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Scoring Big at Book Fairs, Festivals & Trade Shows
by Beth Fowler

Omar Tyree displayed his self-published books at local bookstores and book fairs. A Simon & Schuster rep saw his book, liked his book, and gave him a contract for Fly Girl. Since then, Tyree’s book has hit the "New York Times" bestseller list.

Talk about scoring big!

To score, you gotta play. Get in the game at the Library of Congress’ website at http://www.loc.gov/loc/cfbook/bookfair.html. Click on the LOC’s "Book Fairs and Other Literary Events." Also contact local and state governments, libraries, school districts, business organizations, clubs, associations and bookstores for upcoming events where you can set up displays.

In addition to setting up booths at the obvious venues, participate in arts and crafts festivals and fun fairs.

Author Natalie Goldberg, for example, used to write instant poetry at her booth at the local carnival. For technical writers, the Technology Exhibit is it. Business Writers: the Business Expo is a go. Children’s authors: Parents Day is the way. Historians: Olde Towne Faire is there.

When you decide to set up a booth at an exhibit, you’ll have two goals in mind. One is to increase the public’s awareness of your goods and services. The second goal is to recoup exhibition costs through direct sales and hot leads that turn into money. (The third is to have fun!)

Make appearing at exhibits part of your overall marketing plan. (Got no plan? Write one. Whether the goal is weight loss or book sales, the chances of success increase to 80% for people who document and use their plans.)

Before the Exhibit:

Find out how many visitors typically attend the exhibit so you can prepare enough give-aways, business cards and literature. (Of course, not every visitor will take your stuff, unless it’s candy in which case they’ll scoop up more than their share. "One per visitor, please.")

Design clear, concise take-away literature that stands on its own without the need for you to explain it.

Create a portable, durable display that won’t fall apart when you lug it from home, to the car, to the show, to the car, back home, to the car, to the show…

Tailor your display and activities to fit the exhibition’s overall theme or to reflect a theme of your own if one isn’t assigned for all vendors.

Visitors judge your entire oeuvre’s worth by what they see. Design a display (and that includes you, your attire and grooming, and conversational flair) to represent your excellent writing skills.

Prepare posters of your book covers, photos of you in action leading a writing workshop, and newspaper clips of you receiving a literary prize and similar attention grabbers.

Frame certificates, awards and other impressive documents. Set the framed credibility builders in small easels or plate holders available for a few dollars at craft stores.

Set up your display at home as a "dress rehearsal" to be sure all items fit in the allotted space.

Take a picture of the display so others can help you set up and tear down on the day of the exhibit.

Distribute press releases to the media and send invitations to targeted individuals such as librarians, bookstore managers, book discussion group leaders and fans.

Have responses ready to counter automatic objections. Visitor: "I’ve already got too many books to read." You: "That’s fine. I also give presentations about (fill in the blank)." Or, Visitor: "I’m writing my own book." You: "Congratulations! I critique manuscripts. Here’s my card. Call me."

List and pack everything you need including water, extension cord, pen, tape, snacks, etc.

Train someone to give you a break during the exhibit. (My niece did a super job. She got the names and telephone numbers of hot leads.)

During the Exhibit:

Do the extrovert schmooze. Writers tend toward introversion, so a day of interacting with people can be tiring. Pace yourself. Be genuine and outgoing. You can decompress later.

Engage passersby with comments or questions about them or the exhibit. This draws them into the booth to linger and look.

Use a one-sentence pitch a child can understand. "Reviewers say my book, Half Baked in Taiwan, is humorous and insightful," and "I lead workshops on memoir writing," and "I write resumes for job seekers," are to the point.

Offer "exhibit only" discounts and special incentives.

Arrange your display so people are corralled into your booth, rather than blocked by a table.

Save grooming, eating and cell phoning for break time.

Wear your nametag at all times. You never know who you’ll meet at the french-fry stand.

Have someone take a photo of you interacting with visitors. Use the photo in future marketing campaigns.

Treat everyone – janitors, other exhibitors, that poor soul who comes for the freebies – as a potential client and as someone who will tell other potential clients about you.

Visit other booths for ideas and to see if you have competition.

After the Exhibit:

Follow up on all leads ASAP.

Make notes of what worked and what didn’t. Use this info in designing your next display.

Thank everyone who helped you.

So far, every exhibition at which I’ve set up a booth has resulted in projects and money for me.

© Copyright 2004, Beth Fowler

Find more interesting articles at authorsden.com/bethfowler

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