I’m going to the yearly Tucson Festival of the Book next week, held at the University of Arizona. It’s the third biggest book festival in the United States. I’ve not attended before and it’s not clear how or how long I will be involved. Saturday and Sunday will have talks, classes, presentations, interviews, round table discussions, and panels, plus a large venue where individual guests, writers, authors, publishers, sellers, distributors, librarians, bookstore owners, representatives from big box stores and other organizations can visit with authors, writers, and publishers, and buy books.
My role is to be at a table full of books for sale, amongst which will be three of my own – The Lost Children, The Lady in White, and Outlaw. Each serves as an example of the Mogi Franklin Mystery Series. The table is hosted by New Mexico Book Association officials and will feature books written by the members of the NMBA in Santa Fe. I am a member and I have volunteered to be at the table and talk with people who stop to peruse the books.
I’m betting that shaking hands will be discouraged; I will have to remember to take disinfecting hand wipes.
I will have five copies of each Mogi Mystery at the table, with more copies in the trunk of my car. I can sell each copy (NMBA handles the money) but I prefer to use them to illustrate the form, function, plots, characters, and types of stories used in the series, and then give away lists of all nine Mogi books, with addresses of the distributor and publisher.
I expect to not sell a single copy of any of my books, and expect that no one will be interested in ordering them. Not that the Festival is a worthless trip, but I have been to other venues for selling my books and most of the buyers that I meet, other than random individuals, will be accustomed to buying books recommended to them by national organizations like the American Library Association; the six major publishers (Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin USA, and Simon & Schuster); bookstores like Barnes& Noble; or follow recommendations from best book lists (like the New York Times Best Seller list), Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon, and the million book bloggers and/or book reviewers who put out suggestions.
In short, an individual author with a hang dog expression, standing next to a table of typically unremarkable books, holding a never-heard-of book in his hands, doesn’t stand a chance.
Unless the prospective buyers actually stop and talk.
My writing books, as well as other authors and publishers, tell me that personal contact is everything when you’re selling books. Not blogs, not websites, not fancy brochures, not business cards, not bookmarks, and not even the cover or the blurb on the back of the book, is as effective as an author personally telling someone about their book. That’s why I will develop and rehearse a short (under a minute) paragraph about my books – what makes them different from other middle grade mysteries, why they are good to read, and why middle grade students will enjoy them. I’ll also prepare a short paragraph about myself – how I got started, why I write for middle grade students, and what I like most about the series. After that, the buyers typically ask questions.
I’m not, and never have been, Mr. Warmth when it comes to talking casually with strangers, but I will answer honestly and directly, and then, hopefully, ask questions of my own – where the buyers are from, what kinds of books they are interested in, who their audience is, how they like to buy their books, and how successful they have been in the past with picking the right books. If I can make to that level, then my speaking to others will go okay.
And, to be honest, selling my books isn’t really why I’m going to the Festival, anyway. I’m going because I’m a writer and an author and I like to be around other writers and authors, and because I like to be around books and the book business. I like the excitement of people who have created books; I like their stories of how they did it; and I like being reminded that I’m a member of a community of people who write.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.