A few months back the Silverleaf Writer’s Guild put out an add in newspapers across the region looking for authors to be featured at the Second Annual Northern Ontario Book Fair. I jumped on the opportunity and submitted my application the same day I saw the posting. Nine authors total would be selected to attend in person to do book signings, readings ect. – though there was the offer to have a limited number of your books for sale even if you weren’t chosen. Weeks went by and I had forgotten that I had asked to be considered as one of the nine. I don’t remember how it happened, but I remember getting the phone call/e-mail and thinking “holy cannoli” (okay, so I didn’t use those words) “they want me”. I was in shock for the first little bit, ecstatic a long while after and then eventually I realized that once again as a newly self published author, I had no idea what to expect or how to prepare.
So for all you newbies to the the art of self publishing. Here’s my guide to making it through your first Book Fair.
- ASK QUESTIONS
For whatever reason this didn’t occur to me until later in the process. Emails were sent out with details but I was left with questions I thought I had to figure out on my own. Don’t. There are organizers for a reason. Jot down your questions and shoot them off in an email, make a phone call or talk to the organizers face to face. There are no dumb questions, only people making the dumb decision not to ask them.
- COME UP WITH A PITCH BEFOREHAND
Maybe you’re really good at talking yourself up, but this isn’t a skill I have. If you would have asked me a couple months ago what my books were about I would have given you a one word answer. “Poetry”. This is your chance to get someone excited and curious about what you write. Don’t short sell yourself, focus on the highlights and tell them why you love the book. If they see you getting excited it gets contagious.
- DO A LITTLE RESEARCH
Know Your City
I was lucky that I spent five years living in Sault Ste Marie. I knew what to expect from the city. I had contacts. I was familiar with the venue. From questionable accommodations, to finding out where you’re going, what the venue looks like, population, and good eats. There’s a lot to know if you have to travel to your destination.Know Your Cost
For me, I wish I would have done a little research on pricing out the cost of having my books printed before hand. Not only did the cost shock me, I was also hit with having to pay duty because the books were printed in Canada. After doing a cost benefit analysis, selling over $1000 worth of books would probably leave me with roughly $300 worth of profit.
Know Your Target Audience
Poets are at a bit of a disadvantage because our work is considered “niche” but knowing where you stand makes it easier to plan. I believe in spreading the reaches of poetry so by rights I’m after people from all walks of life, but I’m not pandering to the sports fans. That doesn’t make sense. I play off of people’s feelings because that’s what poetry should elicit. Most people have feelings so it’s easy enough to talk a little bit about the stories behind the poems and make it personal. I’m in the business of humanity so I use that in every aspect of my marketing.
- PEP TALK
If you’re like me, then you’ve never done this before. Nerves start to get to you, you’ve got thirteen worst case scenarios playing on repeat in your head, and you’re starting to wonder why you said yes. Breathe. Breathe, appreciate the opportunity and then look and the mirror and say “Self. You need to make me a sandwich”. Okay, so maybe not the sandwich bit, but say you to yourself the thing you would say to your best friend if it were a reverse situation. We give them best pep talks to others but we never give ourselves the same level of credit. You’ve got this. I like to work logic into my pep talks – you can’t argue with facts.
- INTRODUCE YOURSELF
You’ve got a vague idea of what you got yourself into, you’ve done the pep talk, committed, it’s D-Day. You’re standing next to the table staring awkwardly at people trying to Jedi mind trick them into stopping at your table. Unless you’re Yoda or you’re doing something you need to let me in on, that doesn’t work. So make eye contact with everyone and smile, and if they’re close enough throw in a “Hi, I’m Yoda” (or whatever your name is) and see what happens. Most people stop to chat, others smile and say hi back, and a few give you sideways glances (but only because they’re probably looking frantically for a bathroom or a snack). People are generally good – if you’re friendly, they’re friendly and that’s your opening.
- STAND (PREFERABLY NEXT TO THE TABLE)
Maybe this seems obvious or maybe it doesn’t. My hometown does a few mining/trade/outdoors shows with booths everywhere. The people sitting looked like they didn’t want to be there and the people standing behind the table looked either awkward or intimidating. The physical barrier seems to become more than just a physical barrier, it stops you from making the kind of connection that happens when you’re standing next to someone. It’s natural and it build’s quick rapport so you can make the most of the interaction.
