Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thoughts on a Book Festival

This past weekend I attended the SC Book Festival in Columbia, SC, and wanted to share my thoughts on this event.


Held at the Convention Center, the event is very well done. It’s professional, clean, and well staffed. There were always people roaming the aisle. Situated on the first row by the entrance was a big plus - more traffic than the other aisles. They had an artist’s corner and an upstairs area with events for kids. Some of the vendors kept to themselves, but many were friendly and nice. Met some great people this weekend.


According to previous attendees, attendance was way down, and so were sales. (Most stated they only sold 30-50% of what they sold last year.) A lot of this had to do with timing - the festival is usually held in February. Mid-May meant more outdoor activities, nicer weather, and college was already out for the year. I think the great rise in eBooks had a lot to do with it, too. Fewer people are buying physical books.

The rest is the usual that one sees at any book event. People who walk through so fast, you wonder why they even came if they weren’t planning to actually stop and look. Half of the crowd was senior citizens, and they made a beeline for the Carolina history stuff. A few obnoxious authors. There’s the mass of writers who attend just to pump authors and publishers for information without buying any books. (Gotta love those people!) And two days standing (because you don’t dare sit - you have to engage passerbys and hand out bookmarks) is really draining. It also reminded me my why I normally don’t pay to attend events - it’s just not worth it. I felt bad for the self-published authors sitting there with one or two books - they lost big time.

Will I attend the SC Book Festival again? No. The EBook trend means even less attendees next year. The event was almost too formal, too. And of course, there’s the cost. That’s why I love the Book ‘Em events. More casual, a friendly environment, and no cost to authors or publishers.
And if you missed my announcement on Monday about the first ever NC Book ‘Em, click HERE.

What’s everyone else’s feeling about book festivals? Do you attend ones that require several hundred dollars for a booth? If you go as a reader, do you actually BUY books?


TerryLynnJohnson said...

I haven't been to one yet. I did follow several dog sled races last year and had a booth set up. Agree - it's very draining to stand for the whole weekend! I don't think I would have gone if I had to pay for it.
I'm thinking group events are the way to go. May attract more of a crowd - the kind that are interested in purchasing.
But whether they purchased your books or not, it's all still good promo Diane. Learning and getting your name out there!

Laura S. said...

I have when I went to college, but I think it was on a smaller scale than this one. And yes, I bought some books! I can't resist buying an armload of books when I'm surrounded by them. :)

Morgan Mandel said...

I've only done one event this year, and that was a paid event for a senior group at a restaurant. I was fortunate enough to sell 14 books there as well.

The trend does seem to be ebooks, and that's where I'm focusing. As for bookstores, my book is kind of old now and is returnable. Since I self-published, I wouldn't want a store to buy too many and I'd be out the money anyway. Not worth it.

It's so much easier to do business online.

Also, no time for events since I'm trying to get the next book ready.

Morgan Mandel


Sounds as though you had a good time and came away with some new ideas.


Anonymous said...

I missed the LA Times Book Festival held at USC (usually at UCLA). I'm so mad I missed it but stuff came up. I'll hit it for sure next year. I'm thinking of getting a hotel room the night before and spending the entire weekend there.

Su said...

I went to the Texas Book Festival last year as a reader, so I've no idea what it was like for writers. Didn't buy any books then, although I've since purchased a couple that were featured.

It does kind of sound like yours was a completely different deal than the Texas version, though-- the author's speaking sessions are the big draw down here, and checking out the booths is less of a priority.

Helen Ginger said...

I know the TX Book Festival, but primarily as one who chairs events rather than as someone walking around. From that angle, I think being a speaker is a stronger draw than someone in a booth or tent. 'Course it's the big names who sell the best. People come, knowing they are going to buy that author's book.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've been to Star Trek conventions and purchased stuff.
Standing there trying to talk people into buying my book doesn't sound like fun!

The Words Crafter said...

I've never been to a book festival. If I did get to attend one, I'd go armed with money so I could meet people and buy their books!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I have to agree with your opinion on book festivals, Diane. It's why I passed on this one, although I knew a few folks who were going. I've heard good things about the Celebration of Books in Highlands, NC, though--in September. I'm going to that one and splitting the cost with some other mystery writers.

Anonymous said...

Sigh, too bad, but I believe the physical book festival is a soon to be extinct dinosaur. Ebooks and e-gatherings and e-friendhsips are replacing the 'real' thing. Ever see the movie "Surrogates"?

Marvin D Wilson

notesfromnadir said...

That's too bad that attendance was down. As a writer you have to have fun observing the other people there, especially the obnoxious ones!

Did you see people w/ Kindles, Nooks, iPads, etc.? Any indication that e-books really are taking over?

Talli Roland said...

Interesting that attendance is down. I think you're right - with ebooks now, festival are probably less relevant.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Terry, I envy your dog sledding events - great place to sell your book.

Morgan they paid you or you paid them? This was an event where participants paid $300 for a booth. First time and last time for me!

Stephen, don't invest a lot of time and effort into it if it requires money for a booth.

Su and Helen, they had speaking events from local authors, and I've no idea how well those were attended. The authors in the area for signings looked really bored - no traffic at all for them.

Alex, I'd rather go to a Start Trek convention!

Elizabeth, let me know how it goes! Be glad you skipped this one.

Marvin, I haven't.

Notes, many I talked to had them or if I mentioned my books were available as eBooks, they got excited.

Sorry everyone, I was gone ALL day today for two speaking engagements. Didn't mean to ignore comments.

Susan Fields said...

I'm sure that's super draining, being on your feet and having to be "on" for two days straight. I'm sorry to hear it didn't turn out as well as you'd hoped, though it sounds like there were some bright spots, too.

Dani said...

I've stood in the booth for more than a few events like these and not just for books. I think timing is everything, cost of the booth is another factor, and even something like book genre can impact your sales. I prefer an outdoor venue, believe it or not. Hotel conferences I avoid like the black plague! Why is the air all so bad in those?

Anonymous said...

I haven't been to a book festival, but I'll have to see if there are any around. I'd be interested in attending one (as a reader). Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the one you recently attended.

Bob Sanchez said...

We have an outdoor Border Book Festival that seems to make money for the organizer, but less so for the vendors. It's just expensive for the space and the setup, and some years people close up shop early because it gets so windy.

I've yet to see a really good book fair, but my experience is limited.