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.

NaNo what now? Newbies Guide to NaNoWriMo

What is NaNoWriMo? NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.
Essentially it’s a global writing event held annually in November, where participants try to write a 50,000 word novel.
The first step in participating in NaNoWriMo is to join via the NaNoWriMo Website.
Then add your local region and find out who your local ML (Municipal Liaison) is.

According to the website:
Quote - “Municipal Liaisons (MLs) are volunteers who add a vibrant, real-world aspect to NaNoWriMo festivities all over the world.

They host regular writing events in November—and some MLs host write-ins, parties, and workshops all year long. They also oversee their regional forums and act as official NaNo representatives.”

I first heard about NaNoWriMo a few years ago and this year I’m participating. As a NaNoWriMo Newbie, today I’m talking to a few local experts to pick their brains about what to expect when attending NaNoWriMo for the first time.
Let me introduce my experts:
Talia Nyx - has participated 3 times, the first in 2012. Talia is the ML (Municipal Liaison) for Otago/Southland.
Judy Mohr – 2016 will be Judy’s third official NaNoWriMo, and her second year as ML for the Christchurch, New Zealand region, along with Amy Paulussen.
Chris Yee first NaNo was in 2011. Chris is one of several internationally based online administrators that oversee and maintain a NaNoWriMo Participants group on Facebook
rom Christchurch, this year Chris will be hanging out with writers in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.
I asked my experts: What is your role in NaNoWriMo?

Talia: It is my job to get the region going, and organise Write-ins and other meet ups, provide motivation, and support; and obviously, liaise with NaNo HQ.

Judy: It’s part of our job to coordinate and organise write-ins and other activities for the region.

Chris: keep the peace as best as possible, enforcing rules and ensuring that the group is a safe and friendly place for writers to celebrate (or lament) the literary profession among like minded individuals.

One of the great things about NaNoWriMo is there are both online and in-person Write-ins.

I asked my experts, What can newbies expect when going to their first Write-in /meet-up?

Judy: It will depend entirely on the group and their dynamics. Some groups will just want to talk, having a good old chin-wag over a cup of coffee, while others will read out their work and want feedback. Every group is different, catering to a different set of needs. No one group is the same.
If it's a scheduled NaNoWriMo write-in, you can guarantee that there will be writing and little talking.

Chris: A warm welcome, inquiry into your current writing foray and general merriment. A brief interrogation, but that's just us being interested in what you're writing about. During NaNoWriMo, the MLs running the meetups will keep people from being distracted from their writing. They are fairly relaxed atmospheres and there is no obligation to go for the long haul, but incentives for being able to reach certain word goals. They are set up for people who want a place to write and/or talk about writing.

What To Expect at Write-ins:
Some groups will just want to talk
a good old chin-wag
A warm welcome

What are the benefits of attending Write-ins?

Talia: I would have to say the bouncing of ideas. We talk about what we want our story to do, how we are going about it, we discuss our characters. And we take inspiration from what and how the others are writing their stories, but also we can ask them for help clearing a writers block. We share our ideas freely, and sometimes it is the people themselves who provide the inspiration. Of course it is always nice to be able to talk about the madness that we are participating in with people who understand.

Judy: For one, it’s where you can meet other writers who understand the trials and tribulations that you are facing. They’re either going through it too, or have been there at some point in the past. They will help you through. Depending on the group dynamics, you can talk out your stories, bouncing ideas around the table. Sometimes, to make sense of something yourself, you need a sounding board. Even body language responses to an idea can be valuable feedback. Those that write 100% in isolation are missing out on these wonderful resources.

Benefits of attending NaNoWriMo Write-ins :
Bouncing of ideas

Meeting other writers

Other than the offical website, what On-line gatherings are there?

Judy: This year, Amy and I have joined with MLs from Queensland, Australia and Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA for a special chat room that we can all use. The chat room will be open to all, regardless where you are in the world, with the MLs from the three regions being the moderators and occasionally running virtual write-ins. The chat room uses new technology and will be hosted by Jessie Sanders on her website Full details about the chat room will be made public come mid-October.

What tips can you share that will improve first timers’ experiences whether joining in on-line or in person.

Talia: Don't give up! There will be at least a few times where you think that you've lost your mind, you haven't - but you should probably go to your nearest write-in, they have all been there and understand what it's like, and they may even be able to help you. Don't Edit as you write - NaNoWriMo is the production of a first draft, don't edit, don't delete; make notes in the column if you wrote something and really hate it, but leave it there ALL THE WORDS COUNT, and remember it's just a first draft.

