|Photo courtesy of Laura Orsini.|
As a reader, the thought of spending a weekend surrounded by books and fellow lovers-of-books absolutely thrills me. As an author (and an introvert), it's not always thrilling to talk about my own books for hours on end. Still, interacting with readers can be a fabulous experience, if you're prepared.
On March 11-12th, I attended the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona to man a table. Well, half a table. This was my second year at this event, so I went in with a bit of experience, but I always learn something new. I thought I'd share my takeaways (note that these will be mostly from an author's perspective, rather than a reader's).
I've attended many signings at conferences where readers can be numerous or few, but the experience in Tucson was different. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.
I definitely met people! Boy, did I meet people. The festival's website claims the attendance is somewhere around 130,000 book-lovers each year. Some just wanted to stop and ask directions to a booth or to food, but others wanted to talk about their writing projects and still others wanted books. I found some new readers, and gave away a ton of excerpt booklets and links to my free download.
The crowd consisted of a wider variety of ages and interests than the romance-genre crowd I'm used to at specialized conventions and conferences. Everyone from young children to older people, with interests from kids' books to nonfiction (especially history) to fiction, walked the UofA mall that weekend.
I met some new-to-me authors as well as got to catch up with friends I knew from previous events.
Because we shared a booth, the cost of the table for two days was minimal compared to some venues. Only about a couple hundred dollars.
The event held many draws for readers, and the lines to attend speaking events and workshops were very long, so the events were well-attended.
LONG days! It was a two-day event, and we were at our tables from 9:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. each day.
While you never know what the weather will be like when you book the event several months in advance, this is an outdoor event and it turned out to be pretty darn hot. (Especially because I'm used to mountain weather and was coming from 40-degree temps to the high 80s.) It didn't help that my table was situated so that I had the afternoon sun from about 2:30 onward.
Our tent was a mixed bag of books. While all of our tent's authors were, of course, fabulous, we were a combination of many genres, from science fiction to paranormal to cozy mysteries to romance. And the label on our tent wasn't clear about who we were. Maybe because we didn't have a clear identity. We were the "Desert Dreams" group, which reflected our dreams of writing and being published but at least a handful of visitors wondered if we analyzed dreams and such. I had to wonder how many readers didn't approach, or didn't find us at all, because they didn't know who we were.
Parking was a challenge. Well, I should say that the long walk from the university's parking garage to the tent, while loaded down with a suitcase and additional bag of books, was a challenge. It helps to have an assistant. Several authors had hubbies or friends to help with the load, and to bring them refreshments. I highly recommend this. Unfortunately, my husband had to stay home with the kids, hundreds of miles away.
Sales stuff. I detest "selling myself." Promoting myself just isn't me. But I learned a lot by watching those around me and hearing their "hooks" and pitches. While I avoid any kind of high-pressure salesmanship, I can appreciate the way it worked for some. You have to do what you're comfortable with.
THINGS TO NOTE:
A rolling suitcase or other manner of toting books and promo items was immensely helpful. (Finding a husband or other willing family member or friend to help seemed to work best for many authors.)
Bring water! Stay hydrated. And if you're an introvert like me, water breaks had the added benefit of providing a few minutes of quiet time to stretch and get away from the crowds.
Having a bookseller on hand was useful in that I didn't need a license to sell (requirements may vary by state), but there was a commission deducted for this service, so be prepared to forward some of your royalties to the person managing the cash. (In this case, it was thirty percent.)
Finally, I can't stress enough the importance of going into something like this with a good attitude. For this introvert, the weekend was a marathon and mentally and physically exhausting. Plus, it's tempting to compare your sales to your fellow tent-mates' but I highly recommend you turn a blind eye to how other authors are doing. Instead, I tried to focus on making each person I met feel "heard" and responded with a bright smile to everyone who approached. This helped the introvert in me cope. ;)
How about you? Have you attended a book festival? If so, where, and what was your experience like? What tips did you learn, either as a reader/attendee or a signing author?