Imagine, if you will, an open-air market in the 1600s, where exotic spices fill your sense of smell. Hustling, shoving people crowd through the streets in search of their daily bread, fresh vegetables, and fish just caught from the sea. Vendors’ yells fill your ears, each trying to draw your attention toward their wares.
Now, change that picture to a modern day book fair, in a large auditorium or park. People file by the booths, looking at the confusing assortment of literature available. Instead of food, the vendors now hawk their brand of book.
“Mysteries. I’ve got your mysteries right here!”
“Fresh from the printer, romance novels. Just released!”
As an author, you’ve spent time and money to get to the fair. Your display has been carefully laid out. Your game face is on as you do your best to get people to stop and look at your work. In the best case scenario, customers whip out their wallet and buy a copy – autographed, of course!
What makes people stop at your booth? Why yours and not the one next to you? Getting them to slow down is a fourth of the battle. To stop — half. I’ve seen a few gimmicks and ploys in my life as a writer/vendor.
Of course, dressing the table with eye-catching promotional material and colorful table cloths is a basic tool. But, there are more ways to the inventive soul.
One couple dressed in Renaissance costume, complete with velvet cap, red brocade clothes, and leggings, to advertise their historical novels. One would walk through the crowd, their attire drawing attention. When stopped and questioned, they would send the inquirer to their partner, manning the booth.
Another couple brought their banjo and microphones and began singing old ‘hill country’ music. They had an audience, but the other vendors hated them.
I have seen candy scattered across table tops, luring people in with the ‘gingerbread house’ appeal. Peppermints, chocolate, fudge were the prizes. The price? Having to look at the author and perhaps engage in conversation.
One mother/daughter team set up a large TV with a video that told the biography her husband had written. The method was quite effective, as many people stopped to listen and watch. For me as the neighbor, the first three times through were interesting. After that, I could quote the #$%@ thing myself. And I had to listen to it for two days straight!
Quite by accident, I stumbled upon a method of advertising that worked quite well. During a lull in traffic, I opened my laptop and began reading to my booth partner a short story I had just finished. Inside of three sentences, the man in the booth next to ours scooted his chair closer and closer so that he could listen. After a few minutes more, a small group had gathered in front of my table for ‘story time’.
When done with the story, many people commented on how good the story was, and eagerly looked at my novels. Just to make sure it hadn’t been a fluke, I tried it a few hours later, with the same results. It then dawned on me that reading my short stories out loud was the equivalent of a chocolatier giving samples out in the candy store. If the sample tasted this good, then a purchase was more easily assured.
If you attend book fairs as a vendor, look around at the traffic. See which booths have the most people stopping by. It’s a competitive market and, to an untested author, getting anyone to buy your work is quite a feat. But, it can happen. You can do it!
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There are several tips for setting up your table and for making sales.
Book fairs can be a lot of fun. Meeting other vendors and listening to their ‘war stories’ makes a slow fair interesting. But, talking to people about your book and getting them interested enough to buy one is the ultimate! As they pull out their wallet, don’t forget to ask…
“Do you want this autographed?”