I had the enlightening experience of attending my first large book fair when I exhibited my novels at the Twin Cities Rain Taxi Book Festival in downtown Minneapolis this last Saturday.
I'll give you the scoop from the beginning.
How I came to attend the festival
Back in July, I submitted a summary of my newest novel, The 19th Element, to Author Beth Solheim at her Reading Minnesota Blogspot. Following that submission, an email conversation between Beth and I ensued. She recommended that I exhibit at the Rain Taxi Festival because it would be good exposure for me as a new author.
Beth has been around the publishing business for awhile. You can find out more about her on her website. Anyway, when Beth suggested I attend Rain Taxi, I took her suggestion seriously, and promptly signed up.
The cost for an "author table" at the Festival was $60. I didn't think that sounded too expensive -- particularly if it might give me some exposure in my native Minnesota.
So early this past Saturday morning, I packed up my books, tablecloth, display materials and candy bowl and headed for Minneapolis (about a one hour drive from my home).
The festival at first blush
Everything at the Festival appeared very well-organized. I inquired at the Info Booth as to the location of my table and found it with no difficulties. I was rather pleased that Beth's table happened to be directly behind mine, so I would get to speak with her without vacating my book-selling station.
Beth arrived shortly after me and we exchanged pleasantries. She turned out to be very nice in-person, just as she had been in our emails exchanges.
The authors who were at the two tables right next to mine were both from Wisconsin and were also very nice folks. (I continue to meet more and more truly decent people in this writing business.) This was a "first" book festival for each of them as well.
The crowd arrives
When the book-buying crowds arrived around 10:30, the entire scene was a bit overwhelming. There were 112 author tables, all of which were four feet wide or wider. Some extended over thirty feet and offered scores of books for sale.
I greeted a steady stream of festival-goers as they passed my table. Many said they were just "getting the lay of the land" and weren't really shopping yet. This was completely understandable given the quantity of wares available.
As the day went on, I continued to engage would-be book buyers as they passed my table. A good number stopped and listened to my "elevator pitches" for my two novels. Most declined to buy, but nearly all took one of the bookmarks I had placed within their easy reach. The bookmarks look very professional and feature all of my book and website info. A few customers were willing to purchase one or both of my books.
I sold ten books over a period of seven hours at the Festival. Based on sales by the authors around me, that was pretty good. Each of the authors next to me sold less than I did. And I have read that typical sales at a book-signing event average four! So my sales were within expectations. But festival sales by themselves clearly did not justify the time and effort I had put into my presence there.
What I have yet to find out is whether some of the intangible benefits of meeting other authors and literary bloggers at the event will pay dividends in the long run. To be honest, I may never know for sure if my festival contacts will turn into book sales.
A note about candy at author tables
As an aside -- most authors had a candy dish of some variety or another on their tables. I had mints. One author next to me had snickers and small Reese's cups. I bet you can guess who gave out more candy.
But I didn't see the candy giveaway helping sales along. In fact, it seemed that the kids attending the festival with their parents (at least I hope they were with some adult) had the most fun of all. With free candy on every table, little hands repeatedly hit pay dirt -- whether an adult was paying attention to the books or not.
I noted one particularly happy, and somewhat chubby, young fellow as he passed by my table. His face was smeared amply with chocolate. As he followed his parent down the row between tables, I saw him stuffing a snickers bar into his mouth with one hand while getting an already-sticky Tootsie Pop tangled in his hair with the other.
So what's my take on attending a book festival?
I enjoyed this one and would recommend the experience to any author who hasn't tried one before. Even if you don't sell books, you can practice engaging strangers and discussing your book(s). You can rehearse and revise your elevator pitches, adjusting them to see what seems to work best. And you can meet others in the literary world. All good things.
That having been said . . . will I be back at the same festival next year? Probably not. I think I got most of the benefits I was going to get by attending once. I'll devote my $60 and day's-worth of time to other marketing efforts next year.
That's it for today.
All the best!