Selling Books at Country Fairs and Outdoor Festivals by Amber Lanier Nagle

 Photo by Stuart Guest-Smith on Unsplash

Photo by Stuart Guest-Smith on Unsplash

A friend and I decided to try our hands at book selling at a weekend country fair in Northwest Georgia last fall. The two-day, October event showcases Appalachian music, Southern foods, history exhibits, and over 200 booths featuring handmade arts and crafts—iron works, pottery, woven garments, quilting, carvings, paintings, prints, collectibles, etc.

Going into it, my friend and I didn’t know what to expect. We knew that thousands of people roam around the fair each year, but we didn’t know if we would sell enough books to justify the time, labor, and aggravation involved in setting up and working the crowds for two full days. I told my family, “I’ll never know unless I give it a try.”

Those who know me well know I go into most activities seeking knowledge. I participate, make adjustments as needed, then afterwards, I evaluate the experience and consider what lessons I learned. I ask myself, “What went well? What didn’t go so well? Why? What could I change to make the experience better?” And then I share what I learn.

This morning as I assessed the weekend and its many successes and blunders, I jotted down a few tips to help other authors who are considering selling books al fresco. Enjoy!

PARTNER WITH ANOTHER AUTHOR—Partnering may allow you to share booth or entry expenses, but the big benefit of partnering is the sharing of tasks and equipment. I took care of the tent, sandbags for the tent, a folding chair, the easels for our posters, a phone charger, and a decorative tablecloth. My friend brought a folding table, two folding chairs, a table scarf, and other supplies. During the fair, we took turns manning the booth. And quite frankly, I enjoyed having a friend there to talk to when no patrons were stopping by our booth.

NEGOTIATE WITH ORGANIZERS—The fair’s booth fee was $125 for artists and craftsmen. The fee was too high for us (after expenses and taxes, authors don’t make much money per book), so my friend contacted the fair’s organizers well in advance and negotiated a different deal for us. In the end, we both paid the fair 20% of our total sales.

PROMOTE BEFORE AND DURING—Fair organizers promoted the fair in newspapers and publications throughout the state, but I wanted people to know that two local authors were going to be there selling books. The week before the fair, I posted the event on social media and asked friends to swing by and see us. I not only posted it on my Facebook wall, but I also posted the information with a photo of Prater’s Mill to local and county-wide sites. One post was viewed by 4,377 people. Try to promote a few days before via a newspaper press release or a guest spot on a local radio or television show. Also, during the weekend, we took photos of book buyers and splashed the photos all over social media to remind people of the fair.

TAKE POSTERS AND SIGNS—At fairs and festivals, people walk by and look at your booth before deciding to stop, so a nice poster is mandatory. In three hours, Office Depot printed a 15” x 22” poster of the cover of my book, mounted it on foam board, and laminated it for me for just $20. We placed our posters on easels so that the signs would be eye-level and easy to read. It’s also a good idea to have signs in the booth saying things like, “Project Keepsake—$16,” “Local Authors,” “Ask Me About Project Keepsake,” and “Signed Copies of Books Available.”

MAKE A LIST—Make a list and be prepared. Some events provide a table and chairs, and others do not. Beyond books, business cards, posters, and money, you may need tape, scissors, a pen, paper, a few basic tools, a jacket, a hat, sunscreen, water, hand sanitizer, tissue, paper towels, a change of clothes, a hand truck, and trash bags.

SET UP A TENT OR AWNING OVERHEAD—At the country fair, we experienced both torrential downpours and bright, burning sunshine, so the water-repellant canopy we borrowed from my sister-in-law proved to be invaluable. If you opt to use a tent, you may want to tie weights or sandbags to the legs to prevent the wind from blowing it away. Also, a can of WD-40 may come in handy since metal frames rust sometimes making legs and braces hard to slide into position.

STACK BOOKS ON THE TABLES—Stack a few books on the table so that passersby can read the spine of the book. Also, prop one book upright so patrons can see the cover from several feet away. If the weather is wet or humid, don’t take too many books out or the pages will swell and buckle.

BE NEAT—Keep your table nice, neat, and presentable. Clutter is distracting. No one wants to see crumpled candy wrappers and trash on the table top.