Judy: The biggest advice I can give to any first timers is to introduce yourself. Make sure people know you’re there. You don’t need to delve into your life story –– share only what you feel comfortable sharing –– but if the others don’t know you’re there, they want interact with you. I know it can be scary, but do it. Move out of your comfort zone. These are fellow writers. They are on the same path as you, just maybe at different points. They’ll understand. They’ll help you through.

Chris: Be yourself. Whether you're a dabbler or a seasoned pro, it's important to be comfortable. If you are a complete introvert then it may not be your cup of tea, but I'm an introvert myself and you can find me engaging in a topical discussion to retreating into my own crafted worlds on the screen, typing furiously. We don't judge. Online instances may be easier to ignore or harder to ignore depending on who you are, so while I will find I may end up writing instead of talking online (typing elsewhere won't exactly contribute effectively to wordcount), but more often than not I would be looking for a little distraction, which ends up being a bigger distraction, until you find yourself at 3am having started from a funny cat video to astrophysics papers on trinary star systems with the occasional planetary body stuck in a tidally locked orbit.

NaNoWriMo Pro Tips:
Don't give Up
Introduce Yourself

Be Yourself

What can people do the rest of the year?

Talia: The rest of the year, is for rewriting, editing, and planning. And of course publishing, for those who go that route. But for those who want to write more on their novels, or have other projects, there is Camp NaNoWriMo in both April and July; and you set your own word count goal.

Judy: NaNoWriMo is about development a habit for writing. There is no reason why that should stop. If you want to participate in other events like it, there are two CampNaNos a year (April and July). There are also Facebook groups that run similar events. Take part in the Twitter hashtag #NaNoWriMo. The possibilities are endless. Even if you have no desire to participate in another NaNo-type event, you should still write.

Chris: Keep writing of course! Like I said, December is usually reserved for editing if you want to make something of the story you create, getting it ready to a publishable state. Others just start up new projects, or prepare for the next year's NaNoWriMo events including Camp NaNoWriMo events that occur in both April and July, SoCNoC (Southern Cross Novel Challenge) which is NaNoWriMo but put on for June to be more in line with the southern hemisphere's yearly downtime. There are also various competitions, anthologies and other various calls for submission happening throughout the year, so there is no shortage of writing motivators. Otherwise we can go back to being normal human beings for the 11 months until the craziness happens again.
What do you wish you knew when you first started attending?

Talia: I would have to say, that I wish I knew that write-ins are the best. It sounds ridiculous, but I wish I knew how amazing the write-ins are. How great the people who attend them are.

Chris: Perhaps a little more information about where the meetups were happening. That said, I had only discovered its existence in Christchurch while I was working fulltime, so the first year I barely had time to find out where gatherings were happening, much less get any writing done. Since then with a little more flexibility and scheduling out blocks of time, to having more of an active role in the community, it's been a lot of fun meeting the new writers and helping them on their way to finishing their stories in any way possible.

NaNoWriMo TOP Tips:
Write-ins are the Best
Great People

Thanks everyone, it was great to hear what you had to say. I’m really looking forward to being part of my first NaNoWriMo.

This article wouldn't have been possible without the generous help of my experts:

Talia Nyx

Living in Otago, New Zealand surrounded by students is where Talia Nyx most enjoys writing. She has three currently published works, and is constantly experimenting with style and genre. Talia also loves reading, and will read almost anything once.

Feel free to check out Talia on Wordpress, where she will keep you up to date with the writing she has on her plate, and what she is planning to write during the approaching November for NaNoWriMo. Her other social media is @TaliaNyxAuthor Twitter and Facebook. 

Judy L Mohr

Kiwi Judy L Mohr is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is also a freelance editor with Black Wolf Editorial Services (, working on projects from writers around the world. When she isn't writing, editing or doing something for writing within the local community, she is hosting her own radio show about science on KLRN Radio ( You can find out more about Judy's various projects on her personalwebsite or follow her on twitter @JudyLMohr.

Chris Yee

Chris Yee is a long-time member of the Christchurch Writers' Guild and a teacher in Film, Video and Animation. In 2015 he  approached to teach Stop Motion movies using Lego for the Imagination Station based in Christchurch. 
He's recently moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota