First Rule of Book Fairs: Read the Body Language

Sometimes it's best to let your work speak for itself.

Sometimes it’s best to let your work speak for itself.

When someone approaches your booth at a book fair, do you?

Read the cues, enjoy the sales.

Read the cues, enjoy the sales.

A: Greet them and back off.

B: Load them up with book cards, candy or other tchotchkes (defined by Urban Dictionary as “something a burglar wouldn’t steal.”)

C: Quickly engage them in conversation that leads to a sales pitch.

Okay, it’s a trick question, in that the smart strategy is to observe a moment of silence and quickly assess body language. Some browsers want to read your signs and posters. Some want to test the heft of your book. And some want to shake your hand, look in your eyes, and hear the pitch right away.

Your visitors will come in all sizes, so it’s silly to think you can tailor one approach that fits all. A few observations:

Dial It Back, Pal: I once saw an author post himself in front of a booth and nearly accost every person who walked by. “May I give you a bookmark?” he’d say like Forrest Gump. If the kind person accepted, he took it as a green light to pitch his book. Other nearby authors at this book fair wanted to vote him off the island.

Takeaway: Leave the hard sell to those who peddle mattresses and used cars. Readers expect and deserve a more thoughtful approach.

Opposite Bookends: At a recent book fair, I found myself between a woman with a wondrous way of turning new friends into new readers, and the most subdued author I’ve ever seen in public. This guy had good stuff on his table, but he sat behind his table for hours, rarely smiled, and didn’t say a word unless someone spoke to him first.

Takeaway: Think about the negative cues you may be sending to thousands of potential readers who can stop and talk or keep walking. Show some energy.

Time and Space: A guy stopped by my booth. No smile, no hello. He picked up my book, looked over the cover and read the back. I stayed quiet. He thumbed through the pages, looked at me, and then back at the book. “Anything I can tell you about the story?” I offered after a couple of minutes. He said no, reached for his money, and gave me a warm handshake before walking off.

Takeaway: As much as you may want to share the story of your story, sometimes people want to be left alone. Give them their time and space.

Anyone else have a booth story to share? Oh, and here are some pix from a recent festival.

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2 Comments so far »

  1. Caleb Pirtle said,

    Wrote on May 21, 2013 @ 11:45 am

    Steve: I would love to publish this blog on Venture Galleries. If it’s okay, please send a copy of the word document to Thanks.


    Steve Piacente Reply:

    Sure thing, Caleb, will get you a copy tonight. Run whenever it works for you. And thanks!


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