A Case Study of a Book Fair Booth That Works

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning #HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers

I often encourage my clients to reach a bit farther than one expects from a new author--regardless of their expertise or experience. For one thing, the services available to authors (like spots at in book fair booths) are often bare-bones. The alternative may be to do-it-yourself and even make a profit which can then be used to boost the author's marketing budget for the future.

I once sponsored book fair booths at the LA TimesFestival of Books with Joyce Faulkner after we started a writers' group called Authors' Coalition.  Slowly and at considerable cost—one year at a time—I learned what works for book fairs, tradeshows, and other public events and what doesn’t. My booth partners and I used tons of value-added promotions including:
  • We shared printing and postage costs of catalogs we produced ourselves that featured booth participants’ books and an invitation to the fair. With permission, we used the fair logo to give the catalog credibility. We sent our catalog to book buyers, media, and influentials like movie producers (because that fair is in the middle of Hollywood land).
  • We produced a video/trailer featuring booth participants at an additional charge. The charge made it more likely that our video stars would use it for their blogs, websites, and other promotion both before and after the fair and we ran it on a large screen in our booth.
Note: Because CDs can be produced inexpensively in large quantities, we recycled much of the content we developed for these videos and trailers onto CDs to be given away. A participating author offered our freebies to visitors saying, “A CD for your PC?” Fairgoers rarely declined our offer.
  • Books (often overruns or slightly damaged) donated by other authors became gifts-with-purchase of other books from our booth.
  • A drawing for a gift basket was successful because it garnered the contact information of many readers. We shared that information with all booth participants, too.
  • We produced totes and bags featuring our bookcover images and our booth number. We gave them to folks to carry the books they had purchased from us. These bags then became advertisements for our booth as our customers carried them around the grounds.
  • Some of our booth participants wore T-shirts emblazoned with images of their bookcovers, their website addresses, and our booth number.
  • Each participant produced posters that we used to decorate the booth.
  • We had mini training sessions for our booth participants in which we urged them to talk up one another’s books, guided them through promotion possibilities and display techniques, and gave them resources for promotion materials.
Authors' Coalition eventually demanded too much of our time, but what we learned promotion possibilities has been useful ever since. We sometimes volunteer one or more of the above promotions in trade for an organization's booth fee. We sometimes consult with organizations who plan booths for their members. And, occasionally, we get permission from booth planners to let us piggyback our for-profit services on their booth plans with a percentage of the sales going back to the originating organization. That's a win-win for everyone.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson is an award-winning novelist, poet, and author of the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers. She taught editing and marketing classes at UCLA Extension’s world-renowned Writers’ Program for nearly a decade and carefully chooses one novel she believes in a year to edit. The Frugal Editor (bit.ly/FrugalEditor) award-winner as well as the winner of Reader View's Literary Award in the publishing category. She is the recipient of both the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award and the coveted Irwin award. She appears in commercials for the likes of Blue Shield, Disney Cruises (Japan), and Time-Life CDs and is a popular speaker at writers’ conferences. Her website is www.HowToDoItFrugally.com.


Melinda Brasher said...

Good ideas. I love the pooling of resources.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Interesting ideas. Thanks

deborah lyn said...

Thanks Carolyn - this is an informative and helpful article for all writers who are thinking about promoting their books at a Book Fair. Great collaboration!

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, these are amazing tips for working book fairs. It is all about taking the extra step to make sure you grab the those passing by your booth. Thanks for sharing your tons of experience and expertise!

Debra Eckerling said...

Love this! Plus, give people incentive to share pics from your booth on social media, and you can increase visibility even more!

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