Yesterday (Saturday, April 27, 2013) was the inaugural SWAG Writers Bookfair (Downtown is for Book Lovers Day). To me, it seemed like a success. Throughout the day we had a steady stream of visitors and it seemed like a lot of people left with books. We gained exposure for local writers and for our organization, SWAG Writers (that’s the Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta Group of Writers, a subchapter of the Virginia Writers Club). And now that it’s over, I thought it would be useful to reflect a little on the experience.
- Conception. I had this idea quite a while ago. I participated in another local author event last year, at the library, but it was lightly attended and few books were sold. Although I applaud the library for the effort, the location just wasn’t good to draw in casual shoppers. So, when Virtual Sisters began operating their co-working and pop-up retail space on Beverley St., I realized that was the ideal location for this sort of thing—a store front on Staunton’s main street. I ran the idea past other members of SWAG Writers and also talked to the local bookstores about supporting the event. Everyone was enthusiastic.
- Enrollment. I lined up authors in two phases. First, I asked for expressions of interest from our SWAG Writers email and Facebook lists. Because I wanted to keep the cost to authors low but needed to cover our expenses, including rental of the space, I needed at least 12 authors to make it work. My list quickly grew to 20! Then I began to worry that the space wouldn’t accommodate us if we got much bigger. As planning progressed, I needed to get firm commitments, so I asked people for their money—just $10—to confirm their space. (I know that fees at some bookfairs are much higher, but I wanted to avoid pricing anyone out of the event.) A few people dropped out at that point, but word was spreading, so I added some more participants, and we held steady at 20, which, by my estimation, was just right for the space. (A few more had to cancel at the last minute for various reasons; we ended up with 16, although one of the vendors was a publisher who had 4 authors with her.)
- Publicity. It isn’t clear to me what works in a town like Staunton, but we did publicity on several fronts. Lindsay Curren designed a poster that we also used for our email and Facebook communications. That poster went up in libraries, coffee shops, the Visitor’s Center, the bookstores, and a few other locations. We did a press release that was distributed widely. We bought an ad in the GO! section of the local newspaper. We taped a 30-second radio spot that ran on Star94 FM. The Staunton Downtown Development Association was supportive and included the event in their calendar and email blasts. We joined with the local bookstores to make the event broader—Downtown is for Book Lovers Day—and also got them to agree to let us distribute coupons for discounts at their stores. I don’t know what else we could have done. More posters, maybe? Does anyone see posters?
- Preparations. As the day approached, we put up a window display at the store consisting of books by participating authors plus a couple of the posters, along with the name cards we were using for each of the authors. On the morning of the event a couple of us arrived early and arranged tables and assigned spaces to the authors. (We tried to be fair about the assignments. In the end, I think placement didn’t matter, as all of the shoppers who came in made the full rounds. One or two people stuck their heads in the door and left, but anyone who was there more intentionally seemed to hit all the tables.) I had asked vendors to bring food, and a few did that. We had a table set up for cookies; some vendors distributed candy at their own tables, which seemed to work well for them.
- The event. We opened at 10:00am. The first hour was light, but things started picking up at 11am and we were pretty busy until 3pm. A total of about 60 people came through the fair during the day. Judging by the noise, there was a lot of conversation going on, which was exciting. Authors were talking about their books and about writing generally. We added 8 names to the SWAG Writers email list. I sold a bunch of books. I don’t have figures from the other authors yet, but it looked like a lot of people were buying books. So that’s a good thing.
- Surprise! At about 3pm, a guy came in the door carrying a pizza. I thought it was amusing that someone in the fair had ordered a pizza, but it turned out that John Huggins from Shenandoah Pizza had just sent us the pizza as congratulations/thank you for the book fair. And it was fantastic pizza! What a wonderful thing for him to do. I was already a fan of the place, but that just made me more loyal.
- The end. Authors started to pack up and by 5pm we were out of the space. It was a long day, but, I think, a success. This morning I sent an email to all the participants asking for feedback so we can make improvements for next year.