Book Fair Etiquette for Aspiring Authors
Your primary goal as an author at a book fair should be to find the best fit between the book you’re pitching and the publishing companies at the show. That way, your goals are aligned with the agents and editors who are there.
I try to get as much information as I can about what publishers are looking for in their various imprints and what makes a book in their market successful. For example, I found out that most cookbook publishers will only take on a book that has scrumptious photographs of food; they know books showing a visual of the finished recipes sell far better than cookbooks with few or no photos.
The first time I attended a book fair, I remember not knowing what my job was…I honestly stood there and asked myself, “Why am I here?”
I started with the smaller publishers and after looking at the books they were promoting, I’d start talking with general questions such as, “How is the show going for you?” “What book are you most excited about in your new releases?” Then, I’d segue, “I’m looking to see if my book might be a good fit for you.” And then, if I get the go-ahead, give my pitch. Publishers are looking for good books by authors with a platform.
You’ll need to have your 30-second pitch crafted so people know immediately what the book is about, the audience and market, what’s unique (and exciting), and how you’re the person who can sell the book.
Most of the people staffing trade show booths are marketing and salespeople, and that’s great; they’ll tell you if the book will sell and if it’s right for the publisher. If someone tells you it isn’t right, you can ask, “What would it take for this book to fit?” Or you could ask, “Could you suggest a publisher who might be a better fit?” You might ask a marketer what they look for from an author to help them sell the book.
If the answer is, “Yes, it’s a good fit,” then ask who would be the best editor for the book. Is he, or she here? Could you introduce me? If yes, you have an opportunity to find out more specifically whether there is interest in your book. When you get a positive response, which could be a simple, “I would look at your proposal,” you have something you can take to an agent. If the editor isn’t there, then record, the publisher, the person who gave you the editor’s name, and the editor’s in your contacts list.
Remember the staff’s primary goal at the booth is to sell books, so plan on spending only a few minutes talking and be respectful if you get the brush-off. Stand aside if a bookseller or other customer leans in to ask a question. If the show is slow, you might get more time for chit-chat. I made friends with someone in shipping for a small publisher, who gave me wonderful insight into the who’s who of the company.
If you run into an agent you’ve submitted a proposal to, first acknowledge that, but do not expect the agent to remember. Do thank the agent for responding and any feedback. Do not try to resell the book; your goal should be to find an agent with the right fit or find out how you can improve the manuscript so it is publishable. Ask, “Is there someone you could recommend that is more appropriate for my book.” If the agent doesn’t, then try to get further feedback on what you need to get book to a publishable quality, whether it’s redefining your market, hiring and book doctor or developmental editor, or finding a unique angle to set your book apart. It might be your timing if there is a glut of books on your topic just released or about to be released. Show editors and agents you talk with you want tough feedback, that you are there to learn, and willing to do what it takes to get published. Just as with publishers, you’re looking for the right fit between you and an agent and to get as much information about how you can make your book successful.
Another great resource at book fairs are librarian and bookseller attendees. They know what readers like in a more intimate way than the salespeople. You can poll the attendees you meet to help you assess whether your book has a market to help you improve your pitch.
To me the secret is approaching the entire situation with the same goal agents and publishers have: to find the right fit for your book and you as an author.