I was a vendor in the Tablers Tent at the Baltimore Book Festival this past Saturday. I hope to do it again next year, since my second book will be out. There are some small things that bothered me, because nothing is perfect, but overall it was a very good event.
I’m a Maryland resident and not too far from Baltimore, so I thought it would be a good book event to try out. The table price is high compared to other events that have author tables. Books are a business like any other business. Being an independent author is especially hard since you have to create the product, do all of the business side of things, and also fork over the money for any events, promotional materials, product inventory–well, you get the idea. A table at the event was $200 and all-day parking was $26. With just those two expenses I would have had to sell about 45 books to break even. It would have been a miracle if I had sold 45 books at this one event in just one day, so let’s just say I walked in knowing I probably wouldn’t break even. What I did hope to do was start a snowball. What I did hope was that my money spent would be an investment in earning a few new readers who really love my genre and my writing.
I learned some things about myself. About what I want to do as a writer, and how I want to present myself. I also learned some things about what I don’t want to be, and how I don’t want to present myself. There are also so points I plan on making to the book festival organizers in hopes they make a few tweaks of improvement next year.
Let’s get the things I didn’t care for out of the way first, so we can end on a positive note. The Tablers Tent is a mash-up of self-published authors, non-profit organizations, and regional books. Essentially indie types and folks selling some non-book stuff (apparently). This had the odd effect of having a children’s’ book writer next to a booth of tween beauty pageant folks with a “Oh The Places You’ll Go” banner using Dr. Seuss graphics, which I found highly inappropriate at a literary event, considering they only seemed to be selling their pageant, and possibly tees and other merchandise. They had a spinning wheel, for what I couldn’t tell. They set it up in the middle of the aisle and pushed their table back and stood in front of it. They had tween and teen girls teetering on platform stilettos and wearing crowns giving out some waves and pamphlets throughout the day.
There was also an aggressive author across and down a little from us. They put a huge sign in the middle of the alleyway, which really shouldn’t be ok. First of all, it caused a bit of a log-jam and made it harder for wheelchairs to get through (of which I saw five). The sign was sort of a way to funnel people to their table. The author was there and had an assistant. They stopped anybody they could and gave them a bookmark and a spiel about the book and convinced them over to the table, even from across the alleyway. They called out and got in front of people, therefore many people missed the next couple of tables (mine included) because by the time they took a couple of steps and turned around they were already past my table, and their neighbor’s as well. I was in awe, more than anything. The author stayed in front of the table at all times. Most of the rest of us were behind our tables – except the beauty pageant people. I didn’t care too much about it as a concept, in a larger space, but it did make traffic flow more congested in that one spot, which seemed to almost be the goal. The author had a spinning wheel (oddly, there were THREE spinning wheels within a few tables of us!) where you could spin and win candy, or 50% off of the author’s book. It was historical fiction and the cover of the book was an absolute rip-off of a best-selling book, right down to the coloring, composition, similar font, and even the title was the same with one extra word tacked on to the end. You cannot deny the success of these two people–they sold all of the books they came with, I’m guessing about fifty or so books. They did this before it was even time to pack up, so they packed up an hour early. I think they outsold everybody in the tent, and it was a big tent. But as I watched them I realized that I don’t want to hard-sell my book. I want people to come to it because they like the genre. Or they like my other work, art, blogging–whatever. It did have the effect of making me feel like maybe I’m not doing enough to sell my work, because I would have had to sell 40 books just to pay for my table fee. But if I hard sold my book to somebody and they didn’t like it, I would feel bad about that. I have that luxury though, for now. Maybe I’m not hungry enough? I don’t know. Anyway, I did learn that I don’t want to sell my book that way, even if I was kind of jealous of their sales numbers. Maybe I can’t sell the book that way myself, to festival goers. Maybe I need a crack sales team. Maybe it’s more of a hard-sell attitude I need for bookstores and booksellers. I like an enthusiastic approach to things, but this was too much for me.
The tent was long and didn’t have any breaks in it. This created a bit of claustrophobia for some people, I think. We had a flap behind us, so I could get out via the split, but I saw a number of attendees walk in at one end and take five or six steps and turn around and leave. If at all possible I have two tent suggestions that would have made the experience an improvement: a break in the tents that allowed the alley to vent people out, but more importantly, allow more people IN through this small alley break. I would also suggest grouping people a bit more by genre. My sexy book was next to and across from children and baby books. The woman on the other side of me is an accomplished author and writer of non-fiction on the lives and history of black people in Maryland and Baltimore. I am very happy to have had a seat next to her and her husband because they are totally cool people and were fun to talk to, but they probably should have been able to be with non-fiction and history, rather than between an artist selling journals and notecards, and a paranormal romance writer (me).
The last criticism I have is that there didn’t seem to be any attempt to provide outreach to book bloggers and vloggers. I would have been very happy for bookstagrammers, bloggers, and vloggers to come by my table so I could provide them with a review copy. This would be very helpful to authors, and to the reviewers as well.