Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Reflections on Baltimore Book Festival

 As authors we get to participate in many different events that promote book sales, book writing and of course, ourselves.  For this, there is no better place than a book festival or a convention.  This weekend Carol Mitchell and I, along with the co-author of “Zapped!” my daughter, Lynelle Martin, had the opportunity to participate in the Baltimore Book Festival which ran from October 26th - 28th. For CaribbeanReads Publishing and all three authors, it was our first book festival as a vendor/participant). It was definitely an experience to remember.

Unlike past festivals that were held at Mt Vernon Place, this one was held at the scenic Baltimore Inner Harbor, a great location for tourists and Baltimoreans alike.  CaribbeanReads Publishing shared a tent with a group of teachers from Baltimore City, quite an advantage if you are selling children’s educational books.

One of the things about festivals is that you have to have something to draw people in.  Think about it, all of the hundreds of tents have the same thing: books.  People are coming there either for the well known speakers (Tavis Smiley was the highlighted speaker this year), or to get free stuff.  We had a great activity in keeping with the theme of “ZAPPED!"  Kids got the opportunity to make an edible model of an animal cell out of candy.  We used that as a jump off point to promote the children’s book, CaribbeanReads newest publication: Zapped! Danger in the cell". 

Now here is the dichotomy.  While the kids were quite engaged making (and eating) their model cells and some of the parents were inspired to purchase books, many adults were just coming for the free candy.  Some were quite rude in fact and would just grab the candy without asking and run without even glancing at the many children’s books on display.  Others were quite courteous and would listen and take a flyer with the faint promise of purchasing the books online (been there –done that…  I know what that means).   It did not translate into windfall sales at the festival, but…

…Lynelle and I were invited to give a talk and have a book sale and signing at school in a different county, we met and established contact with local NPR affiliate, and we met several bloggers and got our information into their hands and we got our information into the hands of a coalition of libraries and librarians. 

The highlight of Lynelle’s experience however came after the book festival.  She was playing “Words with Strangers” at a booth adjacent to ours when a family came and purchased her book.  Though we pointed her out as one of the authors, her back was turned and the person never got to meet her.  The next day she came home from school quite excited.  One of the girls who purchased the book was her class mate and was quite excited to discover that Lynelle was the author.  And here I was looking for a way to introduce it to Lynelle’s school without putting her on the spot.  Problem solved; it was introduced (unofficially).

Over all it was a great experience and I learned the power of free.  A booth had books selling for $5.00 for the entire three days of the festival.  That booth enjoyed a trickle of patrons for those three days, who would browse and occasionally purchase.  On the last day, within the last ten minutes they put up a sign: “ALL BOOKS FREE”.  I could not even get to the booth for the crowds that flocked it.  People were grabbing books they would never read.  Even Lynelle squeezed her small body between the throngs and got a few books that we have little interest in.  Yes, there is power in FREE.

I don't know if our experience as vendors/participants in book festivals is typical, but it sure was an enlightening experience.  If you have experiences with book festival do share them.


Charles Gramlich said...

The power of Free! If only I could live off of free. :)

Jewel Amethyst said...

You could Charles, but you just may not like the kind of life if offers.

Liane Spicer said...

No experience with participating in festivals, but watching you, Carol and Lynelle sure makes me want to do this.

As for the power of free... Wow.
And the unmannerly candy-grabbing adults... Double wow.

Jewel Amethyst said...

It definitely is a fun thing to do. I guess that's why Comic Con is such a big draw for authors, gamers, and fans alike.

Liane, I'm telling you, it seems as if adults have lost the manners that they train kids to have. Every kid who visited asked permission to take candy. The adults just grabbed. One was rude enough that while talking to her she exclaimed "Go Long!" and just tossed a bag of M&M's to her friend to catch. I was blown away by the level of rudeness.

KeVin K. said...

Book festivals and conventions are wonderful experiences. However, you're right - being in a crowd in a setting where they're not known tends to bring out the rudeness in people. Lack of accountability, mild end of the mob behavior spectrum. (Yeah, decades in community mental health.)

You guys certainly made the most of your experience. And though there was little remuneration, I think the long-term intangible benefits are worth the time, effort, and price of booth rental and promotional materials - the in-person validation of what you do can be a terrific motivator.