Lessons Learned From Book Fairs

I consider myself an expert at sitting on my ass at book fairs trying to sell my books because I’ve endured roughly 40 of these gigs over the last decade. Yes, endure—the perfect word to describe the ultimate ass-to-chair experience for small-time writers seeking to convey their books to the larger world.

No. Endure is the wrong verb. Survive fits much better, as in survival of the fittest.

Over the grueling years, I’ve learned a lot by sitting on my ass at book fairs and immodestly thought I would share my formidable knowledge on the subject with aspiring authors. Here are the lessons learned:

  • It’s never about sales. If you go into a fair thinking that, suicidal thoughts will arise a couple hours into the gig.
  • Feel free to pack up and walk out of a fair if it’s the only way to preserve your self esteem or sanity. (I was close a couple of times but gutted it out.)
  • Do not buy other authors’ books at a fair in hope that they will buy yours.
  • Never sit next to an author of a book about how to speak “pirate,” particularly if he brandishes a cutlass, has a parrot perched atop his shoulder, and speaks to you like a pirate for the entire gig, and says things like, “Aye Matt, after the fair, let’s go get some grog and round up some wenches.”
  • Hope that a fight will break out between authors at the event to alleviate the crushing boredom. (That actually happened to me in Lincoln City, some absurd dispute over a display.)
  • Acknowledge the one person who always shows up and announces that he is more of an expert on the subject you just published a book about.
  • Recognize the futility of talking to people I call the “potential non-customer” because there will always be someone (and then another one) who talks and talks and talks with you about your book (but mostly about himself or a book he’s working on) and has no intention of ever buying your book.
  • Arrange a plant or several plants to buy your book to give other authors the impression that you are succeeding.
  • Understand that very strange people exist whose entire social lives consist of interacting with vendors at book and craft fairs and farmers markets.
  • Try not to seem upset or dumbfounded when people come up to you at the fair with manuscripts that they want you to publish.
  • Prioritize attending book fair events that serve booze.
  • Don’t fall asleep. I’ve seen it happen to several authors and it’s not a pretty sight.
  • Never sit next to authors of Christian-themed books. They never stop talking.
  • Develop a 3-second pitch for each book available for purchase. Hone it.
  • Give away free shit. Limpets have worked well for me.
  • Make a courtesy pass through the venue and visually inspect every book.
  • Accept that county fair book events are brutal, cosmic, ongoing punishment for transgressions in your youth.
  • Instagram and Facebook the living farcical shit out of the experience. It might help sell the book somewhere else, although probably not.
  • If the event is outside, bring along rain gear, a tarp, and weights to hold down the table. I’ve seen complete tents fly away in August.
  • Recognize that older lesbian couples are hands down the best buyers at book fairs.
  • Be ready to wheel and deal your books—two for one, five for one. The idea is to move stock!
  • Be prepared to give the book away to the one weird bibliophile or transient who simply must have it but can’t afford it.
  • Bring along writing materials. (I’ve written the equivalent of a book at the various fairs I’ve attended.)
  • Try to get seated next to the fantasy novelist who has a buxom sidekick who served as the model for the cover of his books.
  • Do not show up hungover. (I made this mistake once.)
  • Always act like you love being there, There is nothing worse than seeing a dour author not selling any books; they are almost more unbearable than seeing a dour crafter of lacquered driftwood birdhouses not selling any birdhouses.
  • If you have to fart, feel free to do so. One should not suppress a good fart in the decorous name of LITERATURE. In fact, one should fart in the name of indecorous LITERATURE. Hold one in reserve for an especially insane non-potential customer.
  • Develop a polite no trade policy with other authors.
  • Never get seated next to an author who brings his small child.
  • Always try to get seated next to an author who brings their dogs to the table.
  • Always promise yourself you will never, ever, do another book fair gig…that is, until you sign up for another one three weeks later.