This was my first time at L.A. Book Festival and to say I was intimidated initially is an understatement. The festival attracts close to 150,000 people over the weekend.
My publisher, Move Books, LLC, was booked for another event in New England but I was curious so I offered to "staff" their booth at the California event. I thought it would be a great way to meet and greet readers. I figured it would be an easy weekend. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. But after this weekend I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year. Here's some tips for those who are curious:
It's not necessary to be a speaker on a panel to draw a crowd:
I was not speaking on panels and as a result was not on the "author" list online. That was odd because the publisher had confirmations from them that I was signing at the booth both days. Probably a glitch. At first I was concerned that I wouldn't draw an audience or would be at a disadvantage. But at book festivals I discovered most of the attendees are fans of reading. Many people are coming to buy books and discover new authors. They aren't all coming to sit in an audience. There's just too many booths to explore. So there was constant traffic at the Move Books booth and I was asked to autograph books all day both days. Going to a panel might have actually reduced sales.
Wear comfortable shoes and bring a cooler with snacks and drinks.
Be prepared to not have time for lunch, exploring, or bathroom breaks. You'll be on your feet a lot. Although not every reader was a "buyer", everyone who stopped by the booth was interested in hearing about the books we had, took bookmarks, asked if my book was available online, or at the library. This is marketing. Be kind and enthusiastic, even to the adults. Many want to "talk.". Ask questions and engage the readers. The next time a reader sees your name or your book, you won't be "just another face in the crowd."
People who express interest and walk away often come back.
Not all readers are converted to buyers on the first meeting. I was surprised at how many readers showing interest in my series came back the next day to make a purchase. Most explore the full festival before deciding what to take home (plus carting books around all day gets heavy). Be nice. And if you write other things, let them know. I made a lot of connections with educators. And was surprised at how many people recognized my books published at Scholastic. Now they can put my face with the other books they'd been reading all along.
Plan on coming back the next year.
One buyer came by the booth asking if I knew the location of another author's work. I didn't. The woman didn't know the name of the publisher, just the name of the book. She'd seen the book two consecutive years and didn't buy it. This year she came back specifically to get THAT book and get an autograph. We found the title on Amazon then looked to see if the booth was listed at the festival. It wasn't. So be warned. Sometimes "sales don't happen" on the first impression. But it doesn't mean a reader isn't thinking about you. While at our tent she asked about my series and later in the weekend came back to buy a set of books.
That is why I was glad to not be limited to a two-hour block of time for autographs. People could find me anytime they dropped by. At conferences I post a sign when I'm on panels to say when I'll return, but for the most part, at a festival, large crowds (including interested adults) swarm the area all day long making it hard for me to even get to the booths next door and across from us to get autographs from authors I admired.
What if my publisher isn't going to be there (or isn't sponsoring me?)
Make note of which bookstores have tents. We were next to two which were handling sales for large publishers like Scholastic, MacMillan and HarperCollins. If your publisher isn't going to have a booth, contact one of the bookstores to see if they'd allow you to have a signing block. Some festivals (such as Tuscon Book Festival) actually have a sign-up process and the festival will handle the book sales. If they say yes, then promote yourself and let people know you're signing in advance. Bookstores are in the business of selling books. Do your part and let your followers know where to find you.
BUT - drumroll - Most festivals will allow you to share a tent. So band together with friends. I partnered with Elm Books (run by Leila Monaghan who also hosts the Kids of Color Childrens Book page on Facebook. We shared a tent at Tuscon book festival because my own publisher didn't have a booth there. I still sold most of the books I carried with me. So don't have publisher support? Find colleagues and ask if they want to share a booth.
Bring marketing materials even if your publisher doesn't provide them.
A lot of teachers and students come as a field trip on Saturday. I brought business cards, bookmarks and had a teacher sign-up sheet for those wanting information about my series or school visits. My publisher (can I tell you how much I love them?!?) sent two cases of backpacks with my book logo on them instead of their own. I was thrilled!
Don't Be An Island
All around you are other authors who are just as passionate about their own books. If you're not promoting books, then go to their panels and signings. Show them some love. Take photos and put them on social media. We're a village and helping to promote your colleagues will help promote you too. Most of all, have a blast. You'll be exhausted at the end of the two days but it will be worth it. I promise.
Christine Taylor-Butler is the author of more than 70 books for children. Her current passion is her contemporary sci-fi/fantasy The Lost Tribes about five children who learn they play a role in saving the world. When not writing, she is a freelance editor, and community volunteer. She's also a closet ballroom dancer, artist and personal servant of a cat and tank of fish. You can find her on
The Lost Tribes Series: www.TheLostTribesSeries.com
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