On Writing: What I Learned at My First Book Fair

The thing about self-publishing is eventually you have to sell what you write. And while the digital book world continues to grow, I keep finding people who only want to read my book in print. As I have committed to the learning experience of being a self-publisher, this is an avenue I feel compelled to explore, and it has lead me to … the book fair.

My experience was at the Collingswood Book Festival 2012, an event held annually in Collingswood, NJ.

Full disclosure, my experience is a total of one book fair, so expertise? Not so much.

But I learned a lot of practical information from this initial foray and want to share these dozen lessons with you.

1) Carefully read what is being offered. I expected a few things to be provided, and what I had actually purchased with my very affordable $30 participation fee was a 10′ by 10′ space in the street. When I reread the agreement, it was all spelled out clearly. Any false expectations were my fault. So …

2) Bring a table, chair, and, if the event is outside, a booth tent. The latter has a metal frame that opens and collapses easily. Every other seller at the fair will have one, and the sun will shine brightly on you all day if you do not, or will send rain clouds to ruin your books. It was the former for me, and I didn’t even …

3) Bring sunblock. You. The sun. All day. Bring protection. And also bring…

4) Clear packaging tape. Use it to tape your signs up, your table cloth down, and to secure whatever else needs securing. It looks better than black electrical tape, trust me. How do I know? Don’t ask. While we are discussing necessary materials, also bring …

5) Pens, or some other kind of writing utensil, in case people want you to sign the books they buy. Hey, you hit the big time! Sort of. Which calls to mind another crucial requirement: bring…

6) Realistic expectations. Have enough copies of your work to be prepared for a robust day of literary commerce, but prepare yourself for … not so many sales. People don’t know you yet, and it is difficult for them to commit to a stranger’s book, especially if he is staring at them or she is giving the hard sell. Welcome them to check the book out, but also give them some room. I placed my books at the right end of the table (closest to them as they passed in the traffic flow) and sat a little left of center to provide a bit space without ignoring. I found a simple “good morning” to all was welcoming but not intimidating. Another good is idea is to …

7) Print up flyers about your book. I printed up a couple of articles on the book, which garnered some attention, but not nearly as much as printed versions of the Amazon.com reviews. Those left with potential customers at a three-to-one margin. And if you do offer flyers, bring something cool to hold them down. I used a piece of counter top left over from a bathroom remodeling. It garnered several compliments, which was nice, but not as crucial as remembering to bring…

8) A lunch box, with water, snacks, whatever you need to sustain yourself over several hours especially if you don’t ….

9) Bring a friend, partner, or fellow published author. This person will help staff the table, especially during bathroom breaks, can help handout flyers, attract potential buyers, and keep things going. But if you do partner up, and want to go see what else is going on, remember…

10) You are there to sell your book, not buy twenty other books from people. Lots of writers are also book junkies, so … Beware. Don’t spend more money than you make. Instead, use that leg stretching to …

11) See what the competition is doing, how their booths look compared to yours, and where the action is. You may find that your booth is not situated for optimum sales. Don’t beat yourself up, you didn’t know. And don’t blame them, you didn’t ask. What you should do when you book these events is request to be put as close to the main book sales action as possible.

12) Don’t freak out if one booth has an exceptionally long line. Investigate if you can. Most often you will discover the writer at that booth is actually a local celebrity like a goalie for the nearest NHL hockey team, or a reality TV star. These people are not your competition.


13) if you do run across your competition, someone in the same genre as you who is doing better business, don’t get mad, get educated. Assess what this person is doing. It may be as simple as she or he has eight books out and you have one. You know the solution there. It may be a bigger booth, advertising, cookie give always, who knows? Observe. Assess. Adapt.

I hope these lessons help should you consider participating in a book fair. Is it a cost-effective endeavor? I broke even financially, but experienced making sales (very fun), learned a lot about how something like this works, met and learned from other self-publishers, and made a key contact I hope will pay off soon. As a result, I count this as a profitable experience, if not a get rich quick strategy. For someone who tends to stay home and write, this was a big step forward. Whether it proves to be a steady component of my business remains to be seen.

Christopher Ryan is author of City of Woe, available on Kindle and Nook, and in print. For more info, click here.

About chrisryanwrites

I do my best to tell fast-paced stories with humor and heart. My fiction work is available on amazon.com. Here, I’ll write about the sources for those stories from what I read, watch, listen to, and observe to my experiences as a former award-winning journalist, high school teacher, actor, and producer.
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4 Responses to On Writing: What I Learned at My First Book Fair

  1. mlfables says:

    I’d always intended to self-publish exclusively online (although many self-publishing guides do hint that you also need to make the paperback form available to readers).

    I understand online marketing and promotion, but offline book promotion is a mystery to me (it seems much more expensive to build on your initial promotional work).

    Have you planned on doing things like bookshop evening talks and the like, in the future?


    • Mlfables,

      I also intended to be purely digital, but so many people said they were waiting for a print copy I knew I had to serve that audience. I am glad I did. I blog earlier about holding that book in my hand. The feeling remains.

      Re: print marketing, I am approaching it in the same way I do digital; I have committed to the learning experience. As you read in the blog, I learned a lot at the book fair. I am also learning much about book placement in stores. Currently, I am negotiating to get placed in one single book store, and it took significant effort to get the owner to even agree to read at least part of the book. I understand this as being part of the same old story. The Six Sisters spend big bucks promoting their major releases. This drives people into the stores. Why would a book store owner want the expense of buying an unknown author from a tiny publishing company with a ridiculously limited promotion budget? My response to that is to offer the books on consignment and promote for him. I hope he gives me a chance to do this.

      Is this something I can do on a larger scale? I don’t know, but I imagine not. However, I am committed to the experience and to building an audience with each of these attempts.

      If the book event happens, you can be sure it will become a blog. We live and grow or we shrink and fade, yes? I want to grow.

      I hope this helps.


  2. Stef says:

    I hope you had a good time! Sorry we didn’t get to talk about the fair today. Your book is great!! xoxo


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