This past weekend I attended MenilFest, featuring the Gulf Coast Indie Book Fair, in Houston – a two-day event of art, literature, and poetry reading based throughout the Menil Grounds in Menlo Park, Houston’s artsy neighborhood. I went to sell the sci-fi series The Black Bead Chronicles for my client, indie author J.D. Lakey, who is based in San Diego. Being my first time in Houston, I was pleasantly surprised to find the fair based in this little gem of a neighborhood, with it’s quiet tree-lined streets, historic buildings, and trendy establishments. One attendee I spoke with called the Menil Grounds “the living room of Houston,” and it’s obvious to see why. All of the Menil museums – which dot the neighborhood and are easy to spot with their grey-green exteriors – are free to the public, and the wide expanse of lawn that surrounds the main museum is a great place to relax, socialize, and contemplate.
Since this would be my second time attending a small book fair in Texas – the first of which was an absolute dud (pretty much nobody from the public attended) – my only hope was that, if I couldn’t at least sell a few books, I could make some great connections with other authors and chat with a few new potential readers. I was fortunate to be sharing a table with author Jackie Shemwell, one of my clients, who came to promote her southern gothic novel A Devil in Canaan Parish. Once we got a little coffee in us (iced tea in Jackie’s case, a true southern flower) we were able to sharpen our wit and comedy skills and provide an entertaining experience for the often shy attendees who seemed unsure if they should stop and look at the books at our table or continue walking. I hope they did not regret stopping and being coerced – er, encouraged, into signing up for our joint newsletter/book raffle! Regardless, they surely enjoyed the excellent assortment of candies I provided them.
If I think of these book fairs more as a way to get the word out about the books and connect with readers, rather than a way to make an immediate profit, then I’d say the Gulf Coast Indie Book Fair was a successful book fair for me.
At the end of the day, it turns out I didn’t sell a single book. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a worthwhile book fair to attend by any means. I guess it’s all about how you look at it. Someone told me once (or I read somwhere?) that your book has to be seen fifteen times by a potential reader before they buy it. So if I think of these book fairs more as a way to get the word out about the books and connect with readers, rather than a way to make an immediate profit, then I’d say the Gulf Coast Indie Book Fair was a successful book fair for me. I went home with over thirty names and emails to add to my mailing list, several of which later did end up downloading the book and leaving a review. And as every self-published author knows, reviews are as good as gold!
But not every author has the same experience at a book fair. I had the great pleasure to meet some amazingly talented and lovely authors who were also displaying their work for sale. I wanted to get their perspectives about the book fair, and was surprised to find most of the feedback extremely positive. So I decided to conduct an informal interview of some of my close neighbors (honestly, the only authors I could meet were the ones close by, as it was a very busy event!). Scroll to the bottom for some of their thoughts.
Advice if you are considering exhibiting at the Gulf Coast Indie Book Fair:
1) Get there early to get your pick of the best location (an hour before the book fair starts is ideal)
2) Bring a lunch and some cold drinks – minimal snacks are provided
3) Display graphics on, behind, or in front of your table, such as a large blow-up of your book cover, a framed positive review, a banner with blurbs and compelling graphics. Maybe even give away tchotchke and candy. Anything to help start a conversation with attendees and catch their eye.
4) Sell something else besides your book. I saw a lot of authors selling other items, some hand-made, and they seemed to be doing quite well.
5) Have a book trailer people can watch. I got tired giving the same speil all day and I think a book trailer really helps explain your story. My neighbor, fellow exhibitor Jean Nicole Rivers, had a great setup with a tablet connected to headphones so attendees could watch her trailer. I thought that was a great idea as there was no power available at the tables.
Angelique Jamail, author of “Finis”
“There was so much I enjoyed about MenilFest. It was my first time being there, and I was pleasantly surprised by how robust the crowd’s interest was in my books and my poetry art cards. I don’t think there was five minutes all day that I wasn’t speaking to someone about my work!
