I've just returned from exhibiting at the 3rd Annual New Zealand Book Festival, which was held in Auckland on the 5th November. It is a showcase for independently published authors (formerly known as self published authors). They graciously let me join them because my publisher is based in the United Kingdom, and I'm all on my own down here in New Zealand.
While my goal at the festival was to interact with potential readers, and sell signed copies of my books, I also had an opportunity to look around, to see what everyone else was selling, and how they were doing it. And it was clear that not all authors have the same level of expertise of selling direct to their potential readers.
Some of my clearest childhood memories revolve around being carted around the North Island of New Zealand while my parents exhibited at numerous small town antique fairs - Taupo, Cambridge, Tauranga, Rotorua, and at the big fairs in Auckland. I've carted so many boxes and pieces of furniture, and valuable antiques, that it's second nature. As is setting up an attractive stand, and selling to the public. My father would set it all up, while Mum, my brother, and I would unpack all the crates. Dad would go outside for a cigarette, and Mum would rearrange everything until it looked perfect. As I got older, I was allowed to help serve. Setting me up with valuable life skills.
It was with that background that I planned my stand for the New Zealand Book Festival. I marked out the dimensions of my stand in the garage, gathered together my props, paid for professional signage, and fiddled with it until it looked right.
The photos above show the mock up in the garage. The signage was from last year's festival - I still had to pick up the new signage from the printing company, and the "table" is the old gas heater, standing in for the larger card table I was picking up the next day from Antique Alley. I was fortunate to be allocated a corner stand.
The photographs below are from the 2016 New Zealand Book Festival. This is my finalised stand in all its glory. The only downside being that copies of 'The Last Letter' didn't arrive in time for the festival... Antique rug, bowl of flowers, clear signage, props, books on display, postcards to hand out, professionally presented author with smiling face.
Note the complete absence of a chair. Last year I had a chair behind my little card table, a nice chair mind you, but I sat on it, behind my table, seemingly unapproachable to potential readers. This year I ditched the chair, wore flat (gold) brogues, and had a far more successful festival. I engaged with people walking in the door, I handed them postcards for my two books (designed by my publisher, and printed in Auckland). I also sold books. Lots more than I did last year.
And I blame that success on my parents. They showed me the benefits of having a beautifully presented stand. They demonstrated how it made a difference if you dressed nicely, instead of wearing grubby jeans and a polo shirt. They taught me invaluable customer service skills - smile, and don't play on your cellphone. You're there to work, to interact, to make connections.
The NZ Book Festival committee worked hard to make the festival a success, and for those of us who put in the effort at our end, it was a success. For those stall holders with hand written signs, and big scary trestle tables at the front of their stands, and half a dozen chairs behind it, filled with authors reading the newspaper or playing on their cellphones, it wasn't a success. There are learning points in all things, and hopefully those authors will learn for next time. I didn't have the right point of sale signage. It sent mixed signals. So after half a day I took it down. Sales took off. I won't make that mistake again. Another author, Andrene Low, had very clear point of sale signage showing the deals she was offering on her books at the book festival. I'm stealing her ideas for next year!
We all learn, and independent authors need to learn faster - if they want to shake off the yoke of their work being considered less than professional. If you look unprofessional or your stand looks unprofessional, sadly people will judge your book to be unprofessional too. I'm sure their work is excellent, but as much as we all say 'don't judge a book by its cover' (about books and people), humans invariably do. Especially in a cavernous hall with eighty other authors competing for the finite amount of money in the pockets of the attendees.
On the plus side, not only did I sell books at the festival, but I bought one as well - 'The Psychology Workbook For Writers' by Darian Smith. He had great signage, was standing up, and was engaged with the attendees. I've started reading it. The chapter which starts on page four is titled: Blame The Parents... #fate
I'm excited about next years New Zealand Book Festival. I think it will go from strength to strength, and I'm honoured to be part of it.