Book expos are hit or miss. There is so much that goes into these events that make them successful. The date, time, venue and registration fee are some of the most important factors that an author must take into consideration when deciding whether to participate in a book expo/festival. Event planners need to put serious thought into the following ideas: when they want to put on a book event, where they want the event to take place, and how long they want the event to last. There are three options to the type of event that will take place; an indoor event, outdoor event, or both. With an indoor event, there is protection from the elements. There are no worries about the event being canceled due to inclement weather. In spring and summer months, there is a high probability that it could rain on the day of your event, which not only makes a mess of the actual venue set up but also affects the size of the crowd you may attract. With that being said, good marketing and organization will eliminate this problem, which has been witnessed at the 2018 Beaver County Bookfest. The Beaver County Bookfest is one of the most worthwhile events to attend as an author and a reader. They offer over 50 authors, who are all exhibiting under a large tent at one of their parks. One of the roads leading into the park is shut off, and that is the location of the tent. This is perfect because authors set up on concrete and not grass. At the 2018 Beaver County Bookfest, it was pouring rain. If the event were in the actual park, the muddy ground would have been a serious problem to deal with. This would have caused the legs of the table to sink into the soil, and people would have been hesitant to walk around and browse the different tables. The other benefit of being under a large tent was the protection of authors’ products in this weather. Besides a small hole in the tent that led to water dripping on one author’s table, everyone and their products stayed dry.
The Beaver County Bookfest lasted from 9 am to 4 pm. Normally, expos are 4 hours in duration, which can be positive or negative. If an event has a good turnout, having a longer event allows authors to be more productive. On the other end, waiting around for 8 hours while 1 or 2 people stop by your table can be very frustrating for an author. With registration fees being close to or over $100, authors have to consider if a 4-hour event is worth their time and money. If an event is known to generate a lot of traffic and support, then the answer is yes but if not, then the answer is NO. Time spent exhibiting at these events can be costly. Most events take place on a Saturday afternoon. If you have a family this will cut into time with your loved ones, which also makes the decision to participate in certain events a difficult one to make. Authors must look at the total cost of exhibiting at each event to get an idea of how many books they need to sell for the event to be profitable to them. These costs include the following:
Travel – Whether you plan to drive to the event or fly, some costs will be incurred for getting to the event. There may also be the cost of a hotel if you are traveling to a far destination or an event that takes up more than one day. Some expos have meet and greets, panels, or interviews that are held the day or night prior to the actual book expo. If this is the case, authors may want to stay the entire weekend.
Food/Drink – Food and drink costs add up quick on any trip. Whether it is a 4-hour event or an 8-hour event, an author may have to eat before and/or during the event. A good habit to have is packing a lunch to reduce your spending costs.
Time – Time is money, and you don’t have it to waste. When you break down the time spent at an expo, you have to consider how much money you are willing to work for an hour. If $20 an hour is a rate you would expect from a formal employer, then you would have to sell at least 8 books (at the price of $10 a book) just to cover the cost of your time.
Equipment – Sometimes creativity and professionalism help sell your books. If you get creative with your table display, you can attract a lot of attention from potential customers. Having professional flyers business cards and other marketing material can help potential customers get in touch with you and lead them to your online purchasing sites. All of these things cost money. To break the costs down, writers need to take the total of the expenses for these items and divide them by the number of events they are participating in within a calendar year. The quotient should be factored and your exhibition expenses.
Books – Book costs are a constant expense that should be important to every author. Books need to be replenished once they are sold. If the books aren’t replenished, an author will be unprepared for their next events and online sales.
If we take each expense and add them together, an author would accumulate a total of approximately $430 per event/minimum. This breaks down to $100 registration fee, $50 in food and drinks, $50 in gas, $50 in equipment, $100 in books, and $80 in time. This is a low-cost estimate based on a local event that wouldn’t involve hotel rental, car rental, and airfare. Attending that type of event would cost an author around $1000 or more in expenses. With these type of expenses, an author would need to sell 44 books (at a $10 sale price) at a local event and over 100 books at an event that is further from the author’s location. Selling these amount of books will just recoup the author's expenses and does not include the author’s actual profit.
Once we get past those factors, authors should do their best to find out how successful the event will be and has been in the past. This can be done by reaching out to the event coordinator, but most times, they want the authors to attend, so they may not be completely honest about their numbers. The best way to get an honest answer about the success of an expo is to ask an author that has attended in the past. An author that has participated in an event in the past will be able to tell you about the crowd turnout, the organization of the event, and the number of sales they made. Although some events do turn around and could grow over the years, they seem to stay on the same course when it comes to productiveness.
Along with finding out how events have done in the past, also find out what type of program will be created for the event and also information on other vendors. One of the most detrimental moments for authors who are attempting to sell their books at a festival is another vendor giving away free books. This is very common for libraries and non-profit organizations. Why would a reader buy a book from one table, when there are free books on the table next to the author? This has been known to occur at the Camden Children’s Book Festival and the Abington Local Author Expo. Rather than having the free book giveaway or used book sale in a completely separate area, most of the time they are near independent authors who are selling their books.
Authors need to think long and hard about the true value of book expos when it comes to their career. Would you be willing to exhibit at multiple events throughout the year or none at all? Can you afford to exhibit at book expos? Do you trust your writing skills and the quality of your books to profit off book expos? These questions need to be answered by authors before they decide to participate in book expos.