogging draw entries for (totally unappealing) prize packs consisting of their book, a dubious piece of confectionary, and a whole lot of cellophane.
Authors, I could be charmed into buying almost ANY book. I am a huge sucker. Really, I am. But you don’t charm someone by guilting them into entering your raffle. You charm someone by giving them an EXPERIENCE.
Listen. Most people wandering around at these small book festivals feel vaguely disappointed and at loose ends. The festival is not as exciting as we’d hoped. We spend most of our 1.5 laps around the tables thinking about where to go for lunch. We WANT to be engaged in a brilliant conversation. We WANT something memorable to happen to justify our presence here on a Saturday afternoon.
So dress beautifully. Stand up tall. Engage people in conversation—not because you want them to sign up for your mailing list, but because you are genuinely interested in who they are, what they’re reading, and where they bought that delicious-looking falafel because you want one too. Forget about selling your book. Forget about your #%$% prize draw. Be silly if you want. Stay loose. Be the one person at the book fair who is in on the joke. People will be flocking to your booth. You will be fighting them off with bats.
Make me a deal
One preconception I didn’t even realize I had is that buying a book at a book fair is supposed to be cheaper than buying it in a store, or it should come with some sort of bonus. Maybe I’m just spoiled from too many trips to Vancouver’s Word on the Street festival, where you can buy an entire grab bag of new books from Arsenal Pulp Press for ten bucks. Either way, I found myself not just disappointed, but mildly put off when a book for sale cost its full cover price, without some added bonus to make up for it.
Part of the point of going to a book festival—at least, for me—is snagging a whole lot of books and magazines that are either cheaper than regular books or come with a fun incentive. Example: three back issues of a literary journal for $10, new book comes signed by supremely engaging author who has brightened your day with her delightful banter, buy all three of supremely engaging author’s books for $30 instead of $14 each, etc. etc.
If you are not offering festival goers a special deal or experience, why the heck should they buy a book from you instead of getting it cheaper on Amazon or not buying it at all?
Write a book people want to read
There is nothing more awkward than a book nobody wants to read (authors of hastily self-published memoirs of alien abduction, I AM LOOKING AT YOU.) No amount of free cupcakes or prize packs can change this.
So write something saleable. Be supremely engaging. Make it less awkward for all of us.
Have you ever been to a book festival? What makes you more likely to buy a book from a particular table? Does anyone actually enter those prize-pack draws? What’s your advice for Lesser-Known Debut Authors trying to make their way in the book festival world?