Last year, if someone had asked me what a book festival was like, I could only comment from a visitor’s perspective. Now, after having three of them under my belt (she says as she polishes her nails on her chest), I’ve got a few things to compare and contrast and an opinion as to what an author should look for in a festival of the book.
My previous post on the Baltimore Book Festival outlines what I thought about that event. Huge, expensive, will probably leave you in the hole financially but also gratifying in a way. Against all logic, I would probably do it again if the mood suits me, but never on my own. There’s safety in numbers and the BBF is proof of that adage.
The Rain Taxi Twin Cities Book Festival on the other hand, is a very different affair.
Firstly, the TCBF is only seven hours long. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on one day in the early fall, authors, publishers and vendors of one form or another, pack into a building on the State Fair Grounds and dedicate the day to books.
Contrast that with the BBF which is three days long and you can see that one festival could attract lots of people who were just looking for something to do on a weekend, while the other festival attracts people who put it on their calendar, plan for the event and really want to be at a book festival. This difference is evident in everything about the festivals. There’s far less glitz in TCBF and nothing that isn’t directly or indirectly related to books.
Most book festivals I’ve seen are only one day. Even the National Book Festival, held in late September and on the National Mall, is only one day. That’s not to say that multiday festivals aren’t good. Just know that a multiday festival could cost more to participate and definitely costs more of your time to be involved. Will that time and money pay off in the end?
Another difference between BBF and TCBF is the willingness to shop. At the BBF, we spent a great deal of time and energy working to get people to simply step over and take a look at our tables. We stood out front, invited them to enter our drawing for a stack of books and generally had to put on a salesman’s hat. We used the soft sale, but it did feel at times as if I were hawking a product on QVC.
While I used some of the same tactics at TCBF—we held a drawing and invited people to enter and we had the proverbial bowl of candy on offer—it felt as if far less effort was spent on “selling.” Instead, the day was filled with opportunities to talk about books, to talk about writing, to converse with readers and, most interestingly, to sell books.
Which brings me to the largest difference between the events. The BBF attracts some 50k visitors. The TCBF attracted about ten percent of that. At BBF, I rarely saw anyone walking around with a bag full of things they paid for. People carried lots of bags of freebies; pens, cup cozies, shopping bags, bookmarks, fliers and the like.
At TCBF people walked around with bags of books. Big, heavy, bags full of books. It was amazing. My sister, who helped me man my table, bought two. She came back from her foray around the hall with a huge smile, excitedly talking about the books and the authors she met. I would venture to guess that very few people left that event without at least one new or used book in their hands.
At the one-day, seven-hour event, I sold three times the number of books I sold at BBF. Three times the number of books, three times the number of readers whose hands I shook, whose books I signed, three times as many people, young and old, who love books and were excited to speak with authors. An amazing day.
I remember a conversation I had with D. J. Molles, author of the bestselling series, The Remaining. Molles has thousands of fans of his amazing series which is now republished by Orbit. I asked him if he had any book signings planned or appearances at any SciFy conventions. He said he hated the idea of planning a book signing at a book store or other venue. His said, he imagined himself sitting at a table, surrounded by stacks of books without anyone stopping—something I’m sure would NEVER happen to Molles. I admitted to having that same fear. A fear that prevented me from considering any sort of book signing or book launch event.
Instead, the book festival presents an opportunity to have an event that connects you to readers without sitting on your own at a table feeling depressed and lonely. If you make it known you will be at a festival, your readers will find you and you’ll meet new readers. In fact, three people told me they attended just to connect with me. One of them, was someone I hadn’t seen in 35 years! More on that in another post.
There is strength in numbers and a good book festival is a great place to feel fortified by that defense. Which festivals to choose depends on where you are, how much they cost, what their attendance figures are like and what types of people are expected to attend. It’s clear that not all book festivals are created equal. Do some research and I expect you’ll find one that’s right for you.