Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

15 things I learned about book festivals


If you were around for last week’s post, I went to the Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato to man the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime (TC SinC) table. Our SinC chapter released an anthology this year (and no, I don’t have a story in it because they were in the final editing stage when I joined the party πŸ™‚ ) called Dark Side of the Loon: Where Mystery Meets History. All the stories are written by TC SinC members and are set during historical events in MN, like the infamous Armistice Day Blizzard or the Jesse James gang’s bank robbery in Northfield. We also had an older anthology to sell.

Bottom line, sell as many books as possible between 10 am and 4 pm.

A few things about the whole situation just made it a rough day. The venue was hard to find–even people using GPS wound up at a hotel down the block. No signage out front to tell people what was happening. And the author area was inside a former restaurant, so dim lighting was the rule rather than the exception.

Since this was my first, I made a few mental notes for the next book festival (hopefully more successful, and hopefully with my very own debut novel!)

So, here are some things to remember (in no particular order) for a book festival, or book fair, or craft fair or wherever you are selling your books:

Mental Note #1: BYOB

Bring water, coffee, or pop (yes, I’m from MN, so it’s “pop” not “soda” or “coke” πŸ™‚ ) to drink. A big room like that, with lots of books, screams “dry air”. I brought a water bottle, but I could have used two. The venue had coffee and water available in the morning, but that was gone before noon.

Mental Note #2: Bring snacks

If the book festival is more than two hours, and especially if it’s six hours like the Deep Valley one, bring something to eat. At our venue, there were no food vendors, so no opportunity to grab lunch. I brought a PB&J along with an apple and banana, plus an emergency granola bar, because I didn’t know what to expect. I’m glad I did. Other authors had family members with them to fetch nourishment, but some didn’t. A mix of peanuts, M&Ms, raisins, candy corn, etc. would be good to have on hand to munch.

Mental Note #3: Bring a battery charger/powerpack for your phone/iPad/tablet

This might seem obvious, but there were very few outlets available. And yes, you might have charged everything up the night before, but it never hurts to have a backup, especially if there is no wifi available and you have to rely on your cellular data connection. Hint: Make sure your powerpack is charged as well!

Mental Note #4: Gotta have some signage

We had a price sheet with the book covers printed on it, as well as a couple sheets of reviews for the new anthology, mounted in those clear plastic holders that stand up by themselves. We also had signage with fold-out stands, made from heavy tag board, so they were easy to take down and put away. Some authors had bigger signs, BUT make sure you have room for the signs along with your books. The table may only be the size of a card table, so there are limits on how much you can put out. I’ve read advice about vertical self-standing easels that you can set beside the table, where it’s like a tripod with a telescoping piece where you can mount a cardboard sign or or unroll a fabric one.

Mental Note #5: Handy-dandy book display easels

You know, the kind where you can set a book on it to show off the cover. Everyone displayed their books face out like that (you know what I’m talking about). In bookstores they even suggest you go through (covertly, of course πŸ™‚ and you didn’t hear that from me πŸ˜€ ) and set your book so the whole face is showing and not just the spine. If anyone knows a place to get those little display things (besides Amazon; they’ve got everything, right?), pop it into a comment.

Mental Note #6: Rolling bag, collapsable cart, or collapsable two-wheel dolly

Nobody likes dragging a box full of books any farther than they have to. I saw authors with rolling cases, one with a cool collapsable cart like a wagon, and TC SinC has a neat collapsable two-wheel dolly. This venue offered volunteer college-aged muscle, but by closing time most of their volunteers had left.

Mental Note #7: Promo stuff like business cards, bookmarks, magnets, notepads, pencils, etc

And yes, just like at any other promotional event, people go around and gather goodies. Anything that reminds them of your book is good, right? Remember, this is a book festival (this one included over twenty authors), not an author event like a signing gig, authors panel, or launch party, so you could get away with no candy Edit: yes, goodies are advised, as I’ve learned from other authors. So lure them with sugar πŸ™‚

Mental Note #8: Card reader–Square, PayPal, or other

The chapter prez, who signed up for the event and asked me to help man the table, forgot the Square, so we restricted payment to cash or check. A caveat, though: make sure you either have a reliable internet connection or that the reader can process cards while offline. Another caveat: With so many credit cards having chips in them now, if your reader can’t read the chips, you have to type the card number into the app.

