Book festivals? Yay or nay?

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BookFest

The Deep Valley Book Festival, Oct. 7, Mankato, Minnesota. Stay tuned to more information about next year’s festival.

If you’re a published author, you may have been invited to participate in a book festival. Did you accept the invitation or turn it down?

A brief rundown for those who may not be familiar with book festivals. They can be small (like Mankato’s Deep Valley Book Festival) or big (Twin Cities Book Festival, Miami Book Fair). Small book festivals generally are more welcoming and accessible to newbie authors, while you generally have to establish yourself before you’re invited to a larger festival. A book festival hosts individual authors and publishers, often at tables hawking their wares. A festival allows readers to interact directly with authors and buy their books. Usually there are also readings and panel discussions.

For authors considering whether or not to participate in a book festival, here’s the No. 1 thing you need to keep in mind: GO INTO IT EXPECTING TO MAKE $0. IN FACT, GO INTO EXPECTING YOU PROBABLY WILL LOSE MONEY.

Book festival crowds are notoriously fickle. You could get a great, huge crowd, but attendance also could be sparse. Maybe there’s another big event going on in town that draws people away, or weather is a factor. There’s never a guarantee that you’ll sell any books. Factor in your time, your mileage, your meals, whether or not you had to stay in a hotel overnight, and you’ve racked up some expenses.

So why even do a festival? Here are some reasons:

* Networking. You’ll network with other authors, the festival organizers, and the public. Talk, talk, talk to people and you might find future opportunities — collaborations, future speaking engagements, etc. For example, librarians love to come to book festivals! You can make a connection and possibly set up a future library visit. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place like Minnesota, grant money is available for author visits to libraries. Or maybe you talk to another author and find a way to work together on an exciting project in the future.

* You get your name out there. So maybe no one buys your book. But they looked at it! Maybe they had a conversation with you about it. Maybe they will go home and think more about it or tell their friends and family. You have no idea what the residual effect may be after a festival. This is why it’s important to bring bookmarks, postcards, etc., to distribute with your name and book information.

* Rub elbows with your favorite authors. A book festival generally will invite one (or more) keynote authors. What a great opportunity to meet a well-known author! We can all learn from the authors who have found success. Take this time to introduce yourself and ask them some advice in person.

In a nutshell: If you’re looking to make some guaranteed money, then a book festival probably isn’t for you. But if you love being in a literary environment, talking to other writers and readers, learning new things and are open to new experiences, then by all means, go for it!

A last word of advice: Be kind. You’re in public, making an impression upon all sorts of people. People remember extreme kindness and also extreme rudeness. Do you want people to think well of you and your book, or not? The literary community is not that big — the repercussions in making a bad name for yourself can haunt you later.

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