Authors & Book Festivals: Is the ROI worth it?

Last week author Hope Clark suggested (in print! in public!) that book festivals might not really be all that great for authors.

Having worked a couple of festivals myself, I’ve thought the same thing.

Book festivals obviously are fun for the attendees—lots of people show up. Festivals probably are great for boosting the sponsors’ community outreach numbers, too. I wonder, though, just how cost-effective they are for the author in terms of sales, visibility, and networking v. the time and energy invested in prep work, travel time, and being there.

My most recent book festival experience was last year at a local college. The table I helped staff was halfway down a long corridor that branched off another corridor that led to the area where the main events took place. If memory serves, a whopping three non-staff people stopped by during my shift. I was there on behalf of a writer organization but the people at other tables in the corridor were authors hoping to sell their books. They had similar numbers of visitors, and zero sales. I’m told that Saturday was a little better, but Sunday was dead, too.

Admittedly, my own experience is limited to a statistically insignificant sample, and and I’m sure the location of our table was factor in the poor experience. I also suspect there are festivals out there that are more author-friendly. However, Hope Clark has a lot of experience with author events of all kinds, and her column echoing my own thoughts led me to wonder if anyone, anywhere, has done a Return on Investment (ROI) study to see if these events make sense for authors. While it’s nice to be recognized as a Local Author, warm feelies don’t pay the phone bill. There are more effective, less time-intensive ways to increase your local visibility and network with other writers than a festival.

It seems to me there’s a master’s thesis in here somewhere, or at least a survey one of the larger writer organizations could take on. Hard data sure would be helpful for planning one’s marketing strategy.

If you’re an author—or a reader who goes to these things—what has been your experience with festivals and other big-buncha-authors events? What works for you? What doesn’t?

If you missed the link to Hope’s newsletter in the first paragraph, click here. Scroll down one screen for the discussion in the “Editor’s Thoughts” column, just below the ad. Subscribe to her newsletter while you’re at it—it’ll show up in your email inbox late Friday afternoon (depending on your time zone) and it’s a great inspiration for weekend writing.

© 2014 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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11 Responses to Authors & Book Festivals: Is the ROI worth it?

  1. Marcia says:

    I have a feeling a lot of what we do as authors hasn’t much ROI. I entered, if that’s the right term, the Fox Cities Book Festival one year. It was well attended, and I sold a few copies. I met Janet Halfmann for the first time there, and reconnected with the children’s department person at B&N, so that was nice. I think everybody around me sold a few copies. Maybe I made $20 total after expenses. Don’t really remember, but I doubt it was more than that. I think we keep trying because doing nothing doesn’t work either — and, as in many of these things, the networking ends up being the most valuable aspect.

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    • Anne Bingham says:

      I’d say that reconnecting with a B&N buyer would give a nice little bump to the ROI percentage, Marcia! I’m not equating the worth of an event by the sales, although that’s certainly the most measurable result. A good conversation with someone who has a mutual interest–you to sell your book, a bookstore buyer to find a product that will enhance his/her department’s bottom line–could do a lot more in the long term for your career than that $20 profit (which on an hourly basis would be…oh, let’s not even go there).

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  2. judybridges says:

    Hi Anne! I think you’re right in the strict terms of ROI, but there are other returns. I go to the festivals if I’m on the program, or there’s another program I want to attend, or a cause I want to support, or it looks like so much fun I can’t stand to stay away. Sitting at a table makes me crazy anyway. If I was doing it just for the money, I’d rather wait tables.

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    • Anne Bingham says:

      Judy, I was speaking primarily from the point of view of the person who does sit at a table, for long periods of time. You make a good observation that there’s more than one way to skin a book festival. The craft-fair approach of sitting at a booth and hoping someone stops by isn’t the only way an author can participate.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. mirkabreen says:

    I’m of the old school, that is the one doesn’t think authors (save the celebrity and mega-sellers) can do all that much to publicize, while publishers can do a whole lot. But the paradigm is shifting away from publishers (literally= the business of making public & publicity) to writers expected to haul ourselves and our wares everywhere.
    And Marcia is right- doing nothing doesn’t help either. So why not have some fun? These events are enjoyable for many. Not great sales vehicle. But the way I see it, meeting lively people can be an inspiration for a story. Anything for inspiration.

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    • Anne Bingham says:

      Mirka, thanks for stopping by. I know that you’ve done a number of events to celebrate/promote The Voice of Thunder–have any of them been mass gatherings or have they all been solo/small-group-of-author signings?

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      • mirkabreen says:

        I’ve done both. The sales figures for my book were larger in solo events, but they were a different animal- bot as much fun. (Just my opinion.) In either, the actual sales were not so large as to be consequential in the larger picture.
        I maintain that these promotions are really for the super-celebrity author. We are just getting a taste of what it’s like to do the show. 😉

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  4. I’ve had a great time participating in author festivals from small to big. At the largest one (over 100 authors) I’ll admit I didn’t sell many copies, but I made several valuable publicity contacts and it’s always fun to talk with other book lovers.

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  5. annastan says:

    As others have said, I’m not sure they’re a monetary win (unless you’re a BIG name) but they tend to be fun, and you never know what kinds of connections you can make. That said, if they’re taking time away from other things then I think it’s okay to say no.

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