Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Reaching Readers: Through Book Festivals (for Authors!)

Last year, Kidliteratian Laurie Litwin wrote about attending book festivals and how wonderful they are for kids to meet their favorite authors and be introduced to new authors. I recently reread her post, and was inspired to write about book festivals from another angle -- that of the author.

Since BREAKING THE ICE published in January 2015, I've been to a few book festivals. I've really enjoyed them, so I thought I'd compile a few tips for new authors who'd like to give them a shot.

1. Do your homework.

Okay, so you want to go to a book festival. Yay! But how? Where? When? Bueller? Some authors will receive invitations from the festivals through their publicists. If that's you, awesome! If not (and don't feel bad -- this is most of us), you've got to do a little work yourself. To find festivals, you've got two basic options: Google and word of mouth. So far I've kept my festivals reasonably local, meaning no more than three hours of driving time, in order to save money by avoiding hotels and airfare. Ask your regional author friends for recommendations on festivals, and Google "book festival" and whatever city you'd like.

At my very first book festival!
Southern Kentucky Book Fest in
Bowling Green, KY, 2015.
2. What kind of festival?

In my experience, there are two kinds of book festivals. In the first, you do a presentation or are part of panel and then sign for thirty minutes to an hour afterward, and you're done. In the second, you may or may not be giving a presentation or be part of a panel, but you will be hanging out at a table to sign for a day or two. (There is a third option, and that's one where you get to sign all day, but you have to pay for your table. Be very wary of these, and make sure they get lots of foot traffic and plenty of sales before parting with your money. You'll also probably have to sell your own books at these.) My favorite is number two. I've found that the second option tends to draw more families with middle grade-reading kids, and because authors are there all day to sign, people tend to wander and check out new authors. With the first option, you're more or less dependent on whoever shows up to your presentation or panel, and if you're not a big name, you're probably not going to meet very many readers in your thirty-minute signing period. My favorite, favorite kind of festival is the all-day signing with a second day added on as a Children's Day. Nothing will make you hone your elevator pitch faster than 1000 kids asking you what your book is about. And nothing is more exhilarating than meeting those thousand kids!

3. How to apply.

Most festivals that are open to new authors will have a tab on their website with application instructions. This usually involves filling out a form and sending in a copy or two of your book or ARC. (Check with your publicist before applying! It's courtesy, plus publishers sometimes prefer to fill this stuff out themselves. And even if they want you to fill it out, always ask your publicist to send the requested books, rather than parting with copies from your much, much smaller stash.)

4. What do I bring?

Yay, you're going to a book festival! A bookstore will usually be on-site to sell your books, but you do need to bring some other things. Here's my list:
My table at Books by the Banks in
Cincinnati, 2015.

  • Sharpies (for signing)
  • Swag (bookmarks, postcards, buttons, etc. -- whatever you've got!)
  • Newsletter sign-up sheet and pen (if you send out a newsletter)
  • Bookmarks from other authors (more about that below)
  • Extra copies of your books (keep in your car, just in case you either sell out or the bookstore forgot to order one of your titles -- and both have happened to me!)
  • Information about your school visits and workshops.
  • Small stands to set a copy of each of your books upright so people can see them
  • ARC of your upcoming book
  • Snacks and water (just in case! Festivals will usually have a break room for authors, but it's good to be prepared.)
  • A sweater (dress in layers!)
  • Sign and/or a banner (if the festival will allow you to bring these -- check their rules)
Remember that you might have to share a table with another author, so it's possible you won't have enough space on your table for everything you bring.

5. What do I do at the festival?

With Anne Bustard, Cynthia Lord, and our panel moderator at
Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, 2015.
Meet readers! Seriously, that's my favorite part. There's nothing more fun than watching a kid get excited about your book. Except maybe meeting a kid who's already read your book and can't wait for the next one. Pass out lots and lots of bookmarks. Say hi to everyone who walks by your table (just a simple, "Hi, how are you?" is a great way to start). You might also meet librarians and teachers, which is why you want to have information about your school visits and workshops on-hand. You could be assigned to do a presentation or participate in a panel, which is a nice break in the day. If you're at an all-day signing, you'll find that there are slow times. This is when you take snack breaks and meet the other authors. I've met so many wonderful authors at festivals, and it's fun to keep in touch with them. I love to exchange bookmarks with other middle grade authors at festivals. I always slip another author's bookmark into each book I sign, and, if I have space on the table, I'll set a few out. It's a great way to make friends, help each other out, and help kids find the next book they might love. I take leftover bookmarks to hand out at school visits, bookstore signings, and other events. Finally, don't worry if you only sell a handful of books. It happens. Focus instead on meeting as many people as you can, so that the festival is worthwhile.

So, that's it! Happy book festivaling!


  1. Gail, thanks for this great info! It's very timely for me��

    1. I'm so glad, Kathleen! And congrats on your upcoming release! :)


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