Crafts and Book Fairs: How to Shine at Your Author's Table
By. R. M. Clark
As an author of six published books, I consider myself to be both a writer and a craftsman. Now that fall is here, I find many opportunities to showcase my wares at various crafts fairs here in New England. My books feel right at home displayed alongside candles, snowmen, animal art, doll clothing, and myriad other crafts from talented artists and artisans. I've sold hundreds of books this way, so I thought I'd pass on a few tips on how authors can maximize their time and increase sales. Although this post focuses on crafts fairs, the same logic applies to “author only” book fairs.
Find a Fair. The first (obvious) need is to find a crafts fair. Look for announcements in your area newspaper, often located in articles in the local affairs section. Also, search Facebook for local crafts fair pages and events, and check the bulletin board at your town’s library. The venues vary, so don't be surprised to find that the event is being held at a YMCA, library, church or synagogue, or historical society hall. If it's well-advertised, people will come.
Calculate the Costs. Once you've found a potential fair, check the table fee. This is the amount you'll have to pay in advance to participate in the event. These fees vary from free to $25 to over $100. One way to reduce the cost is to share a table. I've done this many times with another author and it has always worked out great. It's amazing how much you can fit on your smaller four-foot section when you have to. Plus, it's nice to have someone to talk with over the course of the day.
Complete Your To-Do List. So you've paid the fee and reserved a spot. Congratulations—now the real fun begins! You've likely been getting emails from the coordinator sharing details about the big day. Pay close attention to these communications. For instance, are you required to bring your own table or chair or canopy (for outdoor venues)? That's an important one to know. Here are some other items for your list:
- Arrive early enough to get everything set up before the doors open. It's never a good look if you are unprepared when the customers start strolling in.
- Prepare a sign to show who you are and what genre your books are in. My sign reads R. M. Clark, Children’s Book Author. You can go fancy with what looks like a small pull-down projector screen with printed graphics or go simple with a homemade whiteboard sign hung on the front of the table.
- Have business cards and bookmarks on hand. Some folks will only want one of these. Signing the bookmarks is a nice touch. Hey, at least your name is getting out there! Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a small basket of wrapped candies on your table.
- Get a credit card reader for non-cash sales. Some customers don't carry cash or just prefer to charge it. Be prepared for both methods, and don't forget to bring money so you can make change.
Be Your Best. Make sure that both the fronts and the backs of your books are displayed. I use a simple wire bookstand to display the cover of each book, with another copy placed face down in front of it. The back cover likely has an engaging plot summary with review blurbs. The idea is to allow the customer to see the cover, read the summary, and become interested in buying the book. I have found that once a visitor picks up a book, a sale is usually inevitable.
- Engage with passersby. I don't mean going all carnival barker on them (tempting as that may be), but often a simple "good morning" or "good afternoon" will make someone stop in for a look. Do not be on your phone or other device while folks are walking by.
- Once someone approaches, let him or her know that you are the author (yes, people are often surprised by this). The wonderful thing is that this is often the first time that an adult or a kid has ever met an author—and it's thrilling. I truly enjoy my interactions with readers.
- Be ready and able to pitch your book in several ways: in one sentence, in three sentences, or even longer. Have your pitch ready because you will certainly be asked, "What's this book about?" You may lose a customer's interest if you stammer through your presentation. For my middle grade baseball book, The Secret at Haney Field, I typically say, "This is a mystery that takes place at a minor league baseball field." If that intrigues them enough to pick up the book, I hit them with the slightly longer pitch. Once engaged, I offer more details and strike up a conversation about the themes in my book.
Three Final Pieces of Advice:
1. Whatever you do, don't gauge your success against anyone else's. No one really knows what's going to sell on any given day. Please don't be discouraged when the person at the next table is selling dozens of oh-so-adorable pipe-cleaner reindeer (that took someone minutes to make) and sells out in an hour while your book(s), which took you months or years to write and edit, remain unsold. Next time, you'll make the reindeer jealous with your success!
2. Never sell yourself or your books short. It doesn’t matter if you were published by a “big five” publisher or a small press or if you self-published. You’re a craftsman with a fabulous product to sell, just like the others at the fair. Tell potential buyers just how wonderful your books are and why. Talk about the themes of your book and the reason(s) you wrote the book in the first place. People will remember your stories long after the adorable pipe-cleaner reindeer are gathering dust in the attic.
3. And finally, have fun. If you make selling your books a chore, or if you seem disinterested, visitors to your table will notice and probably walk away. So be polite and engaging. And don't forget to breathe. This is your time to shine!
R. M. Clark is the author of our delightful middle grade baseball mystery, The Secret at Haney Field.
Learn more about his other books here!
About “Sparks” by Margie Blumberg
Our weekly posts are about those happy sparks of inspiration that we can all enjoy, such as a song in a movie that was based on a book. Children’s books and lyrics from musicals are what inspired me to write. I hope they’ll inspire you, too! We’ll hear the latest news from our authors and illustrators, who will share the things that help them learn, grow, and create. We hope you enjoy these little sparks, and if you do, please share them!