Book Festivals, Art Shows, and Specialty Shows

career indie author

career indie author introduction

Another way of promoting your book locally is by buying table space at shows and festivals and selling your book directly to the public.

hershey public library book festival

The Author in his unnatural element: Hershey Local Authors Festival 2016.

Many authors have a natural resistance to marketing their book. They may feel it’s too much work. There might also be an element of desperation in occupying the same space as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.” The dream author is one who is either writing or basking in the adulation of public appearances. They would rather slit their wrists with their Parker pens than say “paper or plastic” to a customer.

It’s an understandable feeling, but don’t reject the idea out of hand. After all, Mark Twain formed a company to sell his books, with salesmen fanning across the country on his behalf. John Grisham sold a thousand copies of his first book “A Time to Kill” out of the trunk of his car. Irma Rombauer sold the first edition of “Joy of Cooking” out of her apartment. While they eventually turned to publishers, that’s not an option for many of us.

There are advantages and disadvantages to selling your own. When you sell a book, you get both your royalty and the bookseller’s markup. A book you buy from CreateSpace for five dollars could be sold for $12 or $15. It’s also an effective way to build a fan base. As in personal appearances, you get the chance to talk to readers and watch them react to your works, sign up for your newsletter, and leave with a great impression of you.

Being out in public lets you connect with readers who might not go to bookstores, or non-readers who know that a signed book makes a great gift for readers.

Books on certain subjects or genres, such as cats, antique autos, fantasy, and superheroes can be a big hit at conventions. At many of them, you would be the only author selling books.

On the other hand, retailing is a lot of work and requires organization and salesmanship skills. Fortunately, you can develop your equipment list and ability to schmooze your customers a little at a time, getting better and more efficient with each show. Assuming the show provides a table and chairs, all you’ll need are your books, a cashbox, and a receipt book. As you grow more professional and experienced, you can add promotional material and a way to accept credit-card payments. Outdoor shows would require a 10’x10’ canopy, tables and chairs, and a vehicle large enough to carry them.

Over the last three years, Peschel Press has appeared at more than a dozen events, including local author events at a library and a bookstore, arts and crafts shows, and book expos. I’ve also looked into appearing as a guest or a vendor at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, the Central Pennsylvania BookFest, and the Virginia Festival of the Book With my line of Sherlock Holmes and mystery-related books, I’m sure I’ll find plenty of fans at regional conventions such as 221BCon in Atlanta, the Scintillation of Scions, and the Malice Domestic mystery convention.

To help you get started, here are four lists: the basic necessities for an indoor show where chairs and tables are provide, an expanded list; a list of additional items for use at outdoor festivals; and the contents of your equipment box.


Your books. How many? Hard to say. You’ll get a better idea after you do a couple of events. My books are niche products, so I don’t bring more than six of each title, and a few more for “Writers Gone Wild” which has a wider appeal. Try a minimum of a half-dozen of each title, and see if you can throw in an extra box of books in the trunk after loading everything else. You can always retrieve them at the site as needed.

Cash box, change, and receipt book. How much cash to begin with depends on how you price your books. We’ve run “show specials” where we sold books for as low as $12, and at other times closer to our list price. While it seems ideal from a marketing standpoint to charge $14.99, I avoid making change, so it’s round numbers for me! A receipt book that creates a carbon copy lets you easily keep track of your sales and income, so you can tell at the end of the day how much you took to the show and how much you made.

Pens and Sharpies. You need to record your sales and sign your books, don’t you? Be sure to think of a good line to add to your signature, perhaps something related to your books. I use “Go wild!” for “Writers Gone Wild” and “Bottoms Up!” for the books about Victorian poisoner William Palmer (whose trial supposedly inspired the phrase).


A way to accept credit and debit cards. Day by day, we’re moving more to a cashless society. I hope that never comes to pass — cash is incredibly useful the poorer you are — people with disposable income are more comfortable using plastic and smartphone-based systems such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, PayPal.

One popular method to accept a credit card is to get a free account with Square. They’ll send you a free card reader to plug into the headphone jack of your compatible smartphone or iPad. In return, Square takes a small percentage, between 2 and 3 percent, of each sale.

Bookstands. Position your books so that expensive, eye-catching cover can do its job. You can lean a copy against a stack of your books, but that could bend the back cover and makes it easy for a customer to knock it over. A wire stand makes it easy to pick up without disturbing the rest of your stock.

Marketing materials. Bookmarks, business cards, brochures, tri-fold or half-page catalogs, buttons, magnets, postcards. You are limited only by your imagination, savings, and inclination.

My advice would be to start small. A business card or bookmark with the book cover (in color) and your website on the back might be all they need to remember you. Anything more should be judged on their own merits. Would a badge be worn if it was a cool design and not just an ad for your book? It might be popular at a science-fiction/fantasy convention, but not necessarily at a mystery convention.

