"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, April 20, 2015

A stranger in a not-so-strange land.

I went to the L.A. Times Festival of Books yesterday. In years past, I schlepped books down there and shared a booth with my buddies under the moniker "Murder, We Wrote." This year, I hadn't planned to go at all. I don't have a new book out, and I had noted on my calendar that the Del Mar Nationals was that weekend, which made it look like I was busy.

I wasn't.

My friend Terry is sight-impaired and needed a ride to the festival on Sunday. No one else could oblige, so I stepped up and decided to do it. I figured it was a great opportunity to wander about the festival and look at what people want, what attracts their interest, etc.

It was an eye-opening, thought-provoking experience.

First, what attracts people? The longest lines and biggest crowds (if you don't count the lines to have famous authors sign their books) were for either free stuff or book sellers. McDonald's was there, giving out free McCafe samples. Some fruity drink company was also giving samples. There were some companies with a wheel-of-fortune that you'd spin and collect your prize. Free was crazy-popular.

The booksellers that attracted were the large ones that were offering deep discounts. I can't imagine what kind of money they were making, as it looked like they had slashed everything to the bone. Perhaps they were trying to get rid of some bloated inventory. Didn't matter - everyone was flocking to their rows and rows of hardcovers, paperbacks, plus all the little doodads like book lights and pens shaped like penguins, etc.

Second, what looked like it worked the least? Single authors in bad locations. The festival had a row called "Self Published Authors." It was as pitiful as it sounds. Even the authors there looked pitiful. They were all alone in a kind of back-street on the way to and from the food trucks. Of the lot of them, only one author was out in front, greeting people, trying to engage them and possibly buy his books. But the displays were all colorless, lifeless, hand-written-on-cardboard at times. It reflected the attitude I'm sure the LA Times has toward self-published authors.

Single authors with one book did not tend to engage my interest. By the way, these booths are crazy expensive, so paying for an entire booth to sell one book seems insane to me. Even when they were decorated and eye-catching, the author (I'm assuming that was who was in the booth), was deep within its walls, sitting around.

No, no, no, folks! You stand outside, yes even in the blazing sun, and greet people! Hand out bookmarks! Or swag of some kind!

The only one I saw who was rocking it was Stacey Evans Morgan, who has a children's book called COCOA PRINCESS and had her booth totally decked out in tiaras and butterflies and shiny-glittery-happiness. Her table extended out of the booth so she could sit and be seen signing books, giving out butterfly stickers, and basically enticing more people to come and buy her books. Color her awesome.

It did give me some ideas for being at this kind of event. One idea is something I should have known. It's about enticing a reader. I'm always prattling on about how everything about your book has to draw the reader into it, from the cover art to the jacket copy to the first page, sucking them through to THE END. The same should be true of the booth. It should entice the reader to come and look at your display, look at what you've got, even maybe talk to you.

The Romance Writers of America did an interesting thing with their booth. They set it up so the table was sideways and you went inside to check out books and things. Free stuff on one table, author signings on the other. They said that it was a fact in retail, that men in particular don't want to get "stuck" in an enclosed space. By making their booth a pass-through, I believe they got a lot more traffic, because they took advantage of both sides of the road.

Lastly, free stuff. I know, who wants to give stuff away? Yes, but if it's clever, useful stuff with my name on it, every time the person uses it, they see my name. Maybe someday they buy one of my books. Maybe someday someone is talking about getting some author to speak somewhere and they say, "Hey, how about Gayle?" because WHY????

Because they know my name. 

For not selling any books, it was a very productive day for me. And Terry was able to have a good time. Win-win, just the way I like it!

6 comments:

JennyRedbug said...

Great gal-on-the-street round up; thanks Gayle!

New House Girl said...

Superb summary! I was there on Saturday and you are right about the booths that had crowds--they were eye catching, they were known commodities and they had FREE stuff. Book lovers can get their books all through the year in brick and mortar stores or online. But this event is the 2-day DisneyLand for bibliophiles so they need extra stuff--discounted and free stuff--to attract them, it seems. I hope you go next year with a new book! Alicia

Tameri Etherton said...

This was my first year attending ~ as a reader and an author ~ and I was quite impressed. Not only with the festival itself, but with the amount of people who came! I'll definitely go again. I had a great time checking out the other booths with you before my signing, Gayle. Now I have some ideas of what to do going forward. Colorful, fun booths are a must.

Tameri Etherton said...

This was my first year attending ~ as a reader and an author ~ and I was quite impressed. Not only with the festival itself, but with the amount of people who came! I'll definitely go again. I had a great time checking out the other booths with you before my signing, Gayle. Now I have some ideas of what to do going forward. Colorful, fun booths are a must.

Lois Joy Hofmann said...

I attended a few years ago, in the SCWC author booth. Although I didn't sell a lot, the price was right, and it was a fun day. I rode up on the Warwick's bus, so didn't have to drive. When my next book is published, I plan to go again.

Judy Reeves said...

Thanks for the great post, Gayle. I didnt' get to the festival this year, though I go most every year for at least one of the days (Amtrak up from San Diego). I love to wander the booths and see who's doing what and pick up swag. Usually come home with lots of book marks and postcards and maybe a book or two from the $5 booth. Mainly I go for the panels & author talks and just being around "my" people.

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