Monday, March 17, 2014

What I Learned at My First Major Book Event

The great thing about being a newly-published author is that you're too naïve to be scared.

A few months back (it might have even been last year) when fellow Oak Tree Press author, Janet (J.L.) Greger, asked me to join her at her booth at the Tucson Festival of Books this past weekend, I said "Sure!" without any hesitation.  Tucson's only about five hours away and we were going to be presenting for two hours on Sunday and the cost wasn't prohibitive... it sounded like an ideal weekend getaway for Paul and me and a lot of fun!

Then I discovered that Tucson Festival of Books isn't just like Alamogordo's Cottonwood Festival... for one thing, the Tucson festival takes place conveniently when the University of Arizona is on spring break.  That's because the festival takes up most of the space on the "mall" of the university and the parking garages are needed for festival attendees.  And the campus of the University of Arizona is only slightly smaller than the entire city of Alamogordo!  The space is needed because there are typically 100,000 people attending the Tucson Festival of Books.  That's not counting the vendors, volunteers, and authors attending the festival!

Furthermore, for a fledgling author, being at the same event at which Anne Perry, R. L. Stine, J. A. Jance, Lois Lowry, Spencer Quinn, Benjamin Alire Saenz, along with several dozen, if not over a hundred authors, are also present is rather a humbling experience.  After all, they are there to sell books, too, and they have the advantage of being a lot better known than a first time author!

Still, it was an enlightening experience for me and I learned a lot.  Here are a few things that I will keep in mind the next time (yes, there will be a next time!) I attend a book festival--ANY book festival!

1)  Comfortable shoes, clothes, hat, and sunscreen.  Yes, it's March and yes, many parts of the country are still digging out of snow drifts, but this is Tucson, Arizona and the temperatures were in the upper 70s.  Depending on the location, take into account what you need to stay comfortable, especially if you're going to be on your feet or hiking long distances from parking areas to your presenting areas!

2)  Of course you need to bring lots of books, more than you think you'll sell, but bring lots of promotional items as well.  I brought flyers to hand out, but I should have had bookmarks, business cards, pens, or even candy with my book logo and website on them (yes, lots of authors had candy dishes on their tables... draw the kids in and parents with money follow!)  And the one thing I will definitely consider... bags to carry the books in!

3)  The usual set up is a tent with tables set in a large square and a chair for the author to sit in.  Everyone else at our tent (there were approximately 10-12 authors presenting at our tent) with the exception of Janet and I, were sitting behind their tables with their books in front of them.  The first thing Janet and I did was get rid of the chair. We stood behind and beside our table and "hawked" our books: "Hi, there!  Do you like to read mysteries?  We've got some great ones that are set in New Mexico!"  Yes, we got some odd looks from the other authors, but we reeled 'em in! (It also helped that I sent Paul out with a handful of flyers to work the crowd and direct them our way... pride and self-dignity get in the way of book sales!)

4)  A sign or banner with your book cover or series title in eye-catching colors and graphics is always helpful.  And it needs to be professionally done.  Unless you're an artist, a hand-drawn poster board marks you as an amateur.  And large blocks of text are the kiss of death as far as I'm concerned.  Not many people are drawn to having to read small print off a sign board. 

5)  Come up with a 30-second pitch.  Car dealers or restaurants or any business that spends money on a 30-second TV or radio commercial knows that you can't tell everything about a product or service in that time span so you have to pick out the best, the most intriguing aspects of it and tell it in 30 seconds.  I learned this from another author who was presenting at a different booth and now I want to buy his book!

6)  Be enthusiastic.  If you want people to buy your book, you have to show them that it's worth buying.  Even if  you don't like crowds, or self-promotion (and what author does?), you have to behave as if you are having the time of your life.  Buyers don't respond well to negativity.  And books by first-time authors don't sell themselves; sometimes, the author has to sell themselves before they can sell the book.  In short, have fun... even if you're not having fun!

Above all, realize that it's part of the job.  No job is without it's least appealing aspects, but if you learn that making those aspects work for you to keep you doing the parts of the job you love, it makes it so much easier to get the job done. 

Now back to the writing....

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