Mental Note #9: Price books for least-complicated change (and make sure you have enough change)

Seems logical, but it’s a good reminder. Price books in whole dollars, and an amount that’s easy to give change. We priced the anthology at $17. The prez had an envelope of change: groups of three one dollar bills paper-clipped together so it was easy to pull out change for a twenty. One author priced her books at $15, which again is easy to make change. Another author priced her books at $15 for cash or check, and $16 for credit card. When you use a Square or other card reader, the card processor takes a small percentage of the charge, so it made sense (like gas stations giving you a discount when you pay with cash). Don’t forget to include sales tax in the price!

Mental Note #10: Keep a tally sheet, also good for notes

We had a tally sheet to track how many of each anthology we sold, which makes it easy to know how many books are left, and how much money you should have (and change left over). We used a small notebook, handy because one of the patrons who stopped at our table works in the archive section of the MNSU-Mankato library, and they collect books from MN authors. We got contact information, and a possible opportunity for some sort of author panel in the future.

Mental Note #11: Network!

Yes, I know, writers are introverts, and crowds make us twitchy, but make connections with both readers and writers. Yes, this means you have to talk to complete strangers. I found out the author at the table next to us is also with my publisher, so we could compare notes. I met a reader who read historical stuff, and her friend reads mysteries, so I suggested she would enjoy the historical stuff in the anthology. She bought both anthologies, so they could read and swap. I also met a vivacious reader who, once I told her about my own book (she asked), got super excited about it. And when she told her husband, he got excited about it. I wrote the title and release date on the back of one of my business cards and gave it to her. If half her enthusiasm rubs off on a handful of her friends, that’s six more readers than if I hadn’t talked to her at all.

Mental Note #12: Pay attention to venue notes

The venue should make you aware of things like no outlets and no wifi. Our venue also suggested battery-powered lights. Huh? When we got there, we saw the dim lighting. One author brought a battery-powered camp lantern–great idea. Take-away: if the venue suggests something, there’s a reason, so plan accordingly.

Mental Note #13: Bring something writerly to work on

The crowd isn’t steady, so there’s time when you either talk to the writer next door, or take the opportunity to do some editing, or outlining, or something you can do in short bursts.

Mental Note #14: Check out the other tables

Venues often have volunteers who can watch your table when you have to find a restroom or just stretch your legs. Take some time to check the other authors out. You might find books you are interested in. See how other authors have their tables laid out. You can get ideas for your next event that way, like the battery-powered lantern πŸ™‚

Mental Note #15: Feedback

Most venues will ask for feedback or suggestions. Take them up on it–nicely. Someone spent a lot of time organizing the event, getting sponsors, volunteers, authors, etc. The prez mentioned to them the difficulties people were having, and we learned why they used that venue (cost, of course). But maybe next time they can do a few little things differently that might make the event more successful. And let them know what they did right, because we all like good feedback. Just like a critique, it lets them know what they are doing well.

And that is the end of a very long post. There are veterans of book events out there that skimmed the headers and skipped to the bottom (yes, you did! πŸ˜‰ ), but hopefully this will help others who are thinking about or planning to sell at an event like this.

Have a wonderful weekend–enjoy it, because the colors are fleeting, and the white stuff will be here before you know it! (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s spring where you are, and I’m jealous because you’re done with winter πŸ˜€ )

Write on!

Author: Julie Holmes, author

A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for over a decade, I have been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. My debut novel, "Murder in Plane Sight", has been released by Camel Press (an imprint of Coffeetown Press/Epicenter Press). In real life, I am a technical writer and empty-nester with a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, five chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

27 thoughts on “15 things I learned about book festivals

  1. This is such good advice! I’ve found, from doing signings myself, how important it is to stay hydrated, to have goodies or snacks of some kind (and a bowl of them for people who stop by the table), and that Square. I love the technology that allows you to deal with purchases that easily. And you’re right: it’s a great networking opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely, Margot! And though I didn’t see many authors with treats/candy available on their table at the festival, but I’ve heard from a couple other authors that the goodies draw people in and encourage them to linger. Hmm. Might have to stock up πŸ˜€ And networking is so valuable!

