Guest Blog by Simon Fairfax
I had signed up to a book fair to run in March, my first one and did not know what to expect. I felt that the exposure would be good. I freely admit that I am not good on social media and don’t do twitter etc. I had looked around and all the lit fests/book festivals seemed to be for established authors and you had to be invited. I had published my first two books in June/August of the previous year and despite good reviews, was gaining little traction.
Then an author blog appeared on Alli Author about an ‘author led’ book fair being organised in Scotland, along with what to do etc. This, along with the Southern Book Show, held in Worthing, inspired me: if you can’t beat them, join them! I decided to organise my own book fair run with the authors as the main lead and the aim to give them the opportunity to sell books to the public. I had already learned a lot from how the Worthing event was being organised and Natasha Murray was doing a splendid job. She had some great ideas and really they seemed to be divided into two important parts: How to get the authors in and make it worthwhile; How to get the public there and make it interesting.
The two are intrinsically linked, but must be approached from different directions. Below are some of the ideas and lessons learned from Worthing and organising my own event, which is to take place on the 23/24th June.
Alright, I know that this is blindingly obvious, but as an ex-retail agent in commercial property, I know more than most what this means. It is essential, that you choose not only a perfect macro location, but also that the building(s) and micro location are set up how you need them to make it work. If you are doing a small village fete style fair, for say half a day, where literally you have 10 or so authors with tables then this doesn’t apply. But I am talking about a much greater scale with the impact of quantum on your side. Treating it as a destination location, not a passer-by ….”Oh that looks interesting, shall we pop in?”…. sort of approach.
This is where the author /public ideas cross over. Because in order to make it interesting for both sides of the equation you need a least two rooms and these need to be inter connecting. You need to have talks/discussions and if you hold these in the same room the noise pollution is impossible.
Perhaps one of most important things is car parking and access to the public. It needs to be very close by, preferably free. The buildings, I think, need to be a destination in themselves e.g. well known, maybe even a place people go to already, stately home etc. semi-rural so people can get to it easily and treat it as a day out. Then car parking is easy. Then if possible have a bar or cafe on site. If in the summer get an ice cream van: I can’t stress this enough it needs to be a destination not passerby.
To attract them you need to make it exciting and feasible. Look at other fairs to see who went there. Put together an email address list and approach them. You should try to make it non-profit (more later). Give them the best opportunity to show case their books. Get a good range of all genres and if over two days split the talks readings or themes, between the two days. Make it as inexpensive as possible for the authors to show. Offer a stage, screen for trailers and space for workshops. I know that after I had finished my talk the traffic to my table increased exponentially.
Answer all their questions quickly AND give a phone number. People will want to talk, make sure you are real, they are after all giving you money, email is NOT enough.
What I learned from Worthing was the need for Browser Tables. The public feel intimidated by viewing books with the author sat behind them. By placing browser tables in the centre they can browse, like in a book shop and come to buy from the table of the author.
My site: www.hursleyparkbookfair.com
This can be simple, but it must be fun and it only needs to informative, not to attract traffic and the following should be included on pages so it can be added to as it progresses.
Public page with contact form.
Author bio’s with pictures
Public Liability Insurance.
This is a nightmare! The best place to go is the central UK insurance brokers. HIGOS UK Ltd. I could write a whole page on this alone and happy to guide anyone. All I would say is make it part of the whole fee for the authors and as a guide it will cost about £185-£200 for an event for a day.
Apart from the FB/twitter/blog etc.
By getting a semi rural location you come under parishes and the parish magazines are a really important area in which to place advertorials/articles.
Find a way of assessing numbers e.g. give a raffle ticket to people as they come in, then you can use it as prize draw for book bundles a prizes. It important because everyone wants to know numbers and it shows how the event went and will help attract more attendees for the next event and sponsors.
Target, radio stations, news papers, high end local magazines and local schools. But do not do this by email, it will just get lost. You need to produce at least 2,000 flyers and go around delivering them to schools, mention book cover competitions. If it is hard copy and on their desks it will be noticed. These will then be sent out in book bags. It’s a lot of leg work but it has to be done.
Once you have a nucleus of authors then approach the publishing houses (not lit agents) this will bring in more authors and you get the backing of a publisher.
Have book cover colouring comps for children, with book tokens as prizes.
Do have big banners signing the event from the road, yes they cost, but it is worth it.
The overriding attitude should be a huge pop-up book shop for the day, not a village fete atmosphere. Yes it should be fun, but it must also be commercial and attractive.
Final do’s and Don’ts
Get the location right
Get refreshments on site: a pop bar, hog roast, ice-cream van, anything like that, it keeps people there.
Get a good genre mix.
Give free tickets to workshop events so you get people who want to there in attendance.
Don’t charge the public to get in, keep it free.
Make sure there is a screen and sound on site.
Do banners and get authors to produce trailers to have on a revolving run.
Enjoy it, it’s fun!