The Iowa City Book Festival holds a special place in my literary heart. The 2015 book fair was my first public event, my introduction to the Creative Corridor as an official indie author. I was proud, nervous, and elated all at the same time. I put a fair amount of prep into every detail: the décor of my booth, the arrangement of my books, the swag I’d give away in the vain hopes of selling just one book.
I learned a lot about myself and my brand as an author after my first go at the annual event. If you are heading into ICBF for the first time this year, congratulations! Whether you are an indie writer doing it all on your own (me!) or a traditionally published author with a whole team behind you, presenting yourself in a public space is brave. It can seem daunting on the surface, but with the following five prep tips, you’ll be able to manage your first book fair with grace, a renewed sense of self, and maybe a few books sold!
- Be Social – The utilization of social media can be a blessing and a curse for indie writers. Face it – we’d much rather be busy writing than tooling around online. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay and can serve as a vehicle to get the word out about you to your audience. Use the Events section of your Amazon page to tell your readers where ICBF will be held and your booth location. Post the ICBF weblink to your Facebook pages, both personal and business. Follow the ICBF Twitter feed and use the Quote Retweet to remind your followers that you’ll be a part of the event. Post pics or videos of your prep work on Instagram and SnapChat to give your audience a behind-the-scenes look, which will fuel further interest in the event. Use social media creatively – this is the fun part!
- Be Attractive – When you think of how you want your space to look at ICBF, you need to first think of your brand and your ideal reader. What would attract them to your table and, in turn, your book? If you are a children’s author, balloons and crayons might be a great way to attract little ones and their parents to your table. Writing nonfiction? Framed photos or relics related to your subject matter for display are a nice touch. One thing to absolutely have at your table – regardless of genre – is free food! I like to bring my Halloween-themed plastic bowls filled with candy, because who can turn down free candy? (A: No one.)
- Be Engaging – So you’ve retweeted and reposted about the event on your social channels. You’ve designed your table to attract potential readers. Now comes the hard part for some of us writer-types: talking. It’ll take more than a pretty booth and glossy books to get a patron to have interest (or, better yet, an investment) in your work. Put your phones and devices away and scan the crowd. Plan on standing during most of your time at the fair; sitting will more likely make a reader walk right past your booth. When speaking with a patron, don’t immediately launch into your book spiel. Be a person, not a product. Ask them questions: How are you enjoying the fair? What are you reading? Who is your favorite author? Engaging is not the same as selling…but, if done effectively, it has the potential to lead to sales.
- Be Mindful – My biggest regret from last year’s fair was the simplest oversight: I underestimated how cold it would be. It was a perfect fall day, after all. The sun was shining, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and a light breeze was flowing. I’d worn a long-sleeved shirt and jeans, confident I’d be too warm with my booth located smack dab in the sunlight. But three hours into the fair, the sun moved and the breeze picked up. I was cold and it was nearly seventy degrees outside. A jacket is one of many little things one tends to forget about when running a booth outdoors. Small paperweights, a cash box, business cards, a water bottle – be sure to add these items to your equipment list. Like Mom says: better to not need them and have them than to need them and not.
- Be Realistic – The moment an author gains the courage to publish their work, they look forward to selling copy after copy of their masterpiece. Don’t expect this fate to occur at a book fair. The anticipation to sell is good to have, but it cannot be your central focus. Patrons attend book fairs to seek new authors. Some may walk away with your book, but expect that most will take a gander at your display…and keep right on walking. Setting the bar too high with sales quotas may find you with low morale halfway through the event – and no one is going to stop by a booth headed by an angry writer. Stay positive and be real with your goals.
I hope these five tips give you some insight on what to expect at ICBF this year. Good luck and stop by my booth if you have a sec (I promise I won’t try to sell you!)