Book festivals are not everyone’s thing. I get that.
Okay, maybe I don’t. What’s not to like? Books? Authors? Festivalling?
This month, I traveled to three different festivals. The first festival I attended was in Williamsburg, Virginia. I traveled there with a dear friend, beta reader, book & wine lover named Gina. I had no expectations for this festival, I told Gina. In doing my research, I’d talked to three authors who attended in years past. One was enthusiastic about the experience, saying it was well organized and the crowd was lovely. She sold many books.
The second author I contacted said it was awful. She was stuck in a side room and no one could find her table. The people who did were just looking for free stuff. Hmmm.
I decided I should contact a third. She basically said, “Meh.” It was okay. Nice people. She didn’t sell enough books to make it worth her travel (she was from New England), so she wasn’t going back.
I decided to throw my hat in the ring for two reasons – First, it was ‘juried’ which meant that I had to apply and send a copy of my book. A committee would decide which authors to invite to this year’s festival. I figured this was leaving it up to the book festival gods. I was curious to see if I’d make the cut.
The second reason is that I LOVE Virginia, so any excuse to travel there is generally a good one. This one would include a girl’s weekend with a fun person AND I could write it off. Win-win-win, right?
When I learned I was selected to participate, I prepared a little display for my table, printed up oversized postcards with information on all my books, even found cute wrappers on Etsy to create mini-chocolate ‘books’ to hand out. I had coasters made up with the gorgeous cover from GIRLS’ WEEKEND. I was ready. And having zero expectations gave me the right attitude. I was just as interested in having a fun weekend as I was in doing well at the festival.
Gina and I stopped by the venue on Friday afternoon and set up my table. Everyone was nice. My display looked good. All set. We checked into our hotel and had a nice evening in historic Williamsburg. Gina is the perfect dining companion for me – we split appetizers for dinner at a popular pub, and then found a fabulous ice cream shop to visit for dessert. The next morning when we arrived, the gallery was busy with authors setting up.
The walls of the gallery were made of glass and it gave the feeling of being outside, without actually being outside (where it was an unseasonably humid 90+ degrees). Visitors weaved their way between partitions set up in a sort of maze. My table was near the middle of the room in a short, narrow section of the maze across from the table of a very hearty and friendly and happy-with-himself mystery writer.
Now, it’s not that I don’t like people who are happy-with-themselves. Probably the world would have fewer mass murders and suicides if everyone were happy-with-themselves.
The problem was that in an intimate venue like this, our spaces inevitably overlapped. My across-the-aisle neigbhor had a booming, hearty voice to match his booming, hearty happy-with-himself self.
And because this writer was not only happy with himself, but VERY happy with his book, it was only natural that he expected EVERY passing visitor to buy his book. If they hesitated, he regaled them with his journey-to-publication story, his mid-life career change, or talked about his next book coming out in 2018. He wasn’t pushy, so much as expectant. Again, not a terrible thing in certain circumstances.
I watched as people couldn’t help but hear his spiel from several tables away. I also watched as they plotted their course through the maze to avoid our little hallway. Avoiding him, meant unavoidably avoiding me.
I’m the kind of person who does not like to have anything pushed on me – political opinions, fried food, religion, and literary preferences top my list. (However, if you want to push wine, chocolate, cheese, or puppies on me, I’m okay with that.) So I don’t blame these people for swinging clear of the happy-with-himself author. I would do the same (if only I could).
LESSON ONE: It matters who your neighbors are. Next time I attend a smallish festival like this, I need to research who else will be there and request to be placed near an author who is in my genre, or who seems a bit more humble, or at least interesting and inviting. [I would learn this lesson again, in spades at the third festival I attended.]
LESSON TWO: Be gracious and kind, even when the situation isn’t the best. There was nothing to be gained from complaining or being angry. Being grumbly wouldn’t have changed the day and it would have only made the organizers feel bad and the happy-with-himself author offended. I certainly didn’t want to make him less happy-with-himself. And truth, being grumbly would have made me have a bad day more than anything. Gina and I found much to laugh about that day. We met some very nice people. I sold a few books. I met some nice authors. We enjoyed ourselves, despite the situation.
LESSON THREE: Network all the time. Since my table was relatively quiet and I had Gina with me, there was time to walk around and speak with other authors. I gathered ideas, resources, and contacts. I came home with a stack of cards and pamphlets and even one book. And in the weeks after that festival, I followed up. I connected on social media, emailed a few writers to ask questions about what we had talked about, and looked up their books on goodreads to add to my to-read list. I emailed the leaders of a local writing group I’d met, inquiring about being a presenter for their next retreat. All those connections are like seeds planted for my future. Who knows which ones will bear fruit.
Will I go back?
Promoting yourself is a required skill for authors these days; there’s no way around it. This is a tough business. I’m learning as I go, but early on I decided that since I’m yet to make big bucks at this endeavor, I’m only going to do promotions that I’m comfortable with and enjoy doing. Maybe when I hit the New York Times Bestseller list, I’ll modify my plans, but for now-
LESSON FOUR: Find a way to make it fun. Taking a friend made this experience a lot of fun. We found a kindness rock at a winery we visited on our way to Williamsburg and placed it on the sidewalk outside the festival so we could watch someone else to find it. (We missed it!) Posting pictures on Facebook, visiting wineries, eating yummy food, and keeping my expectations in check meant that what could have been a long and frustrating trip, was actually really fun.
[Up next week- my second festival which was much closer to home and a completely different animal. I was decidedly challenged to remember the lessons of the first festival.]
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