      Enjoy your weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great info, Julie. I have to admit, I still haven’t gotten around to getting a Square. But your advice is spot on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Staci! I haven’t gotten a Square yet, either. I’m debating between a PayPal reader and a Square. One of the TC SinC members use a PayPal reader, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to her about how it works. That’s another benefit of networking, finding out what other writers are doing and how it works for them.

      Enjoy your weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent tips, Julie. I was nodding my head as I read. “Yup, yup, yup,” Ha ha. I’ll admit that the lighting is a tough one that I haven’t encountered. I also find that having a bowl of candy is a good way to get people to the table so I can pounce on them. Quality posters/visuals seem key to a professional look, and it’s something I’m working on getting in place now. Great post. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Pounce”—Love it! I seem to need lists to keep my mind in order, or my sanity, or somthing… and yes, I’ve read about quality visuals. Anything that draws a reader’s eyes would entice them to stop by, and that’s one more victim–er, potential fan with whom we can share our stories. The lighting thing was a surprise to me; I would have expected the organizers to make more of an effort to improve the lighting, but maybe that’s wishful thinking.

      Have a wonderful weekend, Diana!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great list of tips. I would have taken most of those for granted–of course they wouldn’t be an issue–but I’d be wrong. Those are all the little pieces that make an event successful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, right? I find lists are helpful (maybe because my memory isn’s as stellar as it used to be πŸ˜€ ), and most of these can make an event go so much smoother. The author next to me had to carry her book boxes, and I wanted to help her carry them to her car, but I had my own to manage (and for some reason I struggled with the dolly. Damn mechanical advantage πŸ˜‰ )

      Have a great weekend, Jacqui!


  5. That was a lot to read, but I made it to the bottom, even without the promise of Zoey waiting to greet me. Really good information. I esp. like the part about charging an extra buck if people use credit cards. I gotta remember that one. Thanks for taking the time to put all this down for us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought that was pretty good, offering a little discount for cash, because cash is less of a hassle (no internet connection needed πŸ™‚ ). I thought about adding a Zoey pic at the end just for you πŸ˜€ Or a pic of a tree in colors.

      Enjoy your weekend, Betsy! Vikes are in NY tomorrow–SKOL!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a great post, Julie, and I’ve found myself dealing with all of these things a time or two. My next event is coming up in a few weeks, so I’m in the process of putting my swag and presentation together. I use the PayPal reader, but when I went to an iPhone 7 Plus (no headphone jack) that became problematic. Just last week I bought a blue-tooth enabled reader for PayPal that does swipe or chips. They also have one that does tap at double the cost, but I didn’t go for that. I think most of people in my target reader list will use cash, check, or a card with no tap. It’s kind of always a crap shoot how many books you sell at an event, and you don’t the networking opportunities more than make up for it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, wow, you use the PP reader? Have you had any problems with it? (sorry, I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to our member who uses the PP reader) I’ve got an iPhone SE, which I’ll keep for a while yet, but good idea with the BT. I hear ya about sales being a crap shoot. The day of the festival was the nicest day we’ve had in over a week, so we figured a lot of people stayed home to do yard work. And yes, the networking opportunities are great!

      Enjoy your weekend, Mae!


  7. Julie, I’ve only ever used the PayPal reader and it works great. I already had a PayPal account, so when it came time to purchase a card reader it just made sense to go with PP. I’ve heard only heard good things about Square too. I don’t think you can go bad either way. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have never done one, so this is all good advice to me! One of these days I’ll stop dragging my feet.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. These are all very good points, Julie. I have attended a number of book fairs and having food and drink is definitely important or you really start to flag.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is great information, Julie. I am going to participate in a craft fair this coming weekend with some other local authors – selling our books. Your advice is timely! I have not done this before and I’m going to buy candy today! As well as get my visuals ready.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great advice. My events are usually private ones and in conjunction with presentations I’m doing, but I plan to get to some larger, multi-author events one of these days, and I’ve taken notes! Thanks, Julie! Well thought out, and definitely not too long, given all the good info you shared. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Beatles and The Week in Review – Joan Hall

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