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Book Fairs: The Do’s and Don’ts

30 Dec

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Chicago

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During these last days of the old year, equipped with brand new calendars, you might be sitting down to plan the marketing for your book(s) in 2014. Which Book Fairs or other Literary Events will you attend in the coming months to present your work?
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Carefully Check Out the Fair Organizer
Before you sign up and spend any money, let the organizers show you how they promote this book fair in detail. Don’t settle for general statements, such as: “We advertise everywhere in the area” or “Our clients post it all over the Internet and on Social Media”. Rather inquire and ask detailed questions:

  • How many shows did they previously organize and how was the outcome?
  • Which advertisements did they purchase for this upcoming book fair?
  • To which audience (in follower numbers) and how often do they announce it on Social Media?
  • Which articles did they prepare and where will it be published, and to how many readers?
  • What is the percentage of recurring exhibitors?
  • Can they give you names of exhibitors / authors you might contact about their experience?
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Make sure that organizing a book fair is not an attempt for this company to make a fast buck, but rather to promote authors and their books, considering that you have the cost of buying a table, transportation / parking costs, promoting, maybe accommodation and restaurant bills or even expenses to have a helper at your booth.
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These tips might help you to evaluate if it is worth to attend the book fair.  I visited lots of great organized and promoted exhibitions – but here is an example how the event organizers and even authors can spoil the experience for visitors:
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Can it Get Any Worse?
Last Fall I attended a Book Fair, organized by a large group of author-publishers. My expectations were pretty low, as I feared, it was not sufficiently advertised, such as in their earlier book events.  And it was in fact even worse…
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Barely Advertised:
Instead of writing articles about the show, listing the authors that were present and rave about their books – and distribute these articles at least through all the local papers for free – there was nothing publicized…. Not even on Google+ nor on Goodreads’ free event sites was this book fair advertised, which would have cost them not a dime.
Only one promotional article about one of the fair’s organizers was published, also not directly about the show, but rather about his achievements in writing a huge number of books (which averaged exactly 72 copies sold per title…).
The book fair was neither advertised at local online magazines nor in print (for a very low fee) in newspaper event pages. Even their own website did not show a proper invitation for the public – instead an announcement for members to purchase a table at the show.  Members were encouraged to send out tweets to the public to purchase a table!  Did they mean instead of visiting a book fair to rent their tables? A promotional disaster!
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Inconvenient Layout:
The book fair was set up on the second floor of a recreational facility. The room itself was very long and narrow, a wheel chair could barely roll through between the tables, without touching books and throwing them to the floor. I watched as visitors were polite and stepped back or sidewards to let wheel chairs pass. When looking at the books or purchase something, the people in wheelchairs felt embarrassed as they blocked inadvertenly the whole aisle.

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Self-Published-Looking Book Covers
Only two of about 150 books showed a professional cover – all others screamed: “self-published”. OK, some of the covers could work for a print book, potential customers in bookstores could read all the details on the front and back cover, but they were mostly available as e-books too, and I imagined them on Internet retailer sites, among many other books with professional covers displayed … where they would be difficult to read due to the small print.

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Lack of Displays
Most of the books were laid out flat on the tables and visitors had to lean over in order to read the title. There are so many inexpensive Acryl presentations available to show books upright!  Just visit a trade book fair, such as Book Expo NY, Frankfurt Book Fair and see how professional publishing houses present their books. Or get a video from these fairs on YouTube to see how a book presentation should look like.

Only one of the authors at the show had a background display – a real attention-grabber – showcasing the cover of one of his titles. It was one of these roll-out display posters that one can carry very easily, being not much bigger than a golf umbrella when dissembled Roll Up Banner Stand.
Other book exhibitors did not invest a single dollar in display and had in the best case a copy of their book cover or a 8×11′ black & white computer print-out “poster” with the book title on it, pinned to the wall behind them.

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No Credit Cards
Everybody knows how easy it is to spend money when you don’t have to pay with cash. I overheard several times that patrons said: “I have to leave it with this one book, as I don’t have enough cash with me”. Another said: “I just found out by chance about this book exhibition, but I don’t have any money with me”.
So, why not making it easy for customers and accept credit cards or any of the new ways of paying digitally? Nothing easier than this: use one of these “Square Cards” or bring your smart phone of iPad with you and let people pay, using their PayPal account – or even better, sending you the money by email / online banking (available at Canadian bank accounts, not sure if available in other countries) – right at your exhibition booth! Make it as easy as possible for people to buy your books!

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Approachable or Unfriendly?
For a couple of hours I watched authors how they approached potential patrons, at their book tables. I asked everyone of the authors, why they wrote this book (lots of memoirs there!), what’s the background of their novel, or how long it took them to write it, how they were promoting it. It was a mixed bag: Some where cheerful talking about their writing process, the background story etc., while others only asked which one of their books I wanted to buy, and when I was not taking out my purse right away, they turned around and talked with their neighbors. Wow, I was pretty astonished – and guess who’s books I bought?

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One Book Seller Stood Out
Her book, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride was available in print and digital form. She bundled both, similar to the book bundles that Amazon offers now.  And almost everyone of her print book customers bought a digital version too, which she offered for only $1 at a promotional price, either for themselves or as a gift. How she did it?  She brought two tools to the fair:  an iPad and a small poster. As soon as someone declared to buy the paperback, she pointed to her poster and showed them her Amazon page on her iPad.  When readers saw the official book price on Amazon and compared it to her offer at the book show, they could not resist to get the e-book too.
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Conclusion:
Why make all the effort to write and spend the money to publish a book?  I know that some of these authors at the book show had paid thousands of dollars to a Vanity book company to get their book(s) “published”.  Why then not invest a couple of dollars in presenting their work properly?
Again: Writing is an art – Publishing is a business! I hope these examples give you food for thought and encourage you to present your books professional at this year’s book shows. And a word to book show organizers: Don’t just fleece authors and sell tables, but offer them value in promoting the book event professionally. You can do it even for free, using all these new media possibilities out there!

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If you would like to get more support in all things publishing, have your book intensively promoted and learn how to navigate social media sites – or to learn how you can make yourself a name as an author through content writing: We offer all this and more for only $179 for three months – or less than $2 per day! Learn more about this customized Online Seminar / Consulting for writers: http://www.111Publishing.com/Seminars

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