Friday, May 22, 2009

On the Road
By Persia Walker

So last week this time, I was on my way to the airport to catch a plane to Houston for the National Black Book Fair. It was my first time taking part in such an event and my, my, my was it an eye-opener!

To put it in a nutshell, it was the first time I worked as a vendor, selling my own books, as opposed to serving on a panel or speaking at a bookstore. At the fair, I joined a hundred or so other authors in hawking our wares, so to speak.

What did I learn? Well, I've always had respect for booksellers, admiration, too. Now, let's just say I double it. Booksellers work hard, folks. We authors owe them a whole lot of support and gratitude. (Hint, hint: Shop at your local independent bookstores, folks!)

Most of the authors were quite experienced at this fair business and were generous with their wisdom and advice. First thing I learned was to compile a list of ready-to-go items:

  1. Signage (a poster for your titles)
  2. Table drape (not a table cloth. Often the fair provides this. A table drape, however, can help you stand out further.)
  3. Gift baskets
  4. Tickets to raffle off said gift baskets
  5. Candies and candy jars to lure readers who have an appetite for sweets (or just a quick need for some energizing sugar)
  6. A booklet, list or pad whereon one can have folks sign their names and email addresses to join your mailing list
  7. Promotional material (business cards, magnets, sample chapters, chapstick, scratch pads, etc.)
  8. A credit card machine
  9. A small marking board where you can write (and sometimes amend) your prices
  10. A SOLD OUT! sign
  11. Book holders (to display your books)
  12. Maybe bags to give your buyers to carry away goodies in
I also learned to take a number of things into consideration when choosing venues: Biggest consideration (beyond the registration fee) is distance, time to get there, cost of travel and accommodations. How much will this investment be offset by the potential sales? How much will tit be offset by the (sometimes hard to measure) value of exposure to new readers? Potential for developing invitations to speaking engagements? Sometimes, the value of a trip isn't obvious. Sometimes, it doesn't emerge until much, much later.

Whatever you decide, venues such as local or regional book fairs can be a lot of fun. They're hard work, but they can provide you with valuable new contacts among other authors and face time with new readers. You just have to count your numbers correctly.


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