Like many authors, I attend book festivals. I like meeting and talking to people about books, being an author, giving writing tips--and selling my books.
Some book festivals are wonderfully organized, I return year after year, even if I don't sell a lot of books (you never know when you're going to make that one connection that changes everything).
Some are so awful, I don't return. I hear authors complaining about certain aspects of the festivals, so here's small punchlist of things to consider if you're planning a book festival- whether you're a librarian or a bookstore owner, it's going to be huge, or just a few authors. The list isn't all-inclusive as there are many aspects, but it's some of the things I notice most when fellow authors talk about the merits of one festival over another. Not in order of significance they are:
1. Let the authors know well ahead of time if there will be beverages/snacks/food available. If you aren't supplying them, fine, but we need to know so we can plan. It's impossible to do an event that is several hours long and go without food or water. When we travel for several hours, fresh food doesn't always hold up, so be humane let us know if there are shops or delis nearby.
2. With events in libraries and bookstores, sometimes you don't want us to eat at our tables. While this is understandable, we need somewhere to eat. A small room with table, chairs, and waste baskets is all we need.
3. We all want to make the event successful, and that means getting the word out. Social media is the quickest, least expensive method. We have fans, but more importantly, you have ties to the community that are more lucrative. You can reach out to schools, PTOs, library patrons, bookclubs, and others in a larger area, especially if you are a county library or a city event. If you can publicize, and more than just a notice on your event calendar, please do so. We promise to blurb, tweet, post, and announce the event numerous times.
4. If you have someone in-house who designs event or specialty logos, share those logos with us. We love to showcase libraries or bookstores or whomever is planning the event. It brings you good PR, increases awareness of your organization or business, and maybe increases traffic for you. Plus, on our posts, it looks very professional that the event has its own logo. It means people are invested in promoting the event, they are in earnest.
5. When authors apply to attend the event, please respond with a yes, you're accepted, or no, we've reached capacity. It's rude not to respond, and by letting us know-in a timely fashion- we can either fill our calendar with another event, or we can prepare properly for yours. We may need to create presentations, make travel arrangements, and order books. With email, there is no reason, even if a large amount of authors apply, for you not to respond (mass email is better than nothing). By not responding, you get a not-so-good reputation...
6. Make sure you have the space! The worst event I attended had authors in between book stacks at a library, and mixed YA and MG in the picture book section. There was almost no traffic-for the entire event. That's a set up for failure.
7. Another problem- putting too many authors at one table. Ideally, 3 feet of space, or, 2 authors to a 6' table, is perfect. Any smaller, and there isn't enough room for each display books, promo materials, sign, and sit. Card tables are a nightmare....
8. Don't wait until January to plan a March event. Start a year in advance, even if you don't have a firm date. If you've never organized an event, you don't realize all the work that goes into planning. By starting early, you give yourself time to a) pick a good date, b) pick a rain date if applicablen c) get the space reserved if needed, d) start building a list of authors you'd like to contact, e) decide on a budget (do you have to pay for the space? will you offer food/drink to authors? etc.), f) work up a logo or promotional materials and have a PR plan (where will you advertise, getting info to authors for them to publicize, asking friends and colleagues to share, etc.), g) work out a schedule (will there be author panels and/or presentations? Will you have a well-known featured author?), h) recruit volunteers; one person can't do it all, i) make sure there is adequate parking for both authors and attendees. Just one snag and you'll be glad you left extra time to work it out.
9. Talk to organizers of successful events, like YA Fest, BooksNJ, etc. (Google for a list of other events). Some planners may be too busy to respond, so my advice is to target librarians and smaller event organizers.
10. If you're going to charge the authors a fee to attend and sell their books, tell us up front. Your initial email should include this information, or if we're 'required' to join your organization to appear. Most authors will pass up an event if there is a charge unless it's a proven money maker. We have travel expenses and then to pay for the event is generally not cost effective. It's not fair, or ethical, to spring a fee on us at the last minute; and don't be surprised if authors do back out suddenly, leaving you with fewer appearing.
11. Don't forget to collect author bios, headshots, and book covers, plus book information. Do that at least several months in advance (we will update if a new book debuts). This is good info for your PR, especially if an author has a bestseller, won an award, or has a local/interesting connection.
12. We must know if a bookstore will be handling book ordering and sales, or if we are managing our own. Some authors won't do hand sales; you need to know this, and we need to know if we have to order books and pack them. Also, if a bookstore is handling the sales, we need a contact number in case we want to check that our books are in stock. Nothing angers an author more than going to an event and the bookstore didn't have the courtesy to tell them they couldn't/didn't get the book. So we traveled, and sat there, for hours, with no books to sell. And yes, this happens more than infrequently. Additionally, what are the terms; will the bookstore only order a maximum of X books, unless we buy back the unsold ones? Will they offer us a discount on buybacks since they won't have restocking /shipping fees? What about Indie authors: bookstores generally won't handle their books, so are they free to sell while traditionally pubbed have to take whatever terms the bookstore dictates? Can we opt out of bookstore sales if we think the terms are unreasonable?
13. Talk to Authors. We make the rounds of many events and know which ones are well organized. Maybe we can offer some suggestions, or give you the contact info of someone who might be able to help. You could do a quick email survey asking what they'd like to see, what they don't. While you can't please everyone, our input will give you a clearer idea of some of the issues that need to be addressed when planning these events.
14. If authors are making presentations, what about our tables, loaded with books and our things? Will someone watch them (people have 'thought' the books, left unattended, were 'free.' See the problem?) If a volunteer can't be spared, we may need to pack up our things, leaving a sign that we'll return after our presentation/panel. This is a huge hassle. Sometimes, our fellow authors can cover our tables, but if several of us are on the same panel, the tables are left unattended.
The best book festival I ever attended was PAYA (PA loves YA). And it was organized/run by a high school girl. It had a good number of authors, food, space- and one year, even with a hurricane on its way- the place was packed and I've never sold as many books at one time. She went off to college, and sadly, no one stepped into her place. I miss that festival!
So it can be done. These are only a few of the many things you'll need to consider, but if you're serious about starting a festival, or trying to improve one (very few are greatly successful the first year, so hang in there), you can do it.
We authors are cheering you on!
(This was at PAYA, one of the most successful, and best run book festivals.)