Brian McClellan, an author I knowest not but seems like a decent fellow, wrote a post the other day about the economics of book festivals -- from an author's perspective.
The event itself was six and a half hours, and we were asked to be there a half hour early. The drive from my house was an hour and a half each way. That's ten hours of my time. It was a 78 mile drive each way, at an assumed 25MPG, at an assumed $3/gallon of gas for a cost of $18.72 in gas money (which is tax deductible).The question he has, the same as many authors, is whether going to a book fair as an author makes economic sense. My take is that being an author doesn't make economic sense, but what do I know? Some folks make a living doing this writing stuff. Good on 'em, I say.
I made $9.08 in profit over ten hours. $.91 an hour. So, uh, not looking so good for the use of our time is it?
The travel to the festival. The time spent at the folding table in the tent. The hotel. The eating. The buying of a nice shirt. This stuff adds up. And if you're getting a couple bucks for each hardback you sell, then you have to sell about 750 books just to cover the hotel and the nice shirt.
Brian McClellan does a quick and dirty breakdown in his post.
If you're going to a book fair to make money, you'll probably want to come at it from a more sophisticated angle than I do, which is, you know, pretty much just the showing up.
You'll need to schedule readings around the fair itself, I'd think. Maybe a radio interview. Maybe a group reading with some other folks one of the off-nights. I dunno. Merchandise? Get a cool saying from your book and put it on a mug and then sell the mug in the parking lot. Hell, I don't know. The internet probably has someone going on and on about "The 23 Things You Need To Do At A Book Fair To Earn Your Keep." Your Google-Fu is probably good enough to find it. Have fun.
That said, I use the Being An Author thing as a good excuse to get to places. I've been to book fairs and festivals to read, and it's swell to have been invited and I muchly appreciate that. The thing I really dig, though, is getting to see other authors and getting books signed and hanging out with folks around the edges of the festivals for dinner and bar talk and all.
This past weekend I was a the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge. I read from a story called "South of Bradley," which is scheduled to appear next year in Playboy. That was great because I got to see some friends I hadn't seen in a long time and catch up for, well, not long, but still. And then my lovely bride and I were able to have dinner with some nice authors and their families. And we were able to spend some time with my family eating shrimp po-boys and drinking cafe au lait (made correctly) and travel around the area. And, at the fair itself, I was able to buy a stack of books from some great authors, meet them, have the books signed, trade stories and contact info, and on and on.
I had a great time at the Baton Rouge festival and would recommend it to anyone who digs books. Sign up for next year when you can.
Was it expensive? Damn right it was. Did I make that money back? Hell no, I did not.
A friend of mine asked me who the book festivals are for, if not for writers. Again, hell if I know. Who makes the money? At the Louisiana Book Festival, a team of folks worked their butts off VOLUNTEERING to make the event a success. Heck, they didn't even make the two bucks a book, you know? Barnes and Noble had the book tent there and sold, by my estimation, 17,237,863 book on Saturday. And I bought 14 of those. The food tent people? I paid seven bucks for a cup of jambalaya, so I'm sure they did fine.
So for me, the question isn't whether it makes financial sense to go. Does Bouchercon make financial sense? Can you put a price on networking? (If you can, email LinkedIn. They'd like to know.)
If you're looking to make money, authoring is a tough way to do it. I mean, I love ya as an author. We can hang out and talk shop after. I'll buy your book and you'll make two dollars from it. That's cool. But going to a book fair to sell books doesn't usually make economic sense for an author whose name isn't Evanovich or Child or Rowling or Charbonneau. You want to make money at a book fair? Sell shrimp po-boys. You'd make a killing of me alone.