For my first book, “Writers Gone Wild,” I ordered 500 postcards and bookmarks without thinking hard about what I would do with them. Six years later, I’m nearly out of the postcards, but only after sending a hundred of them to a mailing list of writing teachers I bought, and passing them out repeatedly, including throwing them into boxes of stuff I sold on eBay. I also bought business cards featuring two other books, and another postcard with three books on it. Already they’re outdated, and I still have plenty of them.

Over time, I’ve pared down my offerings. I have a business card featuring three of my books and the website. I have a black and white catalog, 8.5 inches by 5.5 inches, featuring all of my books. I laid it out in Microsoft Publisher, printed them on my laser printer, and folded them over.

Then I have the cookie flyer. My wife developed a wonderful recipe for Butterscotch Crunchies. These addictive sweet treats are designed to never tire your tastebuds. We bake a batch of them for shows (check first to make sure it’s allowed), and pass them out. Many people stop, and when they do, we give them the recipe. Of course, we also make sure our major offerings are printed on the back. As my wife puts it, “People throw away sales material, but they never toss recipes.”

Holders for your materials. There’s nothing more unslightly than a mess of paper spread across your table, especially when the wind or someone running by sweeps them off the table. Holders for your giveaways are very inexpensive and give your table a professional look.

book festival captive highlander

Made you look, right?

Signs. A table can support a six-foot-long sign displaying your name (or that of your company), your book covers, and anything else such as a slogan. Hanging banners can display your book covers. Believe me, you haven’t seen people stop and stare until they’ve seen a half-naked man showing off your latest romance novel! Signs can be printed at office supply stores, such as Staples, or at online printers such as VistaPrint or GotPrint. Most services have templates that you can download and design your signs on.

Camera. Take pictures for your blog, to record your adventures, and to capture other writers’ great marketing ideas. The best way to learn is see something you love and figure out how to make it work for you.

Plastic grocery bags to put purchases in. I’ve seen authors pay for specially made gift bags with their book on the side. That might be a little over the top for something that will most likely be thrown away when they get home.


An outdoor arts festival presents unique challenges. You need more specialized equipment, that can handle wind and rain.

Canopy. My first event was an arts and crafts show with a dozen vendors held outside the local coffeehouse. I came armed with my cardboard table, a folding lawn chair, my books, an envelope of cash, and my own sweet self. Hatless.

Cocoa Beanery arts festival 2013

The view from behind the table. Not seen: Sunstroke author.

Within an hour, I deeply regretted my lack of advanced planning. Even in Pennsylvania, the sun will roast undefended flesh. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and demoralized. A look at the other vendors impressed on me the amateur nature of my presentation. I still sold a few books, but changes had to be made.

Now, we have a portable 10’x10’ canopy that one person can raise, yet fold into a bag the size of a large golf bag. Although it came with spikes and guy lines steady it, we also bought four canvas bags filled with river pebbles. These clamp around the legs to keep the roof from flying off in a stiff breeze. Our model also come with large plastic sheets that can be Velcroed to form walls. I highly recommend these. Late summer in my area is marked with afternoon rain storms that can quickly drench your stock and send loose papers such as your catalogs and bookmarks flying (remember those holders mentioned above? This is where they earn their price).

Chairs. Foldable lawn chairs made from webbing or canvas are ideal. Even if you intend to stand throughout the day, there are going to be moments when the crowd vanishes, and you might as well sit and rest.

Water bottle and snacks. When you can’t get away from the table, or you don’t have enough money to spend on food, this is a cheap alternative. Just make sure your snacks are easy to consume. You don’t want to be dealing with keeping a meatball sub from decorating your shirt when a customer comes up.


book festival

The Equipment Box, packed and ready in case a festival appears spontaneously.

No matter what type of event you’re attending, you should have a box set aside as a catch-all such as tools and equipment that you want to have on hand. If the box is big enough, it can also be a place to store your promotional material and even your cash box. A dedicated box also makes it easy for your helpers to find tools, so long as you keep them in one place.

I have a box that I store on a basement shelf so when a show comes along I just grab it and go. The contents of your box depends on your set-up and whether you’re doing indoor or outdoor events. For example, a hammer is vital for pegging down a canopy but not necessary if your doing only indoor events.

Here is what’s in my toolbox. Note that they were packed for a particular use, but also because you never know when it might be needed. Sometimes, you should prepare for the unexpected:

* Hammer for canopy pegs

* Packing tape to attach the banner to the table and to recloses boxes

* Duct tape for emergencies

* Clothespins if the table banner needs reinforcement or to keep the tablecloth down in high winds

* Scissors to cut tape on boxes

* Binder clips in a jar to reinforce the table banner and other uses

* Packets of sunscreen taken from a hotel room and tossed in

* Jar of chains, jar of S-hooks, and plastic bag with several nails. We use these to hang tote bags from a screen. I mention this to give you an idea of how the equipment box can store unusual items that reflect your taste in marketing your books.