Book festivals are great parties for those who adore books. Book festivals remind you why you write, and who’s out there waiting to hear your words. But they can be stressful for authors and especially introverts. As an indie and traditional author who knows how to write and how to order books, I find it’s not the easiest thing to launch a small show, which is what you’re putting together. So I like to gather tips to get my more introverted side ready for these events. Hope they help you!
If you like videos, check out my brief message below, or jump to the post to get the lengthier version with some added bonuses.
If you can, bring a team. At least one other person to woman the table while you chat with readers and move about, or just go to the restroom, is essential. I was so lucky to have my amazing mama with me, a woman with exquisite taste, impeccable retail sense, and visual-spatial gifts, to help me set up my table and hawk my wares. Let’s be clear: Lyn Fairchild Hawks did no hawking whatsoever: she mingled, she signed, she presented. I confess I’m terrible at sales; I don’t recall whether you’ve paid and I don’t care if you walk off with a book. But my budget does, my taxes do, and thankfully, my mom is keeping the trains running in this regard!
If your display has at least one conversation piece–like a record player, records, and a fedora, signifying Wendy Redbird Dancing’s obsession with vinyl and Michael Jackson–then people will stop and ask. In a big room filled with tables, book covers, and people, your display will stand out. (Mom gets all the credit here: great idea!)
If you’re an introvert about to chill with introverts, having some conversational tactics never hurts. Ask people who their favorite authors are, who they’re reading, where they live, and whether they are writers. People love to chat about their favorite subjects like books, and themselves. I can go on and on about myself but my display is already all about me. Let others hold forth, and find out what’s popular to them and what they want in a book.
You can see I’ve got business cards, bookmarks, and postcards in my display. Print reminders that follow a person home will encourage someone to buy your stories as gifts or to reach out to you later.
Having a simple 8.5 x 11 plastic holder with a price list is all you need to list the prices and get the word out so you’re not repeating yourself and allow those who don’t want to engage to get a quick sense of whether they want to invest.
You’ll also see a sign-up sheet for my newsletter. Every event, I increase my list by 4 to 10 people, and each one of them is less likely to unsubscribe because we have a connection.
Unless your voice is one with teacher power–and those vocal cords are in great shape–you’ll find your voice failing and water necessary.
Bring cash, bring a Square or another swiping device with your phone, and make it easy for folks to buy. Turns out, Square didn’t work for me and some other authors (thanks, Mercury in retrograde) so I was glad I had cash on hand.
Here’s a bonus tip. If your heart is one that loves only a few one-to-one interactions, and it’s stressful to do these events, remember that every reader has a heart glow for great words in the right order. Be grateful. Value every interaction you have with a reader, because each person is a chance to learn something about passion and craft. Try to be present and soak up that opportunity, and you will find your writing and your thinking spark the next time you hit the page.
After you take a long nap, of course.
Teresa Porter of My Friend Teresa Studios made it all perfect. Author head shots went swimmingly, despite me and all my neuroses.
[Here’s me talking myself off a ledge in a post.]
Teresa got me laughing. That’s what great photographers do. They relax your humming brain, they soothe your jumpy soul, they get you out of your judgmental head.
I was also feeling good because Paul Miller of Funky Monkey Hair Studio had my hair on point. Easier to smile when someone gets your head straight!
Durham, NC also came through with glorious spring weather, so I wasn’t sweating through my duds or makeup.
And best of all, Mom was with me!
“Fiction workshops are inherently almost incapable of recognizing success. The fiction workshop is designed to be a fault-finding mechanism; its purpose is to diagnose and prescribe…Whenever I pick up a student manuscript and read a few pages without defect, I start to get very nervous. Because my job is to find those flaws. If I don’t find flaws, I will have failed. It takes a wrenching sort of effort to perform the inner volte-face that lets me change from a hostile to an enthusiastic critic and start rooting for the story to succeed. (Though in fact there’s nothing more exciting than that moment, and probably it’s the main thing that makes me want to teach.)” — Madison Smartt Bell, Narrative Design
J.K. Rowling remembers the first time she saw long, long lines wrapping around corners of New York City streets. She wondered, What are all these people here for? and then realized, Me. It was her first Barnes & Noble signing.
How fabulous is that? How might it help America to have paparazzi chasing authors down the street–lots of ’em? What if for every pro athlete, political pundit, and sex tape maker with her own reality show, we made time and autograph space for favorite writers? Thank goodness for YA literature and its fans: teens and tweens flood bookstores when the sequel is imminent.
The other night at the awards ceremony for the NCSU Short Fiction contest, I met an author who should be turning heads: Madison Smartt Bell. It’s possible he’s not on the tip of the tongue of the average reader. I mean, he’s only written nine novels, two short story collections, and an incredible book for all those seeking the expertise of a writing professor. Narrative Design: Working with Imagination, Craft, and Form is a must-have all of us in pursuit of our personal MFA. From the way he discusses teaching, you know he’s a delight in the classroom, too.
He’s also a delight in person. He asks you questions, he wants to talk music when I tell him my husband plays, and he’s got a wry, calm sense of humor that came forth when he read from Devil’s Dream. What emerged as he read is a pitch-perfect storyteller, painting a landscape of character and setting so rich I saw it shimmer before my eyes. He told the story of the Civil War general Nathan Bedford Forrest and his horse King Phillip that attacked Federal soldiers. I saw every moment and heard every sound of that melee. I heard all the voices gathered around the stove bringing forth biscuits, especially Henri, the son of Toussaint L’Ouverture (for purposes of fiction). Henri has come to the U.S. to lead a slave rebellion but now has found Forrest as his man to follow.
I have Bell’s autograph, and I’m thrilled his eyes judged a contest where my story, “3.0,” became a finalist. I aspire to write well as I can, and his works aid me. Writers, remember that solo work at our pages is just as essential as time spent being a fan.
How much have we read today? Raved today? Return to that page written by someone else, that page that may not yield instant gratification but with a little more concentration, opens worlds of absolute beauty. And if you don’t have time or chance to stand in line for the signature, find a way to let authors know what their work means to you. Root for their stories to succeed as much as yours.
Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.
© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.
1. Whose autograph would you wait in line for? Why?
2. Why should people wait in line for yours?
3. Write about a time when you rooted for someone to succeed.
4. Write about a time when someone rooted for you to succeed.
5. List all the persons/places/things you are currently a fan of and why. Prioritize them. Then choose only one and discuss why that deserves your fandom.
6. Which author, living or dead, might you wait in line for? How has the author’s writing changed your thinking? Your life?
7. Have you ever met a person whom you idolized and been more than impressed? Why?
8. Have you ever met a person whom you idolized and had a disappointing experience? What was the experience as compared to your imagination? How much do you excuse person and circumstances or blame them?