How to Sell Books at Book Festivals

Here in Atlanta, summertime means festival season! And if you’re publishing a book, you may be thinking about selling it at a festival, such as the Decatur Book Festival, in Decatur, Georgia, the largest independent book festival in the country. Festival selling may not be the right strategy for every genre of book, but for some it’s a great fit. Keep in mind, however, that often festival goers aren’t there just to buy a book, and usually they don’t even know that your book exists, so it’s up to you to do your best to stand out from the crowd—and I do mean crowd!

Bring More than Just Your Book

Remember the last time you went to a festival for fun. You stopped when something caught your eye, right? That’s now your goal when planning your booth or table setup. You want to create a display that will catch the eye of a potential reader (book buyer). Take a theme from your book and extend it. Have a giant poster printed, get someone to dress in a costume, have someone doing the hobby of your main character, use props…just have something, anything other than just sitting the books and some postcards on a table! You may have to first check with the festival organizers to get the okay on bringing certain items onto festival grounds.


Do a Drawing or Giveaway

What better way to attract people to your table than by having a contest or prize drawing? It can be something as simple as doing a drawing for one free copy of the book. Who doesn’t love the sound of the words “Win” or “Free”? A large event like a festival is a perfect opportunity for an author to start building a mailing list, and a great way to do that is with a giveaway. Just keep in mind that if you plan to add their information to some contact management programs, you’ll need to have gotten their permission, so you’ll want to have something addressing this on the entry slip.


Don’t Just Sit There!

The authors we see selling the most books at book festivals are not the ones sitting quietly behind the table. They’re up, moving around, approaching people as they walk by, greeting, talking, smiling, waving, and making a connection. If you’re sitting behind the table, looking shy, staring down, looking at your phone, or you seem uncomfortable, why would someone want to walk over to the table and look at your book? The worst that can happen is that they might say “No thanks” and keep walking, but at least you’ll have reached out, which will be better than if you had hidden under a tent or behind the table all day, which would be a waste, especially if you’ve paid to be part of the festival!

Forcing yourself to have these interactions is also good practice for when you have book signings or meet and greets at bookstores, or other events, such as a talk with a local book club. Talking to strangers about your book in brief exchanges helps you focus your message. So take advantage of the opportunity to test out your book-talk skills.

You might also want to take a few minutes to greet other authors who are there. Trade tips. Find out what they’ve done that works, and what mistakes they’ve made that you can avoid. Events like these can be as much about networking as about selling.


Most Importantly, Smile!

Yes, smile! Have fun—you’ve published your book, and you should be proud to show it off to the public. Potential readers/buyers are much more likely to approach an author who’s smiling and having a great time than one who looks unhappy to be there.