On Sunday, March 8th, I’ll be at the North Port (Florida) Public Library from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at a Book Fair being put on by the Friends of the North Port Public Library. (http://www.folofnorthport.com/)
This will be my first year to participate in this book fair. I decided to attend for several reasons. (1) My Five Star Mysteries are primarily sold to libraries, so getting to know a librarian and library is always a good idea. (2) The cost is minimal. $25 for half a table/$50 for a full table. (3) We’re allowed to (encouraged) to hand sell our books, and don’t have to pay any commission to the library. (The table fee is all they request.) (4) There will be over 30 other authors there, representing fiction and non-fiction books, all genres, traditionally published and self-published. (5) Last year the librarian said they had lots of people come through during the book fair, which means, of course, more exposure of my books to the public.
I mention all of these features because not all book fairs are created equally, and not all are worth attending. For example, later this month, the Venice (Florida) Book Fair will be held on Venice Island with talks being presented in the Venice Theater. I will visit that book fair and I hope to attend a couple of the talks, but I won’t have a booth, primarily because the cost of a booth for an author is $150 ($175 if author signs up after a certain date). I’d have to sell a lot of books to make it worthwhile for me.
Last September I participated in a book fair at the Saranac Public Library in Michigan and had a fantastic time. It’s a small library, but the librarians were wonderful and a lot of people came through the library between 4 pm and 8 pm, and I sold several books. I was also invited back to give a talk there April 27, 2015. Now, Saranac is 168 miles, round trip, from where I live in Michigan, but I feel both the book fair and my upcoming talk are worthwhile, both for the books sold and also for the word-of-mouth potential.
I’ve also done a book fair for two years now in Buchanan, Michigan through the Buchanan Art Center. They take a percentage of sales, but they handle the money (I don’t have to worry about having the right change), we have 15 minutes in which to read aloud and answer questions, and the group is wonderful.
Years ago, when I was writing romances for Harlequin, Silhouette, and Bantam, I participated in several book expos, but those were sponsored by bookseller associations. Back when I was writing for Harlequin I had a chance to participate in the ABA (American Booksellers Association) show in San Francisco. (ABA is now BEA, Book Expo America). That was a thrilling experience for me, like being in the middle of a three-ring circus. All of the major publishing houses (and there were a lot more back in the 1980s) were there, along with major bestselling writers and TV personalities. Books were given away, talks given. But it wasn’t focused on the individual writer as much as the publishers and distributors (again, there were a lot of those around back then).
For several years in the 1990s, the published writers in our Mid-Michigan Chapter of RWA purchased membership in the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association and paid for a table. We gave away copies of our books, some donated by the publishers, but most donated by the authors. Our goal was to promote the romance genre and our chapter. That, too, was fun. I always came home with a bag of ARCs (advanced reading copies), pencils, pens, and other PR materials. But again, it cost us money, and we could only hope our presence helped sell our books. After a time, we stopped attending. It really wasn’t worth it.
Every year cities and libraries have book fairs. It’s something writers should be aware of. If you’re unpublished, attend and see what’s out there, get ideas so when your turn comes, you’ll know how to set up a display, do a reading, etc. For published writers, attend for similar reasons as well as a way to decide if you might want to attend a following year. Whether it’s worth it is up to you.