How to Rock an Author Festival with a Self-Published Book

LocalAuthorBookFestival

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a local author festival with a teacher friend of mine. By my eye, it was about 60 – 70% local self-published authors. Let me tell you, my indie heart about exploded at the sight!

Big props to the Westerville Public Library and their community coordinator, Erin, for celebrating local over method of publication. It was a wonderful event! They had food trucks throughout the day. There was cute swag to purchase, which the proceeds supported the library. Everyone was cheerful despite the heat. They even had a local community hot jazz band playing which kept my little swing dance feet bouncing. This was their fourth year, and I fully intend to be a part of their fifth!

However, I was a little disappointed in some of my fellow indie authors’ table displays. Some were engaging, some were lackluster, and some looked 100% thrown together. I don’t want that to happen to you. With the help of my teacher friend’s commentary of what caught her eye or scared her off of each booth, I’d like to share what I learned in a short hour.

2016bookFestival1

Sell a quality product

I know this is a given but go with me here. When you go to a festival, you’re more likely to blend in than stand out. Especially when your competition is other self-published authors. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to look like you aren’t an indie publisher at all. Have a compelling, professionally-designed cover. Have good back cover copy. Have pretty pens to autograph your book. Have a nice display (we’ll get into this later).

Beyond having a quality product, also have a  nice packaging when you sell your product. My friend bought a children’s book and it was handed to her in a Ziploc bag. Now, that’s not terrible by itself, it shows a thoughtfulness that the author didn’t want anything to happen to the book in transit. However, the inside of the bag was wet. No bueno.

Tie a ribbon around it, throw a bookmark in it, or drop it in a nice paper bag… maybe stamped with your logo or social media info? If you can make it look like a gift of some kind, do it. Everybody loves presents!

Accept multiple forms of payment

In this day and age, you have to assume people aren’t carrying cash anymore. Services like Square Up and PayPal Here are convenient for small businesses like indie authors. They are also well worth the small transaction fee to ensure you make a sale. I’m relying on PayPal Here for now because it also processes checks so it’s just a bit more flexible.

Our poor author from above had to rely on the other author at her table to accept my friend’s credit card payment. And then had to borrow a pen to sign the book. It was a little awkward.

Have a booth buddy

boothBuddy
Maybe this is your spouse, child, friend, assistant, whatever. When you’re engaged in a discussion with a potential customer and another person wanders over, you have a back up person who can answer questions or sell a book for you. This also ensures your booth is manned if (when!) you’re asked to go to a different part of the festival to read some of your work.

In this photo, the wife of John Margeson, an author-illustrator, did a fantastic job selling the product and showing how proud and happy she was for him. He was inside doing a reading, but she still caught our attention and we were sad we missed him because he had an easel set up to do caricatures.

Build an attractive tablescape

In a world where Instagram exists, we indie authors really need to step up our game. The word “tablescape” can be traced back to a 2009 portmanteau of “table” and “landscape.” When I joined Instagram with a dedicated author profile, I was shocked and awed that people spend so much time taking photos of books with flowers, pearls, tea, and other pretty things. Why can’t we do that at author festivals?

tablescape

The morning of your festival, go to Walmart and pick up some flowers and throw them in some dollar store vases… as long as they don’t clash with your book topic. I mean, you wouldn’t want bright pretty flowers if you wrote a tragic story. Use your discretion and do something that grabs the attention of passersby.

The tablescape above was simple and adorable. I had to take a photo! I might be buying some copies for my animal friends as Christmas present. Especially since there is a special Christmas book, and he had little Santa hats on the cat figurines!

bannersMy teacher friend pointed out that the tables that had a vertical element grabbed her attention. To her, it showed the author took that extra step to market their products. They were “professional” in her eyes. We both loved the mini banner displays of cover art that a couple of the authors had. One author told me they had them printed at FedEx Office. I suspect you have to go into the store to get this because it took me a while to find that PDF.

Anyway, we both liked it when we could read details about the book without having to talk to a human being. Maybe we’re both introverts, or maybe we’re both regular book buyers. No one wants to feel pressured to buy anything, and the longer you speak to a seller, the more obligated you feel to buy something.

I’d rather not have someone buy my book out of obligation, so I’ll do my best to have sell sheets in acrylic holders with the back cover copy in large text, along with the price and accepted forms of payment.

