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  • Judith Barrow Author

On Book Fairs and Book Signings

"So many books, so little time." Frank Zappa



Having been a co-organiser of a book fair for the last eight years (I wrote a post about this: http://bit.ly/2VDJtrr and having attended other book fairs more times than I can count I thought to pass on a little of the experience and lessons learned during all those events.

Something I quickly understood was, if you are going to be part of both local book fairs and those further afield, you will be amongst authors you’ll see time and time again. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that you are not in competition with the other authors at these events. If that’s how you view it, it won’t help you in the long run. Most of the writers I’ve met are supportive of one another. If a potential reader stops at your stall and then decides your genre is not for them, passing them on to another author a few tables away, whose books you know they will like, is a favour that will be reciprocated in spades. How generous a person you are is quickly seen and understood.


So, to practicalities.

Make sure you have the things the organisers have asked you to remember: a tablecloth, books, of course, plenty of change. A display stand for you table if you want to have one, a banner if you own one (having made sure you let the organisers know so that they can put you in an appropriate place where your banner won’t cut off any other author’s table), any flyers, leaflets or posters you want to bring, a book price list, bookmarks and business cards. If you wish, take anything that promotes the genre of your books (I know one author who writes historical books who bring small items that portrays the era and one who writes ‘chiller thrillers’ who always has small bare branches, ivy etc. which evokes a thrilling creepiness) Some authors, on the other hand, bring small free gifts or a bowl of sweets/chocolates as a tempter for potential readers to stop at their tables.


At our last book fair in Narberth we encouraged authors to bring small artificial candles or small lamps to shine down onto their tables. It’s effective. And of course you’ll want to make sure they do shine down and not directly in the eyes of customers or other authors.


Find out if there are places of refreshments at or nearby the venue. Be prepared if not.


Arrive at least an hour before the book fair opens to make sure to your table is ready when the people (hopefully) flood in. And stay to the bitter end. As important it is for you to be on time for the opening, so you should stay until the book fair closes, even if you have had a non-productive day. It’s not fair on the other authors around you to leave your table empty; it spoils the atmosphere of the event, and looks unprofessional on your part.


During the day do try to be friendly with the other authors; it can only be a good thing, they will support you, commiserate on a lost sale, watch your table for you if you’re on your own and need to go to the loo or buy a coffee.


Don’t sit with arms crossed behind your table; stand up to make eye-to-eye contact with anyone who stops at your table. But don’t monopolise them and talk at them to the point of embarrassment. This does two things – it means they will also pass by the author on the next table in their desperation to get away from you and they will remember you at the next event they see you at … and will avoid you at all costs. Loss of sales for you.


Something else I should mention; being faced with the person who has no intention of buying books but who is determined to tell you about the book they have written but not yet published, or to relate the story of someone who knows someone who comes from / knows of / has also written about - the area your book is/might be set. The minutes tick by. As do potential buyers, who think you are engrossed with the person stood squarely in front of your table. The smile on your face becomes frozen and, without being ill mannered, you have no idea how to get the person to move on. A long time ago I was advised to do the following: still smiling and half listening to the person who is monopolising you, glance with a smile towards the potential reader who is hovering and hand them whatever you’ve prepared (the synopsis?) that gives them an idea of what your book is about. Or offer one of your books with an invitation to “have a look, no obligation”. With a bit of luck the first person will go on to torment some other poor author (yes I know I said be nice and friendly to the other authors but just sharing the load here). Or, you could do what I often do; conspire with a nearby author; if either of you become aware they are being cornered by someone with no sale in sight, have some form of intervention that means you are needed somewhere else. Urgently!


A few “tongue in cheek” friendly observations next:


I try to be friendly and helpful to the other participants, especially if they are newbies. Believe me, as with most other occasions in life, first impressions are noted and remembered. That person could be the next one who recommends your work… or doesn’t.


And supposing you sell only one or two books – or, as has happened to me – none? Do take it on the chin. It could be wrong time, wrong place, wrong kind of event for you. Smile, congratulate those who have done well, thank the organisers for the effort they have made in setting up the whole thing and keep your fingers crossed that next time you’ll do better. Organisers of book fairs are all only human and nobody can get everything right all the time. Obviously they can’t do anything about the weather, which could affect the success of the event, or the footfall (providing there was enough publicity and advertising). But if you think you weren’t given the right amount of space, make sure next time you supply enough information about your requirements. If you think the venue was in the wrong place, consider whether you believe it was the right book fair for you.


The next point is a tricky one. Did you believe your table was in the wrong place for you? This point sometimes causes problems for the organisers; you can guarantee they have gone to a lot of trouble to fit everyone the event. So, on arrival at the book fair it’s necessary, I’m afraid, to accept the placement of your table. What you shouldn’t do is decide you don’t like the table you’ve been allocated and move to one you like better. That’s selfish and you will upset the author that should have actually been at the table. Just ask that next time you’d like to be at the other door/ by the other big window/ near a socket outlet or alongside another author who is a friend. Organisers do try to keep everyone happy.


Above all, remember that, though you are there initially to sell your books, being at any event such as a book fair is also (to quote another author and old hand at this) “… getting your name noticed. The more times readers see an author's name, the more likely they are to buy a book. So even if you don't sell many on the day you have sown a lot of seeds and made yourself visible…” Good advice!


A couple of points on book signings. As with book fairs you are there to sign potential sales of your books. But also remember, you are coming face to face with the public; prospective readers. Think how daunting it is to be faced with someone resolutely sitting behind the desk displaying your books… waiting for customers to talk to them. A lot of the time people will give you a wide berth (and/or, if you’re lucky, a sideways glance). Try a different approach; take your courage in your hands and have a wander around the shop if you possibly can, Smile, chat to people about the books on the shelves; there may be a chance for you to mention why you are there in the shop. When I first started signing my books in stores it was a lovely surprise to discover how open people to discussing their preferences in literature. And, in the past, I’ve also been asked to give talks or workshops from those conversations.


Also, if you are sharing the book signing with another author it helps to mention them and their books to the customer – you could get a sale on the back of your generosity!

When you have exhausted all you wiles to entice them to buy, smile, say it was good to talk to them. And then leave them alone; you don’t want to be remembered as “that pushy author” . I sometimes resort to the following jokey comment: “If you don’t want to buy today but still want to take a chance on the book (s) it/ they are online – and cheaper – otherwise they are in the library. And I get ten pence a loan – it all adds up” (well, I think it jokey!! And you’d be surprised at the number of sales I’ve had at that point!!




So that’s it; my ideas of how to be at book fairs and book signings. A little free advice based on many years (and hours) of standing around with an aching heart, aching legs and a smile that feels permanently fixed!


Good luck and see you at the next event.

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