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The Magic of Cross-Promotion How To Do It Frugally Style

A Retrospective of the Doings at the LA Times Festival of Books

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Q&A a la Ann Landers: Is a Book Fair Booth Signing Worth It?

Below you'll find a question from one of our booth participants that turned into my annual report of book fair booth do's, don't's, pro's, con's and marketing secrets:

Question: It would appear, from my short stop at the tent [at the LA Times Festival of Books], that no one made enough sales to break even. If that is true, an analysis would determine if it is worthwhile.

Answer: Thank you. This is a perfect way for me to focus that fair report that I promised those who participated in our booth. Questions and answers are always better than a plain old report. (-:

I can't remember exactly when you came onto the scene in our little book fair process. I say over and over again (in my newsletter, on my website, even in my book and on this blog that fairs are NOT about book sales but about exposure. The chance to send out invitations, releases, etc. and align oneself with the name of a fair as prestigious as the LA Times/UCLA Festival of Books. It is prestigious not only because of its size and its own association with names like the Times and UCLA but also because the general reader assumes that if you're signing at the fair in any capacity, that's a big deal.

I. E. book fairs are about opportunity, not sales. That is why all our AC booth participants receive e-mails from me over and over again. They include templates for releases, for fliers, for invitations and tons of stuff on the basics of marketing in general and marketing book fair appearances in particular.

Having said that, I can't think of one book promotion in the ten years I've been doing it that "pays for itself." For one thing, except for a book fair, it's rare if we know exactly how many book sales to assign to a particular effort. Even a fair can't really be measured this way. Did people go home and buy a book online, as an example? Did they do it Monday? Will they do it Wednesday after the fair? Will they do it when they see you or your title again in the newspapers or on the WEB next week?

Marketing is cumulative. Marketing is about "Persistency over time" and "frequency." Those words are my marketing mantras.

A fair is also about networking. As are many speaking engagements (where one also may sell quite a few books and sometimes, may not).

So, I think the question to be asking ourselves here is not if anyone sold enough to cover their expenses (if you count my time billed out at minimum wage, I certainly didn't and haven't for the last six years!) But instead each person who signs at a fair should ask themselves:

1. How much did you learn?

2. What would you do differently next time?

3. Did you participate in any of the value-added promotions offered by your booth planners or produce any of your own? Did you do your basic marketing? Those releases and invitations?

4. Are you using what I'm sending you after the fair for follow-up publicity. And are you assigning a value to that (not in book sales--again, that's too hard to trace -- but in what you would pay for advertising space equivalent to what you got either on the Web or in your hometown newspaper?)

5. Did you make an important contact for your future career at the fair. A publisher? Editor? Bookstore buyer? A writing club? Editor? etc.

6. Did you collect names for your contact list? That's important so that the next time you will have more people to invite.

7. Did you use your participation as a featured author in your other promotion? Your website? Your blog? Your newsletter? (It is not too late!)

In other words, did you play this fair (or any other fair or book signing or event) for all it can do for you?

For those of you who participated in the catalog only, the principles I've mentioned apply to that kind of promotion, too. Did you supply book buyers' names as asked? Are you following up with that list to talk to booksellers about the catalog? Are you sending them another catalog or media kit or sell sheet now that the catalog has been delivered? Perhaps with a handwritten note attached pointing your book out as one written by a local author.

By the way, did you know that big marketers think any campaign is HUGE if they get 7% of results. That means if they send out 100 postcards, they feel very fortunate to get responses (even nonbuying responses) on seven of them.)

So, to answer this question. Those of you who prefer to evaluate your book fair may certainly find that it didn't pay for itself. Of course, much depends on your royalty/profit margin on your books. Much will also depend on the kind of book you have. Generally, as an example, nonfiction books sell better than fiction. It's the nature of the game. That is true across the board in the world of publishing.

I saw people in our booth sell from two books to about 12 in an hour (the higher number is a guess because I obviously can't count everyone's sales when I'm busy.) And I would welcome figures from you all. I also saw many visitors ask authors for their signatures on posters, ask to pose for photos, etc., and I believe that those with signs that made passers-by immediately aware they were authors, saw more of this kind of action than others. That may not seem like a calculable benefit to some, but I sure think it adds to the fun. And those pictures can end up on Facebook, blogs and more. Especially if you had good signs and/or remembered to grab a copy of your book and hold it face out for the camera!

If enough of you volunteer to give out your sales, I will be happy to post that. I'd also like you to briefly enumerate what you did to promote your appearance before the fair.

Here are just a couple of additional items to report. We had three volunteers who handed out fliers and bookmarks and many authors brought their own volunteers who were generous about handing out materials for authors other than the author they came with. Yes, I often asked them to do that. Ha! Our books were on display individually (something few booths do) and well lighted, also a book fair booth rarity.

If any of you have anything to add to this, suggestions for next year or things I missed, please use the comment butt on this blog.

What have you found effective in the book fairs you've participated in? Please share here by using the comment link below!
Blogging by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, founder of Authors' Coalition ( Learn more at both the AC site and Carolyn's website, and her blogs:

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