Engage your reader

Last, but certainly not least, engage your reader. Something about the authors who sat behind their table just felt off-putting that day. Maybe because it made them look tired (poor posture?), or overheated… I don’t know.

I do know that every author we spoke to was standing, or leaned forward in their chair to “grab us” from across the table. It was much easier to chat with the authors who stood to the side of their table, because then they could move around and explore their tablescape with us, rather than dictating to us. Even the authors who stood behind their tables, fiddling with their bottle of water, were more engaging than those sitting down.

For some reason, the authors who sat at the table writing seemed… intimidating or scary. Perhaps because speaking to them would have felt like interrupting a creative session. And I guess that’s kind of my point. When you go to a festival, you’re not wearing your creative author hat anymore. You should be wearing your marketing hat. When I say marketing, I don’t mean sleazy, “buy my book, guys and gals, you won’t regret it!” I mean engaging your audience.

Capture emails

Spanking of engaging your reader, have a note pad where interested readers can sign up for your mailing list. You can ask for their name and email, or, keep it simple with just the email. Next time you’re at a festival, email your list a couple of weeks in advance so people can visit with you again!

Anyway, I hope these observations helped! Let me know in the comments about other effective techniques that worked for you at an author festival or otherwise.

Create a Booktrack (Soundtrack for Books) to Market your Book

booktrackLandingBack in July 2014, I read about Booktrack from Jane Friedman’s blog and simply had to try it out. A “booktrack” is exactly what it sounds like… a soundtrack for a book.

There is no dialogue, so it’s not like a true audiobook. Instead, a cursor moves along the page so you know how fast you should be reading (I believe you can change the reading speed to suit your needs), and you hear the different supporting noises for the words on the page.

I was hooked when I read/heard a sample of Alice in Wonderland, and wanted desperately to create one for Haunting Miss Trentwood. The first chapter is rife with ambient sounds… whispers, the wind blowing, dirt falling on a coffin, a ghost crawling from his grave, teapcups clanging, screams, and heartbeats. It wa a blast to make and took me a couple of hours because I was particular about the proper sounds.

Haunting Miss Trentwood on Booktrack as of April 2015
Haunting Miss Trentwood on Booktrack as of April 2015

How do you create a Booktrack?

When you sign into Booktrack, you’re given the option to add books to your bookshelf, or create a project of your own. The steps I took to create my booktrack included…

  1. Adding a chapter of text, including the chapter heading
  2. Selecting sounds per selected section of text
    1. Seems like you can select a single word, or multiple pages, and then decide whether to loop the sound
    2. You search for sounds via their pre-loaded library, which includes music, ambient noises, and more
  3. Listen to your booktrack and tweak the timing
  4. “Publish” your project by adding a title, byline, cover, description, and genre

 What were my results?

Well, first, I had a lot of fun creating this! It was a blast looking through sounds and syncing them with the text. I published the soundtrack and left it alone… when I checked on it in September I only had a couple reads, so I added the link to my website and tweeted about it. That seemed to help. I also added the Booktrack to the Haunting Miss Trentwood page on this website. When I took the screenshot for this post, it was in April, and I had 326 reads with an average rating of 3.8 stars out of 5. Not bad for an indie author!

Have my sales improved since publishing the Booktrack? It’s hard to say. I had to comment on the Booktrack page to confirm to readers this was only the first chapter, and people should go to Amazon and elsewhere to purchase the full book. Haunting Miss Trentwood is an odd little duck; part humor, part horror, part historical fiction. It’s a difficult work to market, but there is an audience out there.

Give Booktrack a try if you’ve always dreamed of having a book trailer, but didn’t have the video capabilities. I love my Booktrack a lot more than my traditional trailer for Catching the Rose. I can’t wait to finish my next work so I can make another one!

Update!

Caroline from Booktrack reached out to me to correct a slight error in my description of the booktrack (very kindly, I might add!). From Caroline:

The cursor along the page, isn’t there to to tell you how fast you should be reading, it tracks your reading speed and automatically adjusts the sound to your reading pace, to make for a customized reading experience.

So there you have it! Booktrack is even more magical than I described, it automagically tracks your reading speed and adjusts the sound accordingly. Let me know if you guys create any, I’d love to read your works!