A couple members from my publishing team, a writer friend and I went to the Naples Books & Authors Festival this past weekend. It was a last minute decision, so we didn’t go to any of the panel discussions or classes. We walked along Naples’ posh Fifth Avenue, where authors had tables at various restaurants and shops, pawning their books and autographs. We were given a “passport” and if we had it signed by at least 15 authors, we entered it into a drawing. Some (quite rude) people at the festival hopped from author to author just to get their passports signed, not giving a rat’s you-know-what about the authors or their books. I kind of felt like the whole set-up with the passport idea was just a way to get people into the businesses.

Anyway…we went to actually talk to authors about their writing and publishing experiences. We didn’t get to do that so much. But it was definitely a learning experience, because, I am sure, I will be one of those authors next year. Mostly I learned what I don’t want to do when attending a festival. Don’t get me wrong – the authors were great and I applaud their participation and determination to sell their books, which range from various fiction genres to local history to family memoirs.

But there just seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm by many of the authors and I don’t think it’s because they don’t love their books. We were there on the first day, before it even officially started, so I cannot believe it’s because the authors were tired and ready to go, either. As a visitor, I didn’t leave most of the tables dying to read the books – so I didn’t come home with a single book in hand (though, I have a couple I’ll be downloading to my Kindle). I’m not sure what it was, but it left me with the feeling of, “Do I really want to do this????”

So, lessons learned for all of us who will be in these authors’ shoes one day (because whether we want to do them or not, we know we will):

  • Make your space exciting and inviting. Perhaps there were rules about what you can do and/or perhaps these authors just didn’t know what kind of space they would have until they actually arrived, but for the most part, they set themselves up at a table with a couple of their books out, maybe some bookmarks or other marketing materials…and that was pretty much it. If you have a beautiful cover, make a poster of it. Maybe add some balloons or something attractive that represents your book or character. Of course, cookies and cupcakes always work well.

  • Give something away (besides bookmarks). Have a drawing for a free autographed book. Give them a reason to come to your table and talk to you, not just to get their passport signed.

  • Offer a gift if your visitors purchase from you right there and then, something they won’t get if they buy online or at a bookstore. Sorry, but an autographed book only works if the visitor came to the festival to meet you specifically and get your autograph. If they’ve never heard of you or your book, that alone will not make them want to buy.

  • Most importantly, be enthusiastic! Act happy to meet each and every person and draw them into conversation. It helps to have a friend or two with you and not to talk personal stuff and distract you from visitors. You want a companion who will pull people to your table and spew greatness about your book.

If I think of more, I’ll definitely let you know. In the meantime, share your own thoughts. Have you ever been to an author festival or book fair? What was your experience? What do you suggest authors do to make it worth their while?