Lessons Learned From The Brooklyn Book Festival

Sande, Liz and Barbara

Sande, Liz and Barbara

Never having been a vendor at a book festival, I jumped at the chance to share a booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival with two other She Writes Press authors, Sande Boritz Berger, author of The Sweetness, A Novel and Liz Gelb O’Connor, author of The Angelorum Chronicles and Caught Up in Raine—romantic women’s fiction.

Held in downtown Brooklyn, within easy walking distance of the Brooklyn Bridge, the festival is an ambitious undertaking that requires a full year of planning by a dedicated group of industry professionals. This year’s program included Bookend Events that ran throughout the week of September 12-18, 2016 from 10 AM – 6 PM. The events took place not only on the festival grounds near the Korean Gardens, but in neighboring bookstores and landmark buildings—including the Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn Law School, the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and Saint Francis College. To name but a few.

The BKBF, which celebrated its eleventh year with thousands of bookworms crawling the grounds on Sunday, likewise welcomed the Second Annual BKBF Children’s Day on Saturday, September 17. Events for children included having some of their favorite authors read to them; interactive sketching sessions with popular illustrators; and even a trivia contest on Star Wars. What gives the Jedi their powers? How many forms of communication does C-3PO speak?

With some 250 authors and publishers displaying their books and upward of 300 authors doing readings and signings, the BKBF sells out quickly. It has always had a strong International component, and this year was no exception with authors Margaret Atwood, Sherman Alexie, Russell Banks, Salman Rushdie, and Joyce Carol Oates taking to the stage.

As for exhibitors who signed up before March 1st there was a discount to be had, with all the tables spoken for by April. The rule is that no more than three exhibitors may share a booth/table. They accept only one application per table and it falls to the applicant to say with whom they are sharing the booth/table and to be responsible for the full payment. Rates vary according to status and needs:

  • Major publisher and bookstore chain (table with canopy) $950
  • Independent press, literary magazines, authors, non-profit literary organizations and independent bookstores (table with canopy) $475
  • Shared table with canopy (no more than three exhibitors) $525 includes additional I.D. signs, 2 chairs, and exhibitor listing
  • Table and chairs package – no canopy $350

We chose the ‘shared booth/table with canopy’ option, and were glad we had, when Sunday dawned overcast and drizzly, with s forecast for rain. Arriving at 8:30 AM, finding the festival grounds nearly empty, we busied ourselves with setting up our books and centering a table under the canopy, hoping to protect both the books and ourselves from a downpour. Next up, we tried to hang a poster behind the table, to no avail. So we taped it to the table.

Lesson Number One: Whenever you go to a festival, bring a banner with strings to tie to the poles supporting the canopy—tape will not do it. And the bigger, the better.

If the rains held off, the winds picked up by 9:30AM. Windblown tresses were the order of the day. Woe to those without a canopy!

Lesson Number Two: Do not have your hair blown-dry at a salon the day before.

By noon, a day that started out damp and drizzly was bright and sunny. Hot! Again, sheltered from the afternoon rays, we thought: Woe to those without a canopy!

But such pleasures do not come cheap. When I discovered that one of our neighbors, a prodigious author of children’s books, was from California, I asked how he rationalized the costs of doing the BKBF, given the number of books he may or may not sell. He said his overall expenses for exhibiting on both Saturday and Sunday, plus hotel and meals, would run him about $2500.

You’ll have to sell a lot of books to get that back, I ventured.

Yes, but you have to look at it as advertising. You don’t see the results right away, that’s true, but hopefully you’ll see them down the road.

Lesson Number Three: The guy’s a pro, been at it for seventeen years, so I’m sure he’s onto something—if only you can hang in there for the duration Little Hot House Flower I tell myself.

What’s more, you can place ads ranging from one-eighth page to a half- page in the Official Guide to the Brooklyn Arts Festival for $250 —$750. As I said, it’s not cheap.

Lesson Number Four: Everyone gets a listing in the guide, so you might want to weigh the ad option carefully.

Due to the bombings in New Jersey and New York, the third author with whom we were sharing the booth was unable at the last minute to attend. If disappointed for her, what happened next was interesting: With only two of us in the booth, it made it easier for us to distinguish our books, one from the other, which eliminated a good deal of the indecisiveness often seen on the faces of would-be purchasers when confronted by too many choices.

What also helped was that the books are not in the same genre—one a novel, the other a memoir. If a person loves sci-fi, say, he or she might not be as keen on a bodice-ripping romance novel.  And vice-versa. Oddly enough, we both ended up selling the same number of books. And one customer bought both books. Bless her heart!

In watching the crowd, I had the feeling that most of those bibliophiles swarming the festival were there to mosey around, to see what’s what, and, perhaps, to buy a book. Which made it all that more delicious when a young girl—her heart set on Veronica’s Grave—advised by her parents that she might want to check out some of the other books before making a decision, came back two hours later and bought the book! Veronica’s Grave is in good hands; I know she will love it!

Lesson Number Five: Never lose heart.

As did another visitor who became the first non-cash sale of the day, putting me through the rigors of using the PayPal reader. Success was slow in coming, but with a bit of help, I made my first credit card sale. Yay! The learning process for an author never ends.

Lesson Number Six: The Brain Loves Novelty.

Overall, the crowd was engaged and engaging, many hanging around to share their own stories. Hey, you’ve got a good story there, buddy!  Now, go home and write it, and maybe next year, you, too, might have a booth/table at the Brooklyn Book Festival.

Lesson Seven: Reserve early.