Selling Your Wares At Fairs

Craft Fairs are prolific. They occur all through the year, are a great boon to those selliBook Table at Museumng books, take on special significance at holiday time, and draw lots of people––and, of course, competition. How do you separate yourself from the crowd?

If your aim in participating in a fair is to make a profit, read on. There are other reasons to participate, of course, like gaining exposure for your work or simply to have fun. My thoughts today, though, are about profit.

First, consider some reasons not to participate in a certain craft fair.

1. The fair does not support the subject of your book(s). For example, it is difficult to sell a crime story involving child molestation to a fair themed for expectant mothers. That is extreme, of course, but you get the idea. I have discovered that many people come to fairs with a particular mind-set which often includes what they want to do there and what they intend to buy. If purchasing a book isn’t part of that vision, it will be difficult to sell them one.

2. Booth rental is too expensive. A high booth rental cost puts you in arrears immediately. The first part of the fair is spent in a panic trying to recover the cost of the booth in order to begin making a profit. True, high booth rentals often mean these spots are popular and possibly support good traffic. But sometimes not.

3. The fair is outdoors and you are not equipped for rain/wind/snow. Of course, it is difficult to know the weather in advance. Ask yourself first if an outdoor fair is for you. Fall, winter, and early spring are speculative in many parts of the country. If you can wait a while to submit, do so until you can make a reasonable guess about the weather. Some weather prognosticators offer up to twenty day forecasts which might at least indicate a pattern. Any doubt, get out. Remember, if you don’t feel like slogging through the rain to sell your books, your customers will feel the same about coming out to buy them.

4. The fair is poorly organized, poorly managed, poorly run. Maybe it’s the management’s first one ever. Mismanagement can cause all kinds of grief; duplicated rental spots, inability to supply answers to your questions, chaotic format, confusion about accepted payment forms, limited space, limited bathrooms, and so on. You can often spot a poorly managed fair by its registration form. I suggest you avoid them.

5. Think twice before signing up for a book fair. Why? This may seem counterintuitive, but the point is, there are too many choices. Unless you are a known author with a hot book it is difficult to separate yourself from all of the others. When there are too many fish in the sea, the buyer will tend to choose the first one or the most familiar one. A book is a commitment; no one wants to be stuck with a book they don’t like. Of course, you will want to support events sponsored by your local writers group by participating.

So you’ve decided to participate in a particular fair. What follows are just a few ideas to help you succeed.

1. Be sure you have your temporary sellers permit, if required. The organizer will usually announce this in the details. They can get burned if they allow non-permitted vendors. But they don’t always know this, or they don’t mention it and assume you are aware. The best idea is indeed to make yourself aware, ask questions, check with other vendors. Except in the case of some charitable events, one is generally required (and remember to pay the tax within the given framework of time, the tax people won’t remind you).

2. Invest in your own table. Book covers sell books and attractive displays hi-light your book covers. You may not require an 8 or 10 foot table, the size usually supplied by institutions. I use my own four-foot table. I plan and set up my display in advance, then replicate it at the fair. An eight or ten foot table is too large for me, the long empty expanse makes my display seem unfinished. Put out enough books to show you have plenty, but not so many your table confuses the eye. When my four-foot table becomes too small, I will move up to six feet.

3. Don’t confuse the customer by displaying too many choices. If you have published twenty books, congratulations. But don’t put them all in your display, or at least not multiple copies. Put out two or three of your best grabby covers, with several copies of each, a few other single titles, and for the rest, a listing, preferably on glossy paper with pictures. You get the idea.

4. Don’t be afraid to use a shill. People follow people. If your table appears to be popular, others will join to find out why. A few friends, your mother-in-law, anyone who might enjoy a fair will work out just fine. Along the same line, don’t hide behind your table all day. Come out, gently engage people, or flip the pages of your own book with great interest. It all helps.

5. Be patient. The best sale time, particularly for books, comes in the last hour of two of the event. Customers do not wish to leave empty-handed (whether they know it or not). In a mixed product fair, the customer who already bought the chainsaw he/she always wanted is now more relaxed, thoughtful, and may think a good book, signed by the author, is just the way to end the day. It happens!

The best teacher is experience. After a while, one learns to read expressions, catch that longing glance, know when to engage, when to back off. It’s all part of the fun. And that is the best advice: enjoy yourself and your customers will enjoy you.

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