GIVE STUFF AWAY—One way to draw people into your booth is to give away inexpensive freebies. This past weekend, I gave buckeyes to dozens of people as they contemplated buying my book. I’d smile and say, “Put it in your pocket for good luck.” The buckeyes were great conversation starters. Be creative. What about a clear vase full of tootsie rolls? And always have a few bookmarks and business cards on the table for people to take.

HAVE OTHER RELATED THINGS TO SELL—My author friend was smarter than me. She had three items to sell—two books and okra necklaces that tied into one of her short storeis. I only had one item for sale—my book. After seeing the little glass bluebird on the cover of Project Keepsake (and on my poster), a few people stopped by and wanted to purchase a glass bird. I was surprised, but afterwards I thought, “If I ever do this type of event again, I should probably have a few little birds to sell.”

POSITION YOUR TABLE CLOSE TO THE FLOW OF PEOPLE—You want to be as close to the people traffic as possible so you can make easy eye contact. If you place your table deep within your booth, a potential customer has to walk all the way in, which may deter people from stopping.

SET PRICES FOR CONVENIENCE—Don’t sell your book for an odd price requiring coin change. Make it easy on you and the buyers and round the price to the nearest dollar.

HAVE CASH AND YOUR SQUARE DEVICE—Have plenty of cash on hand. I sold copies of my book for $16, so I made sure that I had plenty of one dollar bills in my cashbox. Also, make sure that your Square device (or other credit card processing device) is working and ready for the day. Pre-program the items you will be selling on your Square app so you don’t have to remember the prices during the transaction.

KNOW YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH—An elevator pitch is a thirty-second description of your book. Every author should have one, and every author should practice saying the pitch over and over again. Here’s mine: “My book is a collection of 55 nonfiction stories about keepsakes—a ring, a pocketknife, a quilt, a Bible, a hat, a fishing lure. I asked friends and other writers to pick one of their keepsakes or heirlooms and tell me where it came from and why it’s special. I’m interested in the stories and memories associated with the keepsakes.” I pause for a moment then ask, “Do you have keepsakes at home?” Also, if you partner with another author, make sure you know how to pitch his or her book, too. 

PREPARE FOR CHIT CHAT—“So, are you from around here?” “I love your boots!” “Do you read nonfiction?” “Do you have keepsakes or heirlooms at home?” “You look familiar to me.” “I think the rain is over for a while. Have you seen the radar?” Also, if you find out a patron is involved in a particular school, library, club, or group, inquire about speaking to the group about your book. Seize the moment and ask, and don’t forget to get his or her business card or contact information.

DON’T HOUND PEOPLE—Not everyone reads, and not everyone wants to buy a book at a country fair or festival, so if they keep walking, let them walk away. Don’t call to them. Don’t badger them. Let them go.

WEAR COMFORTABLE, APPROPRIATE CLOTHING AND SHOES—Sorry, four-inch-heeled, strappy Manolo Blahnik shoes and skin tight pencil skirts aren’t appropriate articles of clothing for a country fair or street festival. Think comfort. Consider jeans and a nice top. Wear comfortable shoes. This past weekend, I wore my Project Keepsake tee shirt so everyone would associate me with my book. 

WEAR A NAME BADGE—A name tag will help people know who you are so they can call you by name. It will also reinforce your brand.

SMILE AND BE FRIENDLY—No one wants to buy a book from a grumpy person (unless you are Grumpy Cat). Smile. Be friendly. Be inviting. Be helpful. Be respectful. Let people know you are approachable and you want to be there.

WRITE A THANK YOU NOTE—In today’s world, a simple thank you goes a long way. Sit down and write a thank you note to the event organizers and ask them to keep you in mind for other events.

If you, too, have sold books at an outdoor community festival or fair, we’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts. Please share by leaving a comment. 

Amber Lanier Nagle is the author of Project Keepsake (www.ProjectKeepsake.com) and two eBooks (Southern Exposure and Have a Seat). She’s also the editor of Northwest Georgia’s Good Life Magazines and contributes to many national and regional magazines. Learn more at www.AmberNagle.com.