Thursday, August 20, 2015

No Book Fest In Your Area? Create One!

West PA Book Festival attendees

Most authors who attend book fairs designed to get a bunch of readers to come to one place at one time to, with any luck, buy books, are small name authors, often indie these days. They have other jobs, family obligations, house stuff to take care of, kids to feed, etc. And they’re mostly unknown.

Of course the big book fairs such as the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. started by first lady Laura Bush brings in big names such as John Irving and R. L. Stein. They can afford to do so, and it’s a wonderful opportunity. (I have a personally signed book by Irving and won’t soon forget talking to him in person, for about 10 seconds before moving along so the long, long line could advance.) However, some of the brightest gems are hidden in the dark mines of obscurity and you can find them at smaller, local book fairs.

Most of us mostly unknown authors with shining gem books waiting to be found are always looking for opportunities to help them be found. Social media can only do so much. Talking face-to-face with your potential readers can’t be beat. Readers like approachable authors. They still like print books. And they love to have personally signed books by authors they meet.

If you have a book fair nearby, and if the fee to attend isn’t too extravagant for your budget, definitely GO. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking for those of us who are introverts (and that’s a very high percentage of authors). Yes, it’s a gamble as to whether you’ll sell enough to be worth the gas money (because you don’t want to count on making even minimum wage for the number of hours you sit out there wracking your nerves trying to sound like an intelligent writer-person worth GeneJordanreading). Still, connecting not only with readers but also with other writers is an important part of the job. There are things you can’t learn from Tweeting and Liking and Commenting. Get out there and do it in person.

Don’t have a book fair nearby? Create one.


Yes, most of us are introverts. We like to stay in our comfort zone. We don’t have organizing event experience. So what? No one does their first time. Start small.

I just did this. Now, not only am I the typical introvert author, I’ve also fought debilitating social phobia (now called social anxiety disorder) since I was a pre-teen. No, I don’t just mean I get nervous talking in groups. I mean I get nervous talking to one friend or going grocery shopping or asking to try on clothes before I buy them (generally, I just risk it instead).

But this book thing is very important to me. Not only my books. But books. Reading. In general. Widely. Avidly. I’m on a quest to encourage more people do that again because it’s important.

Since the closest book fair isn’t very close to me out here in the boonies where I can generally be a hermit writer, and since it also has a pretty steep attending fee, I’ve never gone. I have too many obligations to just pack up and travel to the big book fairs. The idea of going out to places I’ve never been and trying to keep my nerves calm enough to be able to speak to potential readers makes me cringe. Physically. And mentally.

So, this year I created one. A book festival. Locally. Right here in the area where I’m comfortable. Of course, it took months of work and eliminated some of my own writing time, but in the end, it was definitely worth it. We got a good crowd for our small area, plenty of praise for the event, nice publicity for area newspapers before and after the event, and even notes of praise for doing something good for the community from a state senator.

The biggest benefit, though, is sharing your books and your love of books with your community, and helping to support your own community of local authors.

The process (not necessarily in this order, except for #1):RhondaPaglia

1) Get a local author network going well ahead of time. This is easily done with social media groups and email. A couple of years ago, I started a local author Facebook group and made it private so we could share information. I stayed on the lookout for authors in the area not yet in the group and emailed to invite them. Not all are on Facebook, so I also have an email list to send out pertinent information. Along with this, I made flyers to take to our local bookstore which stocks local author books inviting any of them stopping in the store to join us.

2) Put up a website. I used Blogger which doesn’t cost anything, then bought a domain name to attach to it to make advertising easier and more professional. I use the blog feature to highlight authors who agreed to attend and pages for information. You can find it HERE. (We had a fairly steady stream of views from the time we started advertising, and a huge jump the month before the event when papers started covering us, also a huge jump after the event.) There are plenty of free sites you can use, but some demand an upgrade in order to attach a domain name. You can always start with a blog and upgrade later, although I find the blog format very helpful and easy to update.

3) Get help! Four local authors were so excited about the event from the beginning that they asked to help in any way they could. So I made them fest committee members. Trust me, it’s a good amount of work. If you have trust-worthy people willing to help, take them up on it!

4) Find a place. We have a local farmers market on one street of the courthouse square and a beautiful courthouse lawn that hosts events such as the summer community concert series. The farm market has to have insurance to operate and MollieLyonthey were glad to host us under their name on a market day so we could use their insurance and help draw people to the market. If this idea won’t work for you, ask a local business with a large yard or parking lot, or ask your town’s chamber about using the sidewalks. Check into the legalities. Be sure there is restroom availability for your authors, as well as food, water, etc. Maybe even invite local food vendors.

