Are You Ready for Your First Book Festival?

by Marylee MacDonald in For Writers Who Need Readers

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Your book is out. Now, you have a chance to sell directly to readers. One of the best places to do that is a book festival. The Payson Book Festival in Payson, AZ provided an opportunity for me to see how other writers sold their books. Next time I try this, I’ll know what works and what to avoid. Standing for hours just killed me back. That’s the main thing to avoid.

The planning team at the Payson Book Festival did a super job of making the event a success for authors and for those who dropped by to see what a book festival was all about. They choose a great location. In Arizona, it’s definitely good to be out of the sun. Luckily, Gila Community College had plenty of space inside, as well as outdoor corridors. If it had rained, being outdoors would not have been the prime location. Try to have a look at the weather forecast and prepare for rain or extreme sun.

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Payson Book Festival 2015

The Payson Book Festival 2015, at Gila Community College, welcomed 60 writers from all over Arizona for a one-day author-stravaganza. The main book room had tables against the wall and a row of center tables. Festival-goers made a U-shaped loop and returned to the entry door.


Location, Location, Location

At a book festival you want the best real estate possible, but it’s pretty hard to tell in advance which tables will draw no traffic and which will have people shuffling along like cattle in a feed lot. Our group had two tables at the far back of the hall. (See the purple sign on the left, back wall.) Festival-goers came in the main door, made a U-shaped stroll past the tables, and floated like leaves in a stream back to their entry point. They were overwhelmed. Too many books. Too many authors. Most likely you will have no control over your table’s location, so just suck it up and make do.

Basic Things To Bring

I learned about preparation from my fellow authors at the Scottsdale Society for Women Writers. It was great to share a table with six other writers. They clearly knew the drill!

Our organizer, Patricia Taylor, founder of SSWW, brought two tablecloths. Those are important because they will hide the boxes under the table. However, for those of you sharing tables, think about how many people can sit comfortably. Three at each table made for a tight squeeze. With others to cover for us, we could walk around and look at the other book tables. A big plus was getting to know the other authors and finding out about their books.

Here’s a list of items you must bring:
–banners (if there’s wall space and you have permission to hang)
–banners to hang from the table (pin them to the tablecloth)
–candy bowls of mints/Hershey’s kisses (but only if it’s not super hot)
–bottled water
–sparkly pencils marked “free”
–small gifts that would attract the attention of children (where the children go, the parents will follow)
–freebies for those who approach your table (key rings with your book title, bookmarks, lapel pins, book bags, postcards)
–holders to show off your free items
–plastic to cover your books (if you’re under a canopy rather than inside a building)

Toting Your Books

I overestimated how many books I would sell. My guess is that the more authors, the fewer books any one author will sell. That’s just because those who visit are stunned at the selection. By far the majority of people passing your table will be casual readers. The books that sold the best at Payson fell into the category of “easy summer read:” mysteries, Arizona lore, children’s books, and young adult novels. I had one woman cruise past the table and pick up my novel. When she found out it wasn’t a mystery, she dropped it. Do not bring too many books. Okay, if you’re well known and expect oodles of friends to drop by, bring the books. But, otherwise, spare your back.

Use a good, rolling cart. I found this one in my local OfficeMax, but you can get it on Amazon. You may also want to bring your own stool or chair. For one, you’ll be more comfortable, and for two, you might want to sit in front of your table, not behind it. For that, a tripod stool or camp chair works well. If you opt for the camp chair, get one that has a tubular frame. If you intend to park yourself in the flow of traffic, you’ll want to be able to hop up quickly.

I kind of like this guy’s approach. He had a nice spot in a room that wasn’t packed with people. When people came into the room, he could talk to them without the cacophany of a hundred voices.

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If you have the room, use a display board to tell your “Author Story.” Sit in front of the table, not behind it. (photos by Randy Cockrell)

You’ll need to decide if you’re going to reduce the price of your book from its online price. If so, then make a big sign announcing that buyers can ONLY get your book for this price AT THE FESTIVAL.

How Will You Handle Money?

I stopped by the ATM on my way to the book festival, but I should have gone to the bank instead. Buyers will want change in ones and fives.

Many authors are now using a Square to deal with credit card transactions. You can use a Square with most cell phones, or you can use it with an iPad. I’ve done a couple of private author events, and then, I found it handy to have a Square. I don’t use it often enough to remember how to use it, so I’m always a bit annoyed by the learning curve.


If you’re going to take credit cards, you’ll need a Square.

I’d love to know what works for you. Do you think it’s worthwhile to direct sell at a book festival? Would you prefer to share a table or pay for your own?

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