Book Festival Tips for Indie Authors

Are you an Indie Author looking for tips to guide you in attending your first book festival?

Today's discussion will provide you that insight, so sit back and drink in the knowledge as Vicky Adin, Cassie Hart and Darian Smith share their NZ Book Festival experiences, and Vicki Nelson discusses her time at the Bay Area Book Festival (BABF) held in Berkeley, California.

Book Festival 101 - Tips for Indie Authors

What was your main aim in attending?

Vicky Adin: I wanted to raise my profile as an author and make connections with other indie authors. Selling a book was a bonus.

Cassie Hart: Mostly to give it a go - do something new, challenge myself, see how it all worked, and hopefully sell some books while I was at it!

Darian Smith: My aim was to raise awareness of SpecFicNZ authors and, of course, my books in particular!

Vicki Nelson: As a self-published author, I have really had to struggle to promote my work. My reason for attending the book festival was threefold: To sell books, make connections, and to gain experience interacting with people who showed an interest in my novel.

Bay Area Book Festival

Tips learned from attending book festivals (things to do/not do)

Vicky Adin:
  • Have an enticing and well laid out display that says who you are at a glance – create a talking point.
  • Do not overcrowd the table.
  • Have some give-aways eg: merchandising products (as much as you can afford). Bookmarks are excellent or mini pocket calendars & postcards etc, and enticements like lollies, balloons or colouring in for the kids (especially if you are a children’s author).
  • Talk to people – say hello, ask what they like to read, tell them where you’ve seen a great book that fits what they described (they may buy from you later).
Cassie Hart: Take snacks, take breaks, take plenty of drinking water as you’ll be talking heaps and your mouth will get dry. I packed a ‘magic box’ before the festival with several kinds of tape, pins, blutack, painkillers, bandaids, a usb power box for emergency charging, spare pens, sheesh, I can’t even remember everything - it wasn’t very big but it had a lot in it, and was our saviour.

Darian Smith: Bring snacks!

Vicki Nelson: The first thing is to give oneself plenty of time to think about and prepare.

  • Books need to be purchased and shipped in time.
  • Posters, banners, and bookmarks need to be designed and also shipped in time.
  • In addition to the books and marketing materials, it is important to have a few book display stands and a tablecloth.
  • A cash box is essential with plenty of change on hand as well as a credit card reader for the cell phone. It is important to set up a PayPal account in advance with an app that works with a cell phone.

Cassie Hart's shared stall at NZ Book Fest, pictured TG Ayer

Often when we go into a new situation we’ll have assumptions/expectations. What assumptions proved wrong or different, the first time you a festival?

Vicky Adin: I am never grumpy about the hard work other people put in to make a festival work. You are reliant on the public and they are fickle at best and often downright cantankerous. Do not blame the conference organiser if your expectations are not met. They already know if the day hasn’t gone the way they had planned.
For newbies to the game:
  1. Never expect a sale. Selling in a Festival environment is hard work. People come to look first and foremost. They may buy if you engage them, but don’t be too pushy or they’ll walk away.
  2. Always smile when someone is walking past. Hand out your freebies willingly, not attached to something else.
  3. Don’t spend all your time talking to your companion or neighbour. Potential customers won’t want to disturb you and will walk on by.
  4. You want to catch the eye of every person heading your way.
  5. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes – you will do a lot of standing. And always have a coat with you in case the venue is draughty.
  6. Take enough food, nibbles, a flask and water to last the day. If it is busy and you are manning your own stall by yourself, you may be able to get to the toilet but you won’t have time to wander off and have lunch.
  7. Make sure you have enough cash to give change.
Victoria Nelson, Author and Greg Brown, Director and Founder of The Studio Santa Rosa, the oldest, largest, and longest running art studio in Santa Rosa, CA. (Greg will be celebrating The Studio's 31st year this November 5th and 6th).

What’s the best part for you personally attending?
Vicky Adin: Meeting people

Cassie Hart: Facing my fears, trying something new and putting myself out there! I felt like it was worth it for those things. Hanging out with my friends was also awesome ;-) Oh and meeting new people! I met some twitter friends for the first time when they came out to buy my books and that was amazing!

Darian Smith: Finding people who enjoy my books. As an author, it’s not that often we get feedback from people who read our work so when I had a fan bring her friends over to the stall and tell them “You HAVE to buy this book” it absolutely made my day!

Vicki Nelson: I believe the best part of the festival was meeting people. Berkeley is a unique city (I was raised there), full of creative individuals, writers and artists, with creative ideas.

What are your tips for connecting to Readers/potential buyers who stop at your stall?

Vicky Adin:
Know your blurbs.

Vicki Nelson: In spite of evidence promoting the pitch approach, my best advice for drawing people to one's stall is body language, presence, and facial expression. At least that is how I seemed to have attracted people. My aim was to put people at ease and to feel free to come over and casually thumb through a copy of the book and read a few pages without having to say anything. This is also why I put a couple of obvious display copies on the table for people to pick up and handle. I find that if I am calm and don't act like I am too anxious to make a sale, people are more apt to stay and chat a bit, asking questions about the book.

Mairangi Writers’ table at NZ Book Fest

Do you put out a display copy? (so people can feel free to check out that copy without worrying about creasing/damaging etc)

Vicky Adin:

Vicki Nelson: I put out two display copies at either end of the table. In addition to my novel, I had written two other books and put out display copies of those as well. I also placed a price list at each end of the table. My price list showed colored copies of each book cover, a short synopsis, description of the genre, and target audience. By presenting this information in a colorful, informative format, people were more apt to spend a longer time investigating my booth and striking up a conversation about my work.