- MAKE IT POP
Find simple decorations, table clothes, and other items that go with what you’re selling. You know how people have items in their home that serve as conversation pieces? Try that. I’m also going to jump back to knowing your audience. I’m trying to widen the genre and making my table hyper feminine wasn’t going to help me do that. Try and add height, colour and texture differences so that your eyes are pulled across the table. It’s not a bad idea to play around with ideas beforehand at home or take pictures of your favourite set ups for future reference. We’re visual creature and we make a lot of assumptions based of first impressions alone. Your set up says a lot of things about you before you even have the chance to try out the “Hi, my name is…”
- HAND OUT FREEBIES
People love free stuff. It doesn’t even have to be useful free stuff and they’re grabbing handfuls. “You’ve got Frisbees? I’ll take six.” You’re probably not handing out Frisbees at a book fair, but it makes the point. My freebee of choice this time around was free photo cards with inspirational or though provoking micro poems on them that not only served as a bookmark, but also had my contact info as well as the date for my next book will be released. If you’re looking for a sure fire way to draw in a crowd, however, I’m going to suggest that you bring something edible. People love any kind of free snacks: candies, baking, pre wrapped snacks, coffee or cold water on a hot day…
- GIVE THEM A TASTE
Not just of the snacks. Find a way to let them sample your work. Give them a rundown of your work, a sample of your poetry, a synapses of your favourite part, the reason you love your antihero… The list goes on.
- HAND OUT CONTACT INFO
A lot of people have found their way into the world of e-books. If you’re letting them leave without a reminder of who you are, or what the name of your book is, then you’re losing sales. You don’t have to go for the traditional business card, you can always opt for photo cards like I did, or even bookmarks.
- FIND WAY FOR THEM TO ENGAGE
Give them something to do at your table. You can raffle something off, hand out freebies, write down their name for an email list. The longer they’re at your table the longer they’re thinking about you. My idea for this fair (and to get people to engage in poetry was some “add a line” poems where strangers could create poems together by each adding a line. Tell them that they can find their poem later on via Social Media? You’ve got their attention even longer.
- BRAND YOURSELF (something signature, name tags, your photo on the table)
We recognize celebrities by their faces. “Hey look, is that Ryan Reynolds?” It’s not quite the same with authors. You probably know some big names, but could you pick them out if they sat down in the coffee shop at the table next to you? Probably not. I incorporated my photo (the same one I used for all my platforms) into my display and made sure to wear the same signature red lipstick so that people could make a quick connection – “Hey, this is that writer and not some weird girl staring at me”. If you’re cool with it, a name tag also helps people figure out who you are.” Lastly, if you’re writing about how to be a successful entrepreneur, it would probably help to look the part. That last bit doesn’t really apply to everyone. I might be a poet but I have zero intention of dressing up like Lady Shakespeare to get the point across.
- BRING A FRIEND
It’s bring your friend to work day. They’re not just there to keep you company. Having a friend with you can be a huge help. They can help out if you’re busy with someone, an extra set of eyes for those the guy trying to take ALL of your freebies, and someone to man the ship when your bladder is about to give out. Not to mention who better to talk you up when that pitch you worked on is flailing like you’re trying to swat away a bee?
- BE YOURSELF
Again, this seems obvious. But I’ve met enough people I admired to know that the ones who made the impression were the ones who felt genuine and didn’t come across as having to fulfill some obligation. They were human and they were at my level. Obviously you still need to maintain a certain level of professionalism, I don’t recommend talking about your latest Tinder date, making dirty jokes or showing up in (not purposely) ripped clothing – unless that’s what people are expecting of you
- SAY THANK YOU
You’re probably shaking your head at the screen right now, but I’m telling you that this common courtesy is a) not common at all and b) goes a lot farther than you think. A simple thank you makes people feel appreciated, it creates a good connection and it leaves people walking away from your table on a good note feeling like they’ve done something right. Always say thank you, even if you don’t make the sale.
I hope that this post helps you out as you make your way through the art of the book fair. All the best in your journey!