Book Festivals: A Good Dose of Reality by J’son M. Lee

J'son M. LeeBook festivals can be so inviting—readers, book groups and industry professionals. With this conglomerate in one place, it stands to reason that an author would naturally fare well at an event like this. After all, if you have the readers, they will inevitably purchase your book, right? WRONG! Some authors are strategic when it comes to vending at these events. As a business owner, my decision usually comes down to economics; if it doesn’t make sound financial sense, I don’t participate. That’s my business model. Don’t get me wrong, if there is enough interest, I’ll attend an event, but for research, networking or the sheer enjoyment of reading. On the flip side, there are authors who are a bit more relaxed in their approach. Some will even allow their egos to get the best of them. In their quest for fame, they will rob Peter to pay Paul just to have a table at an event. Some folk just need a good dose of reality!

I recently attended the Baltimore Urban Book Festival (BUBF) with my good friend and client, Michelle “Big Body” Cuttino. The Festival was held at the Douglass-Myers Maritime Park. This venue, with its breathtaking views, is steeped in African American history. Set against the backdrop of the marina, being there was a one-of-a-kind experience in itself. The Festival was advertised to begin at 12:00 p.m. and end at 6:00 p.m. Michelle and I arrived promptly at noon. As we walked through the front doors we noticed bags, literature, etc. Although there were people in the immediate vicinity, no one greeted us or asked if we needed help. We inquired as to the location of the author tables and were told to proceed to the third floor via the elevators in the rear of the reception area. A young lady then escorted us back and gave us a brief overview, if you will. Once we arrived onto the floor, we walked into the room where the authors were set up. The room was chilly, but not in the traditional sense of the word. We didn’t feel welcome in the space. The authors seemed preoccupied, for lack of a better word. We deduced we were too early and decided to give the authors more time. We took the elevator back down to the lobby as there was a panel scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. Well, the panel didn’t begin at 12:30. We overheard someone saying the author was late. So we waited…and waited. The author never showed.  Finally, it was time for Sadeqa Johnson’s (Love in a Carry-On Bag) panel discussion. Sadeqa was poised, professional, articulate and charismatic. That thirty-minute interview was the highlight of my day. After her panel discussion, we decided to return to the room with the authors. Certainly, they were ready for us by now! Again, we had the same experience as earlier. Only one woman greeted us and smiled. Everyone else seemed preoccupied with their team and/or table. Given the fact that the turnout was extremely low (I’d say there were twenty readers there at best at the time we were there), I would have thought the authors would have been excited to have guests walk in. Again, only one person stood and greeted us. Sadly, that’s all she did—she didn’t mention her work, engage us in conversation or anything like that. So we continued our walk of shame. Needless to say, we didn’t support any of the authors (which was our intent). Neither of us were there in the capacity of authors; we were there as readers. After a few minutes, we realized we’d had enough and walked out. As we were leaving, we ran into Sadeqa again. She humbly stopped and allowed us to take photographs with her and thanked us for our support. I told her I would download her book to my Kindle as soon as I got home (which I did). Beyond my experience with Sadeqa, the event was a disappointment.

This event had so much potential, but fell short on so many levels for me. Since Deatri King-Bey’s platform is Successful Authors, I’ll concentrate on my experience with the authors. Unless you have a line of people waiting to buy your books or get your autograph, you need to be personable, approachable and engaging. For God’s sake, SMILE people! I’ve been to signings where the author remained seated the entire time. I remember meeting Zane for the first time at a Barnes and Noble in Washington, DC. The line was wrapped around the store. Someone on her team was walking around with post it notes and a pen and asked us to print our name on the post it and adhere it to the book, presumably so she could refer to us by name and ensure she spelled our names correctly. Long lines of fans are not the reality for most of us, and it certainly wasn’t the reality for the authors who were vending at the BUBF event. If the majority of us would get over our egos, we’d realize that attracting readers takes great effort on our part. No one is just going to walk up to you and give you money simply because you have a book out. So how dare you treat me (or any reader) like an unwelcome guest! It takes hosts, authors and readers alike to make a festival successful. That said, get off your ass and make it happen! Otherwise, you’ll arrive with your books…AND leave with them. That ain’t hardly what I call success!

Disclaimer: My experience is not meant to disparage anyone. I merely want to use my experience to help other authors have a successful event.

J’son M. Lee
President and Owner

Sweet Georgia Press

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4 thoughts on “Book Festivals: A Good Dose of Reality by J’son M. Lee

  1. Edwina

    ^5!! Authors, like actors & singers, must remember that it’s the buying public that makes it possible for them to continue in their career. So as you said, they have to be personable at public events. Great advice J’son. Hope there was some type of feedback form so you could express that advice to BUBF and they can, perhaps, share with attending authors.

  2. Selena Haskins

    This information was very helpful to me. I just wrote my first book, and I haven’t attended a book event of this magnitude before. However, at my book signings, I am friendly with everyone. I take the initiative to walk up to customers, greet them, smile, and not just sit behind a table. Even if they don’t want to purchase my book, I have offered customers some of the free gifts on my table. One lady was so impressed that she bought my book because I was just so kind to her. She said, “I don’t normally read fiction, but your customer service is so inviting that I can’t resist. I will buy your book as a gift for someone I know who will read it.” I was so thankful to her, because it had been a long day. Yet, I was still determined to reach someone that day. If I was not remembered by the books I sold, I was surely remembered by my kindness. I hope that if I’m blessed to be a part of a big book event, I will show the same courteousness. People don’t owe me anything, except respect. I believe if I represent myself in a professional way I will earn their respect, and make them feel welcomed.

  3. LaShanta Charles

    Thank you so much for this!! I am a new author and I love receiving helpful info; this definitely qualifies. I am participating in Tulisoma in Dallas at the end of the month and will definitely take heed to this advice. Again, thank you.

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