SpecFicNZ Table at NZ Book Festival

Do you hand out bookmarks/postcards, something to give to everyone who stops at your stall? 

Vicky Adin:

Cassie Hart: We had a range of ‘book swag’ as they call it. Bookmarks, and fridge magnets as well - what I found was that every other stall had bookmarks, so they were a hard thing to give away. The lovely woman in the stall next to us had bookmarks but they had beautiful designs on them (not book covers) with her details on the back - these went down really well, and were some of the only bookmarks I kept!

Darian Smith: Yes, I do offer bookmarks and I give them to anyone who passes. It’s a free gift that helps people engage a little and has a link to where people can by the book in e-format.

Vicki Nelson: Colorful well-designed, sturdy bookmarks are essential. They are also more useful than brochures or postcards since people tend to retain them longer.

Bay Area Book Fest

Do you have a sign-up newsletter form, (paper or electronic) or some other method to get Reader’s email on your stall? If not, why not?

Vicky Adin:
Yes. And follow up. I usually have a ‘Win a Free Book’ option to encourage them to sign up.

Cassie Hart: We did, but again, it was hard to get people to fill it out. Maybe if the prize was really amazing, but there wasn’t a lot of interest for ours - a bottle of wine or something quick, tangible, and not necessarily directly related to your book/product seemed to go down the best.

Darian Smith: Yes, I do have a way to sign up to a newsletter. I would prefer to have a tablet or laptop so it can be done right away but this can get tricky in terms of security of the item and battery life. It can be tricky to find a power socket at these events! Especially if you don’t want to spend extra to have one as part of your stall.

Mairangi Writers’ table at NZ Book Fest

Why do you think Readers like buying straight from the author?

Cassie Hart:
I think readers get a kick out of meeting the author - if they know you from social media and live in the town there is a good chance they will come out to see you. Most of my sales were made that way. 

Darian Smith: I think readers enjoy talking to the creator of any artform. The personal connection can encourage them to try the book if they like the author. Also, people like to get their books signed!

Bay Area Book Festival

Assuming the venue allows it, would you recommend a couple of authors team up to share a stall?

Vicky Adin:
It has its advantages to reduce costs, and for indie authors that often is a major drawcard. A writing group working together can work, if you are prepared to sell your fellow authors books as much as your own. If not, then don’t share.
Two authors can work – again if you are willing to sell the other person’s books as hard as you would sell your own. You never know what the pay-off will be.
Being an indie is about sharing – especially knowledge.

Cassie Hart: Definitely! I did this last time, and am doing it again this year. Share with people you like to hang out with because it makes it more fun. It reduces the cost of going, and means there is plenty of interesting things for people to come and see - and more people to talk to! If you need to go and get a drink or have a bathroom break it means there is always someone to cover the stand. All in all, I just think it makes for a more fun, easier time of it. 

Darian Smith: My experience of sharing a stall was a good one, especially as it was my first time. It meant a reduction in costs and the ability to share the time spent there. It also meant company in the quiet times.
The down side is that if you’re sharing with a lot of authors that means a lot of books competing for limited space in the stall. Also, my experience was that people bought the books of the authors who were present more often than those who weren’t. That’s not to say that those of us at the stall weren’t promoting all the books – we were!
But I think that readers enjoyed meeting the author and talking to someone who was knowledgeable about the book and who had made the effort to be there to meet them and that translated into sales. So if you’re sharing, still try to be there as much as you can  No one can sell your books like you can. 

Vicki Nelson: No matter how well one prepares, there is no substitute for a good booth partner. How else does one expect to use the restroom or take a short stroll? (It is important to know where the restrooms are located in advance.) A two-day festival can really take a toll on one's energy and it is also nice to have a booth partner to keep one company.

So here we have it. Book Festivals give Indy authors a chance to meet and make fans, hopefully sell some books, but also make business contacts and new friends with like minded writers.  


Cassie Hart writing as JC Hart
Cassie Hart is a lover of pizza, coffee, and zombies (in no particular order). She was raised on a healthy diet of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and despite many attempts by various English teachers has refused to budge on her position that these are the best genres ever.
When she’s not raising her horde of wonderfully creepy children or dreaming of the day she’ll have an army of ninja kittens, she’s writing speculative fiction, or binging on TV, movies and games. Visit Cassie's website: JC Hart

Darian Smith

Darian Smith: I’m a writer and reader of fiction and live in Auckland, New Zealand. While I have dabbled in non-fiction, my true love is crafting exciting stories that interest and move me. And hopefully have a similar impact on readers! I mainly write fantasy and contemporary fiction. I am a member of SpecFicNZ, an organisation for writers of speculative fiction here in New Zealand, and also of RWNZ. 

 Visit Darian's website: Darian Smith

Vicky Adin
Vicky Adin is a New Zealand author living on the North Shore of Auckland within walking distance of the beach, the coffee shops and inspiration. 
Vicky is particularly fascinated by the 19th Century pioneers who undertook hazardous journeys to find a better life. Especially the women, who needed strength of mind as well as body to survive, let alone flourish, in a new country still coming to terms with its existence. Being a genealogist in love with history, these men and women and their ancestors drive her stories.
Visit Vicky's website:  Vicky Adin

Victoria Nelson
Victoria Nelson is a freelance writer from California who holds an MA in English Literature from Holy Names University. She is a writing and research tutor for graduate students and a homeschool curriculum consultant. Publications include a stage play, L. is for Sayers, a screenplay, Jack Marlin, Private Eye: The Case of the Barbary Blackbird, and a novel, Romana Volume I from the Annals of Romana. She is also a contributing author to the Saint Austin Review (StAR), an international journal of Catholic culture, art, and literature.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:27

    Great post, all!
    See you in Auckland on Saturday!