4) Decide what to charge authors to attend. I decided to make it free for authors in order to encourage participation in an event none of us would be sure how it would turn out.  Be careful about doing this. Promo, even cheap promo, adds up fast. Before you start ordering promotional material, get a feel for how many authors you might count on to attend. Start small and build as you’re able.

2015FestBookmark-md5) My biggest promo for the event was bookmarks with the event, date, place, and time featured. You’ll want a logo of some kind for your website and your promo material. I do design work, so this was not an issue. Get help if you need it. A high school art student/club in the area may be willing to create a logo and do design work for exchange publicity. I had two bookmarks printed on a 4x6 postcard, uploaded it to Vistaprint, and then cut them out with my handy paper cutter. If you watch for a sale, you can get them for not too much expense. Or go to a local printer and see what price you can get. Maybe they’ll be willing to give you a deal in return for a sponsorship. Committee members helped to take stacks of these to local libraries and our local bookstore, along with an event flyer. This was very effective promo, as it also brought in more authors. Also suggest your authors take some to their book signings before the event if they have any.

6) Having a Facebook/other social media page for the event is a good idea. Authors and others can share your posts to their pages. Free, easy promo!

7) Draw up an author contract that details what they need to bring, etc. You’ll want to have a print copy for each author to keep on record.

8) Keep track of your expenses. For legalities. You can use your own account since this is an event and not a business or charity. But keep track. You shouldn’t make a profit on attending fees or sponsorships. It should all go back into the event.

9) Get sponsors! Go to local businesses and ask for their support in return for listing them on your website and event flyers. I also created a literacy brochure with facts and statistics that show the benefits and necessity of reading and included higher level sponsors on that, as well. Events that bring people to your community is good for the community, including local businesses. Keep your sponsorship levels low enough that small businesses can be included. Many of them are struggling, as well.
10) Arrange a time for author readings, at least for children’s authors. Children’s events bring in parents.

11) Close to the event date, create event flyers listing the attending authors with genre and other special events, such as readings. I used rack cards for EventFlyer-2015-100pthis.

12) If you get enough sponsors to help pay expenses, have giveaways at your event. You can also have gear that will help bring in funds. We had tote bags with our logo (reusable that also work for farm market produce bags), stylus pens with our tag line and website address, and bumper stickers for sale at the event. With enough sponsorship, these can be giveaways. Our giveaways included the remaining promotional bookmarks and bright green pencils with our tagline and website printed on them. I ordered a ton of pencils since I ran across a sale at the company I use for promo material, and at the end of the event, I handed a bunch to each author to share as advertisement for next year’s fest.

13) Ask for volunteers! High school students looking for volunteer hours or local book lovers may be very willing to come help for the day. Authors may need spells for lunch, etc. if they don’t have a helper with them. You also need someone to man the welcome tent where your event flyers and other giveaways will be stationed, along with a raffle if you do one, and people to answer questions by authors and wandering book lovers.  (I was incredibly lucky to have a lot of help from my family, along with a local book lover who just wanted to help.)

AuthorSign14) Consider Extras: We had a big sign out front that announced what we were doing (learning experience: next year it will be bigger). I also designed, printed, and laminated individual author signs with their genre for the front of each tent. I’m fortunate to have a husband who works with wood and he made holders to staple the signs on (learning experience: next year, taller stakes).

A caveat: for an outdoor event, tent space can be an issue. Not all authors have tents/canopies or the ability to tote a 10x10 tent in their vehicle. Check with local places to see about renting tents for those who need it, but place the charge on the authors. Don’t take on too much yourself!

Also, have a rain date! Books and wind with rain do not mix. We were lucky this year and only had heat to contend with. That won’t always happen.

RaffleWinnerAs a thank you to the farm market for sponsoring us, I took up a donation of one book from each author to raffle all together. You could also do groups of books in genres if you have enough authors. The proceeds went to the farm market. If you don’t need a thank you gift, use it to help pay expenses or to go to a local literacy group/library/etc.

Overall, it was an amazing experience and very welcome in the community. So go ahead, start your own! Questions? Ask away…

Be sure to check out our 1st Annual West PA Book Festival website to see which authors jumped in and took a risk with me to get this going!

Next post: Preparing for and attending a book festival as an author.