Saturday, October 06, 2007

If your booth is about your readers, they'll love you

Book Fair at the National Press Club is coming up on November 1! Given the recent post about BookExpo America, I thought I'd take this opportunity to issue a public service announcement to published authors. If your booth is only about you, it's boring! The typical booth is a "Hooray for me" or "cheer for our press" or "look, aren't we wonderful" affair that seems egotistical, and also fails to move copies.

So what goes into a successful booth? Plenty for the visitors! After all, a book is all about its readers, and a press is about these readers times several hundred. Readers buy books, review books, recommend books, and award authors. Every critic, every contest panelist, every bookstore chain buyer, every sales rep, and every customer is first of all a reader. If your booth is about your readers and their interests, they'll love you.

Vicky Moon, the author of a book about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's life as an equestrian, gave out horseshoes at her table. Elin McCoy, who wrote a biography of ubiquitous wine judge Robert M. Parker, Jr. offered communion-sized wine samples. Humorist Art Buchwald told jokes and posed for photographs, always focusing on his visitors rather than himself (and his humor was often self-deprecating). My friend Eleanor Herman, author of bestselling books about royal paramours, dresses in full Elizabethan costume at her book events, and makes sure everyone goes away entertained.

It's also great to have conversation starting ice breakers at your table. Haul in some artifacts from your book, especially if you have something visually captivating. Pietra Rivoli brought the actual tee shirt that her book was about. Even though a hundred conversations probably started with "Gee, is that really the shirt?", so what? It was a great way to give otherwise shy Book Fair patrons something to talk about. (NB on booth gifts: think beyond typical convention junk. The old, inexpensive standbys such as bookmarks and keychains are rarely as interesting as food and drink, or something the visitor can handle and talk about even if you aren't giving it away. Giveaways can be highly effective, as long as they avoid the trap of being cheesy or too cheap.)

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