Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Tucson Festival of Books and What I Learned (This Year!)

Sorry I'm a little late posting the blog for this week, but Oak Tree Press authors (including yours truly!) were busy this weekend at the Tucson Festival of Books, one of the largest book events in the country. We spent two days at the University of Arizona Campus in Tucson among over 100,000 attendees and over 200 authors, publishers, and other book-related presenters, offering our books for sale and talking to potential book buyers about our work and that of our fellow authors who couldn't attend the festival themselves.  And, as usual, I learned a lot of things I'd like to share:

1) Oak Tree Press authors are awesome. I don't mean that simply in regards to our writing abilities, but I mean as human beings and co-workers. While those of us who were present in the 80+ degree Arizona heat for up to eight hours (and fighting 20 mph wind gusts throughout both days) were certainly touting our own books, we also presented those of fellow authors who were not present. And got them some sales. Hey, we're all in this together! My own series might not appeal to some, but OTP authors are a diverse group. Surely we have something to offer just about every reader and it makes a good impression of our publishing house when we cooperate.

2) Our publisher, Billie Johnson, is an absolute treasure. She spent the entire two days of the festival at our booth, not only presenting the authors and doing the clerk work, she also invited several prospective authors to send their manuscripts to her. Not many publishers are willing to literally "pound the pavement" to sell books, but Billie certainly led the charge at Tucson!

3) People really DO read books, and I mean actual, physical books. And they love signed copies! And many people really do love to talk to authors about things other than the books.

4) Children's books, mysteries, romances, historical fiction, memoirs--how does one choose what to read from among hundreds of thousands of books in these genres? It could be as simple as an intriguing title or eye-catching cover, or it could be a brief introduction to a unique character, or it could be a one-sentence blurb of a fascinating situation. But no matter how a book finds a reader, it all begins with promotion. Publishing a book isn't enough; it has to be promoted or it may as well have remained unpublished. A book festival of this size may not garner a huge amount of sales for a small press, but the ripple effect of handing out promotional material may mean that someone, somewhere down the road may decide to follow up on that link on a bookmark or postcard and buy a book... and maybe recommend it to someone else!

5) Positive attitudes really help. It's easy to get discouraged when people walk by the booth without even glancing at the books or making eye contact with the authors. It's even worse when the exchange goes like this:
Me--(holding out one of my promo bookmarks) "Hi, I'm a mystery author and...."
Passerby--(waving a dismissive hand) "I can't stand mysteries!" (They also can't stand memoirs, romances, historical fiction, literary fiction, non-fiction, etc. and you end up wondering what they're doing at a book festival to begin with!)
But you learn to find the positives--you and your books are now known to more people than they were yesterday. You polished your 30-second elevator pitch and maybe got it down to 10 seconds (people walk fast; you have to talk faster!) People smiled at you and a few even stopped to listen and ask questions. And, wonder of wonders, you maybe sold a book. Or two. So what if J. A. Jance had a bigger line at her signing? (er, okay, so what if she HAD a line at her signing and... okay, back to positives!)

The point is, you were at the same event as J. A. Jance, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, fill-in-the-name-of-almost-any-big-name-author, and with the same purpose: to promote and sell your books. And sign copies for the blessed people who pulled out their wallets after reading the cover blurb and deciding it was worth it, out of the hundreds of thousands of books available.

I'll be back again next year, Tucson!

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