The Texas Book Festival: An indie author’s report

anna as francis3Anna Castle

Author of the B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree Murder By Misrule (The Francis Bacon Mystery Series), shares here experinces at the Texas Book Festival

Two Texas chapters of Sisters in Crime teamed up this October to host a booth at the Texas Book Festival on the State Capitol Grounds in Austin. Eight authors participated — Traci Andrighetti, Alexandra Burt, Martha Carr, Anna Castle, N.M. (Noreen) Cedeño, Janet Christian, Helen Currie Foster, and Melissa Lenhardt — a mix of indies and traditionally published. We took turns staffing the booth in two-hour shifts, but displayed our collective works throughout the weekend. The weather was gorgeous, the turnout was terrific, and we all had a great time.

The book festival was first launched by Laura Bush in 1995. It has become one of the major literary events in the country, showcasing some 250 authors and attracting 40,000 book lovers. Most of them come for the fun of strolling around the capitol grounds enjoying street food, cooking demonstrations, live music, jugglers, the children’s story tent, and presentations by a wide range of authors. The streets are lined with big tents sheltering booths offering books for sale, alongside nearly every book-related organization in the state.

We wanted Sisters in Crime to be represented, so we got a grant from the national organization to pay the $300 fee for the booth. We hoped to sell a few books, attract members to our chapters, and have a good time. We succeeded fabulously on the last two goals and modestly on the first. TBF is not a great venue for sales. People typically come to browse and learn, not to buy.

Even so, we did fairly well. I sold 20 books, a respectable number for TBF and a personal record. I was there all weekend wearing Elizabethan garb, which helped. More people stopped at our booth than our neighbors, probably because ours was colorful and staffed by smiling women calling, “Do you like to read mysteries?” to everyone who passed. Those who stopped to chat were most likely to buy a book from one of the authors currently in the booth.

That’s the first lesson: make an eye-catching presentation and flag people down. Some of the booths near us were staffed by people who sat behind their tables all weekend, watching people walk by, waiting for them to stop of their own volition. They usually didn’t.

We gave away lots of bookmarks and brochures; that’s the second lesson. Have something free to hand people, so they can talk to you without feeling embarrassed if they don’t buy a book. Bookmarks are potential future sales. I checked my KDP reports that night and saw that my KENP graph had leapt skyward. (This is the number of pages read by people checking books out through the Kindle Unlimited Lending Library.) I also sold a few digital books that day. I’m just getting started with promotion, so my sales are normally pretty paltry. I credit those sales to the festival, the garb, and my gorgeous covers.

Sisters in Crime

All of our books were on sale all of the time, making a very handsome display. We had good range of genres, from cozies to thrillers, historical to near-future. The variety was appealing in itself. We kept the financial part simple, charging $10 for the paperbacks and $20 for the hardback. We accepted only cash or checks, which we slid into a manila envelope for each author, marking the title sold on the front. Easy-peasy, and that’s the third lesson.

Everyone sold at least a few books and we got to talk to readers about our work, which helps develop our standings as local authors. We learned what we need to set up a booth (colorful banners fore and aft, manila envelopes, pens, bookmark holders, book stands, and lots of water) and how easy it is to hang out at the fair with a few pals all weekend. It would not be fun by yourself. One of our gang, Martha Carr, has been hand-selling her books for a long time. She said crafts fairs and church bazaars were much better in terms of sales, because people come to those events ready to shop. They also cost much less, but the holiday season is already underway for this year.

Now that we know how to do it, we’re going to take our show on the road. Watch out! We may come to your town one of these days.


5 responses to “The Texas Book Festival: An indie author’s report”

  1. Plum McCauley says:

    This was a nice, uplifting post. I think this description of your experience was terrific–and true. You can’t just sit there behind a table of your books. At book fairs, you have to put your sales hat on. You HAVE to. Your books won’t sell otherwise. And when you start selling a few copies, it becomes easier. I think twenty sales in a day at a festival is extremely good, too. Good for you!

  2. Amber Foxx says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Anna. Great outfit. It sounds like the most enjoyable way possible to sell books. I’ll be looking for book festivals and other events. Talking to strangers is–for me–so much more natural than marketing online.

  3. PA De Voe says:

    Great pointers for the rest of us. Thanks! And–by the way–I love your costume, Anna, beautifully done!

  4. Anna Castle says:

    Thank you all! Luckily, a couple of gals in the group were very comfortable hailing down the passersby and the rest of us learned from them. Another good reason to go with a group! Now we need to find more of these things in our area for 2016.

  5. Geri says:

    Not only is it a great way to sell books, it seems to be so much more fun that going it alone!

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