Appearances News

Sumiton BookFest 2023 Recap

Hello! Yes, I meant this to go out last week, but my brain is currently a sponge that’s been squeezed for all it’s worth. There’s just no words remaining in there. I managed to soak up a few over the weekend, so I’m going to do a recap of the book festival I attended. Let’s hope this makes sense!

Ad graphic for the Sumiton Book Fest with an illustrated bookshelf

Sumiton is a small town in north central Alabama west of Birmingham. When I say small, I mean “population 2500, city size of approximately 5.3 square miles*” small, so I truly had few expectations. I was wrong!

We had a lovely fall day, a little overcast in the morning then clear the rest of the day which turned breezy in the afternoon. My tent tried to wander off back home once or twice until a fellow author, Christine Roberts (no relation lol), kindly loaned me her tent weights.

As this is my first time having a booth of any sort barring the library’s local author spotlight, I’ll run through what worked and what didn’t. Maybe it’ll help someone else at their first event, or at least serve as a warning to others. I’m good either way.

What Worked:

  • Getting a hotel near the site. Set-up was between 0630 and 0830, and I live an hour and a half away. I didn’t want to get up at stupid o’clock and risk traffic jams trying to arrive on time. We stayed at a lovely Holiday Inn Express in Jasper just 15 min away. Much more relaxing.
  • Bringing along an assistant. The event ran all day – 9am- 4pm – so food and bathroom breaks were a must. Much easier to do when someone else is at the booth chatting with passing attendees.
  • Trope list for each book. I had the main plot tropes for each book on a table flag and received a lot of comments on the idea. I’m not an author who writes by trope, and usually I have to ask my beta readers to identify the ones I use. Still, a lot of folks read by trope, so I printed off the main tropes, laminated them, and placed them in card stands my hubby 3D printed for me. It definitely helped sell my Edgeworld Chronicles books. A few folks were looking for LGBTQ+ content, and there weren’t many on offer. (for reason, see: small town, Alabama)
  • Electronic payments. I purchased a Square reader for this event, but I failed to prep other electronic forms of accepting payment. While a lot of buyers had cash, the Square, Venmo, and CashApp were requested. I now have those three set up and ready for next time.
  • Multiple book discounts. I priced my paperbacks at $12 (which meant I needed to have a stack of one dollar bills on hand just in case), but offered any two for $20. All but one paying with cash bought two. I also had a larger discount option of five for $40, and surprisingly enough had someone purchase all five Sorrow books that way.
  • Candy. Candy always works, especially for folks with kids. A fun sized Snickers often turns a maybe into ooooh yes!
  • Unique table scatter. Maybe this was just the area, I don’t know, but the single thing most people seemed to love were my miniature book table scatter. They’re an inch tall, open like a standard book, and have my book covers on them. They’re stupidly easy to make, cost very little, but the comments and chatter and utter delight they engendered made them well worth the time and effort to make. If anyone is interested, I’ll post a tutorial on how to make them in the future. Everyone needs tiny books!
  • Eclipse glasses. Okay, this one is very specific to the day, but the event was during the annular solar eclipse. I brought glasses and let potential buyers use them to check out the eclipse. Great for non-pushy interaction, and they had to step into the booth area to give them back.

What Didn’t Work (or didn’t work as well as expected):

Some of these may not have worked well due to the first point – lack of cohesion of the table set up. It was too cluttered, perhaps overwhelming folks. Also, the free stuff wasn’t specifically marked as such which might have caused hesitation again. Things I’ll remedy moving forward.

  • Lack of pre-planning the table set up. Bad move. It was a hot mess of too much stuff. I had more stuff left over that never got put anywhere. Just stuff everywhere! Next time, I’ll set up the table and figure out the placement beforehand. Also, don’t be afraid to wander during set up and borrow other’s ideas. I have a few I’ve snatched up and will alter to suit my particular genre.
  • Button/pins. I brought a ton of buttons/pins/whatever you want to call them and very, very few went home with folks. I wasn’t selling them, but they didn’t move. No one wanted the buttons, they just wanted the tiny books!
  • Bookmarks. Oddly enough, the bookmarks didn’t move, but the business cards did. It could be a one-off, but folks seemed to prefer things that easily fit in their wallet/pocket.
  • Stickers. Another surprise as I love me a good free sticker. They simply didn’t garner as much interest as the tiny books. I think if they were more generic rather than branded, they might have moved better, but I’m not willing to become a sticker vendor.
  • Single level display. There was nothing bringing the books to a different level. Everything was on the table. Working retail taught me that folks buy more things if it’s at eye level, but I ignored that. Next time, I’m going to have multiple levels for items. Bring the good stuff up, get folks interested, let them actually see the books rather than having to look down and rummage.
  • Signage. I had a sign with prices hanging from the edge of my canopy but nothing on the table. It must be on the table or hanging off the table somehow.

It sounds like far more went wrong than right, but it was an incredibly successful festival for all involved. All the authors I’ve see post about it said they had a blast and sold many books. The hosts stated they had a lot of fun and are already planning the next one with their own lessons learned.

I’m excited about returning next year with a better grasp of how I want things to look. Doing this event plus another in December will hopefully help me iron out my issues before CCAE in May. If you have any questions about anything, please place them in the comments below or contact me. I’m more than happy to answer them.

  • Population/size according to Wikipedia