Overall, I thought the festival seemed well run: I liked that I could get there early and choose my own spot (for my table) and that the organizers had free snacks for vendors. Information in the lead-up to the event was good. That said, I wish I’d had more of an opportunity to see more of the festival itself, and that there had been more options for lunch.
I tried not to go in with any expectations. I hoped to meet other authors and lots of readers, I hoped to sell some of my books and increase my audience, I hoped my poetry art cards (a totally new thing for me) would go over well. I suppose that has a little bit to do with the need for external validation artists sometimes have. You know, that sort of “I think this is good but I really hope someone else does too!” kind of feeling.
I’m pleased to say that my goals were more than met. Even though I didn’t get away from my table much, I did get to meet all kinds of new people — and to introduce my work to a whole new audience. I sold out completely of one title, sold quite a few of my other title, and sold about half of my art cards, so I’m calling this event a resounding success, especially considering how many writers and artists were there exhibiting that day.”
Angelique Jamail has a degree in English and Creative Writing (Poetry) from the University of Houston. After spending a few years writing nothing but poetry, she returned to the world of fiction to find that the linguistic skills, the understanding of the relationships between words, she had learned as a poet made her a much better storyteller, too. She now writes in all genres, focusing on fiction the most. The author currently resides in Texas with her family.
Jean Nicole Rivers, author of “Black Water Tales“
“I loved that [The Gulf Coast Indie Book Fair] was outside, but in a shaded area. The weather was absolutely beautiful and made for a great environment for meeting and laughing with new friends.
The crowd seemed a little smaller than usual at this festival and I think it had something to do with the fact that it was Mother’s Day weekend and perhaps everyone was home or out partaking in Mother’s Day festivities. Things like that should be taken into consideration in the future.
For these types of events my goals always just to sell some books and make some good connections and I was able to do both. I did not sell as many books as I would have liked, but I made some great connections and am already working with some of the people that I met.
My books are YA and New Adult horror/psychological thriller. The attendees at the festival varied in age, but I would have like to see more teenagers and young adults as that is the audience that likes my books best.
I have attended several other book fairs and on a scale of 1-5 this last MenilFest rated at about a 3 for me. The setting can’t be beat, it’s absolutely gorgeous, but as far as actual sales and a targeted book loving audience, it could have been better.”
Jean Nicole Rivers is a great lover of reading and writing. Although she loves varied genres, the horror/thriller genre is her favorite. Jean Nicole has been writing poetry and short stories since she was a child, but has always aspired to master the art of storytelling through novels.
Adam Holt, author of The Tully Harper Series
The highlight of my day was talking to a middle schooler who bought The Conspiracy Game with his allowance a few months ago. He was so excited get his hands on the second Tully Harper book and to see me. The feeling was mutual. Most of the events I’ve done haven’t been “book only” affairs, so all those author-reader interactions made for an energetic atmosphere.
We could use some food and drink options nearby. A food truck – or a few dozen – would have fared well on a side street.
I planned on selling a few books, but moreso I wanted to meet other authors and publishers. I’m still settling in to Houston as a city, and a big part of that is finding where I fit in the literary community here.
Do you feel the attendees of the book fair aligned with the audience for your book? Yes. My novels are coming-of-age space travel, and people in Houston, aka Space City, appreciate that more than most folks do.
This was my first time to exhibit at a book fair. I’ve generally tried to sell my books where I am the only author, preferably with a captive audience. Less competition, more sales was my rationale; however, having attended the MenilFest, my mind has changed. I’m looking forward to next year.”
Adam Holt is a Houston-based poet, novelist, and school speaker. The son of a teacher and a NASA flight manager, Adam left teaching in 2013 to devote himself to writing full time. He has since published two books in the Tully Harper Series of space travel novels. His upcoming events include reading for the Houston Public Library’s Summer Reading Series. Visit him online here.