As you know, my publishing team and I traveled over to the Miami Book Fair International a couple weekends ago. It was a long three days, after which we were completely exhausted. We didn’t sell a ton of books, but we did sell some to people who may have otherwise never heard of Promise or Kristie Cook. And we had fun and learned quite a bit, too.

So here’s what I learned, from an author’s perspective to other writers:

Big is not always great. – MBFI touts that approximately 500,000 people walk the street fair. It’s also nearly 30 years running. Size and tradition doesn’t necessarily mean organization and success, though. We ran into a few snafus getting started, didn’t particularly love the location our booth was given and were missing our booth sign for half of the first day. The organizers seemed to have their plates way over-full. We decided to do this particular fair because of the crowds it draws. Unfortunately, it was a smaller crowd this year compared to usual and not exactly our target market (see below). My new writer-friend, Tracy Darity, who shared our booth with us, said she goes to many fairs and festivals in Florida – not just book fairs – and has had a lot of success at the smaller ones. Especially when she is the only author or one of a small handful. So we’ll be looking into smaller events to attend now.

Know who makes up the crowd. – The fair took place on the Miami-Dade Community College grounds. My books’ primary target audience is 18 to 35-year-old women. A community college, with non-traditional students, seemed like a great idea. However, the majority of the visitors were not college students and the majority of them did not speak English as their first language. This created a bit of a language barrier for most of the people passing our booth. On the flip side, because this was not our usual geographic or demographic hang-out, online or offline, we were able to spread the word to a whole new segment of the audience. The buyers did not know each other or get recommendations from people they know. So Promise is now gaining hold in entirely new circles (we hope it’s gaining hold, anyway!).

Bring lots of hand-outs. – We handed out hundreds of fliers, bookmarks and coupons. The coupons were never used (they expired already), but that doesn’t mean people won’t be buying later. We’re hoping that even if the people we gave the literature to aren’t interested, they’ll know someone who is. Bookmarks are the best because there is more reason to hang onto those. Readers can always use bookmarks.

Don’t be afraid to talk to people. – You never know who might be interested in your book and who you might meet. We met the parents of the owner of one of the biggest independently owned bookstore chains in the country. They were impressed with Promise‘s reviews (thank you, people!!!) and award and thought their son would be interested, too. Score!! I have the owner’s phone number now and we will be getting in touch with him about doing signings.

Probably the most important thing I learned for all of you, especially if you’re not yet published or worried about book fairs and trade shows:

The book itself is often your #1 sales tool. – You’ve heard it when querying agents or promoting your book. If you have a good book, it will sell. What helps? Having good jacket copy and pages for people to sample. A good percentage of the time, if we could get people to hold the book in their hands, read the back and, sometimes, a page or two inside, they bought. Many times, as soon as they read the last sentence of the jacket copy, they smiled, squirmed a little and said, “I want it!” If you’re not yet published, if you’re seeking representation, the “jacket copy” is pretty much what needs to be in your query letter. Write it strong, sell the story itself, and you’ll get interest.

These are the major highlights of what we learned from the Miami Book Fair. But there is one other thing I’ll be sharing on Wednesday, something else I learned that is totally not related to book promotions or sales, but completely to my writing and books: the color purple.

Questions about the fair and our experience? Please feel free to ask! Any experiences of your own? Please do share!