In early November, I had the opportunity to attend an author fair and book signing event at my local library. I actually found out about this occasion while visiting the library. As I walked to put up a couple of books I had on hold, I noticed a huge poster on the wall promoting the event. I took a snapshot of the poster with my phone and when I got home, I immediately inquired if there was a chance to get a table. Luckily I reached out just in time as tables were filling up fast.
To prepare for the author expo, I scoured the internet for helpful posts on what to bring. At the end of this post, I’ll share a couple of my favorite posts I found. For now, I’d like to share what I personally learned from attending my first in person author event.
1. Marketing Materials are Key
As it turns out, not everyone wanted to buy my book on the spot. How dare they! Most event attenders were coming to the library for another event targeted at kids or just coming on a normal library trip to drop off or browse for new books. They ended up traveling around to different tables as an afterthought. While a buying a book at any price might not been in their heads for this trip, a free bookmark, flyer, or business card is much more likely to come home with an attendee.
All of these free marketing assets and even something like a newsletter or mailing list sign up sheet provide potential customers with something to take home, research, and a future opportunity to make a purchase of your books at a more convenient time. They may even pass along your information to a friend who might better fit your typical reader. I did have a business card, but not a bookmark or flyer. I saw many attendees carrying around other authors’ flyers.
2. Consider Your Audience
In hindsight, I was very ambitious. I ordered 15 books that I was hoping to sell at the fair. But to my surprise, I sold a whopping zero. As it turns out, most of the patrons to this event were more interested in browsing tables and talking to authors. There were really only a couple of tables that I saw sell more than one book. I’m sure this isn’t the case in all local author fairs, but my particular library isn’t in a bustling metropolis, so the number of visitors was never going to sustain that many book sales.
At the same time, my books are a bit more niche. A book that is targeted at coaching basketball and a kids’ sports fiction chapter book don’t appeal to everyone. While that is helpful when you are selling books online as the number of potential customers is seemingly endless, a smaller event like this one meant that there would be way less interest in those types of books. That doesn’t mean these events aren’t worthwhile if you don’t have a widely appealing book because you never know who you will meet or who might attend.
3. Leverage Your Local Fans
While there was not an overwhelming amount of foot traffic at this event, there was a table just a few feet away from mine that consistently had people coming over to them. The table did have some interesting graphics and larger posters to draw people in, but it seemed like these fans already knew exactly where to go when they came in.
Upon further watching (I told you I wasn’t selling any books myself, right?), these visitors seemed to have prior relationships with the author. Not only do these local fans help raise your spirits and make for good photo opportunities, but I would wager that they are likely to make other people in the fair notice the excitement surrounding your books. It’s like having a 5 star Amazon review come to life.
4. Don’t Forget to Network
Of course, as an author, my primary motivation at a local author event like this was to sell books to customers and hopefully make some new fans. At the same time, I was surrounded by a couple dozen authors of varying backgrounds and experiences. Being newer to the writing scene, I’m always looking to learn authors’ stories and what might have worked for them. In my experience, other authors are incredibly generous and willing to share tips and advice. They want to see other writers succeed.
Toward the end of the event, I decided to go around and talk to these authors. One author I talked to mentioned that she was actually a former screenwriter in Hollywood and had entered a writing contest with a friend. She won the contest and that jumpstarted her writing career. Now she’s a USA Today best-selling author.
Another author just across the way, shared with me that in her effort to get traditionally published she queried dozens of publishing houses but focused specifically on smaller publishers that focused specifically on her niche. Now she has at least 7 published books and makes her living writing.
Both of these stories reminded me of the stories I shared in a past post. Each author seems to have an unique journey to success. There is not a one-size fits all route to being an author. It reminds me of the importance of perseverance.
Here are a couple of the blog posts that I used to prepare for my first author fair. Hopefully, they can help you too!
Have you attending a local author fair? What did you learn and what worked for you?