Why I Go to Book Fairs

I have been writing and publishing books since 2010, and I have gone to a number of book fairs during that time. What is a book fair? I use the term pretty liberally in this post, but generally it is an event where a variety of authors buy tents with tables and bring books and swag in an attempt to make some sales and make their presences known.

I have been a vendor at the San Francisco Writers Conference, attended the now defunct Sonoma County Book Festival a couple of times, bought space at the Sonoma County Fair section for my writing club, was invited to an author day at the local library, and attended one or two other book fairs in California. Shortly after my move to Florida in 2019, the pandemic happened, which put a stop to most such events. My first foray in Florida was the Venice Book Festival, which I attended both in 2022 and again this year. 

So we pack a rolling suitcase (or wagon or some sort) and schlep some books, bookmarks, business cards, signs, and other paraphernalia (don’t forget some cash to make change and some way to take credit cards) in the hopes of selling books and making friends and connections. Some of us try to lure people to our tables by providing candy, pens and other giveaways. 

Several hours later, we pack up our books – a lot fewer than we came with, we hope – and drag everything back home. For me personally, it is a lot easier to stay home and let Amazon sell my books – they do a whole lot better than I! 

I have the following personal perceptions about book fairs:

  • I think it is easier to sell grammar books on Amazon than at a book fair. I mean, do you go to a book festival on a nice sunny day to buy a grammar book? I would think people might be more intrigued by a fantasy, thriller, children’s book, or interesting travel story for an impulse buy. That said, I don’t think anyone goes to book fairs to make a living off book sales.
  • Book fairs are just a nice social event for authors and book lovers, especially if they are outside and the weather is nice. As a shopper or browser, you never know what you might find; as an author, you never know whom you might meet.
  • Which leads me to book fairs as networking and marketing events. Authors give out bookmarks and business cards in hopes of future sales. They meet other authors and perhaps trade books. You talk to some interesting people.
  • It doesn’t seem to matter whether you go all out or do a low-key kind of thing. At least it has not mattered for me. Some people have fancy roll-up signs and T- shirts and stuffed animals and banners. I have never had a roll-up sign, and for this recent book fair in Venice, Florida, I did it as low-key as I could — especially since I was out late at a concert the night before, and Venice is an hour away from where I live. I do have a tablecloth (as they are not generally provided) and a table runner with my name and logo. I brought only a few bookstands (you can always just pile the books up) and not even all my titles. I did bring bookmarks and business cards — and  a grammar quiz for those interested. I tried not to bring too many books, but I would bet every author has the fear they will sell out before the end of the fair — heaven forbid — which has never happened to me and probably hasn’t happened to too many authors.
  • I usually sell 10 or 12 books, which is pretty good. I did not do too well at the San Francisco Writers Conference because the people there were all authors – and authors tend to think they don’t need a grammar book.

I really must compliment the planners of the Venice Book Fair, particularly this year. They had high school students helping the authors bring their books from the car to the tent. And this year, those kids were so helpful and always coming by to see if we needed anything. There is plentiful and easy parking.  There were four or five food trucks with breakfast, lunch, coffee, ice cream etc. And one of the food trucks sent someone around with a cart of breakfasts and then lunches and water bottles, so that authors didn’t have to leave their tables to get food. Really nicely done.

The biggest observation I made this time around: I had a particularly good spot with an aisle next to me, so I was very visible. And I noticed that everyone has something to say about grammar, good or bad. There are those who chuckle and murmur “grammar” as they walk by. I take no offense. Most of the people who come up and talk with me are wondering where grammar went and what a shame it is that they don’t teach it enough anymore. Of course, most of these people are older (most, but not all, although teenage students tend to pass me by!) and many of them are retired teachers. We commiserate for a while, and then they go on their way after I tell them I am fighting the good fight. The most common issue people talk about is the Oxford (series) comma. All ages for that one.

Then there is the occasional person who comes by and says “I think I have one of your books.”