Book and author festivals are a definite learning curve for the new author. They are a venue for getting your name out there and meeting potential readers, but you may not sell a lot of books.
Reprinted from The Corner Desk, July 2003. All rights reserved.
Whether author or illustrator, your first book is published and you're thinking of taking a booth at a cool book and author festival you've heard of, but what are they really like?
Basically, two kinds of book and author festivals are held. The most frequent are those hosted by school districts where the potential visitors are known. In addition to regular school visits by children's book authors throughout the school year, each school district may invite a well-known children's author to be the center of attention at their annual festival. Authors charge specific fees for visits and often post their "terms and conditions" on their websites. As a general rule, the more experienced they are at speaking, the more they are entitled to charge. To locate school book festivals, a search on the Internet will bring up interesting descriptions and opportunities.
The other type of book and author festival is for the general reading public, attracting visitors of all ages and with a variety of (usually) outdoor author or publisher booths, author readings in an auditorium, panel discussions, and other forms of entertainment for the crowds. Frequently, Friends of the Library may have tables of used books for sale, also, as a fundraiser. This can be disconcerting, to say the least, when an independent publisher is trying to sell new books right across from them! It is doubly so when the "indie" has been assigned a booth right next to one staffed by a major bookstore chain.
Dealing with the vagaries of the weather means you hopefully prepared for the possibility of rain, and also brought some weights along to hold down flyers and bookmarks that otherwise become airborne in capricious winds. If large umbrellas are provided, or you brought your own, winds may knock them over on occasion. Bring bottled water or lemonade, in case only soda is available for purchase. Ask ahead of time about the possibilities for lunch.
Many of the visitors to a book and author festival are of the tire-kicker and looky-lu species. While they are usually warm and friendly, a few grouches slouch by, too, who have nothing kind to say about an author's books. The friendlies speak words of praise and encouragement, and occasionally buy a book that they'd also like autographed. But festivals are mostly good for getting your name out there, and meeting your prospective readers. Take lots of those flyers (with bio and contact information, as well as review excerpts if you have a few), colorful bookmarks, and business cards. Try not to be disappointed when people refuse to take a bookmark for your family-oriented books, acting instead as though it's contaminated.
If you think you'd like to try signing up for a booth for a particular festival in your area or state, be sure to get the fee information first and register early, so you can plan ahead. Some venues are very expensive, in the hundreds of dollars. Others may be somewhat more reasonable at $50 to $75 for half or a whole table. Also, consider getting a friend to meet you there, so you're not stuck in your own booth all day, unable to see what else is happening. The day will be hard work, but remember to have fun!