A View From Tracy's Point
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Or Bust? What exactly does that mean? I’ve seen it on signs held by hitch-hackers along America’s highways, “California or bust,” “New York or bust,” etc. If you know the meaning please let me know…LOL
Yours truly did not make it to the National Black Book Festival (NBBF). I know, I know, it was on my calendar as an upcoming event. I even posted it on Facebook and Twitter, but somewhere along the way I lost my desire to attend and opted to stay home. When I first heard about NBBF last year I thought, wow, this looks exciting. Unfortunately, by the time I learned of the event they had already sold-out of spots, so I placed it on my to-do list for 2010. And sure enough, when entries opened I was in line for the early bird special. But a lot has happened since then, in terms of experience and knowledge gained. So when I joined the NBBF Facebook page and several authors messaged me after seeing it on my wall, I had to rethink things. I know that someone elses experience does not have to be my experience; and that events of this magnitude take time to grow and these people may have attended the event while in its infancy. But nevertheless, if they took the time to share their experience, I at least needed to absorb their messages.
As the event drew closer and I began to weigh the actual cost of attending and the likelihood that I wouldn't recoup my expenses ($225-event fee; $375-airfare; $350-hotel; + incidentals), that nagging feeling I have been having about such events began to weigh on me. In the end, what I believe was my better judgment won out and I decided not to attend. To cut my losses at the $225 entry fee and wish everyone in attendance my very best.
Since I chose not to attend the NBBF I have no opinion about it, good, bad, or indifferent. Instead, I will use this journal entry to submit, what I hope are useful tips to anyone out there who isn’t sure if they should be investing money into attending these type events and how to set realistic expectations if they decide to do so.
One of the most valuable tidbits I have read on being an independent author (IA) was in an article I came across recently. A writer sharing her experience as a self-published author (SPA) stated that a good measure for a self-published book is 5,000 copies sold within the first year and the vast majority should be sold within a 250 mile radius of the city in which you reside…if you cannot sell your book in your own backyard, why would you think you could fly around the country and sell it to people who have no real vested interest in your success. Ouch! When I think about it, it makes sense. No one outside my community (other than family and friends) have said, “I want to support you because you’re local,” “Someone is going to put St. Pete on the map,” or “Give me your number because my book club loves supporting local writers.” Also, the calls I have received to participate in upcoming events or speak at different clubs or organizations have all come from within Florida. Now I am not saying I will never participate in book events or festivals outside Florida, but I will be very selective about those events and my reasoning will have nothing to do with hopes of selling a bunch of books or making connections that may propel my career.
Before committing to participate in an event be serious with yourself and set realistic expectations.
• Expectations: What is your reason for attending the event? Is it to sell books, network with other authors, make connections, or just to visit a city you’ve never been to before?
o Do you really understand how many books you would need to sell to recoup your fees, 10, 20, 50, 100? Can you sell that number in your own community within a weekend? Have you ever done it?
o Are there writing groups, book clubs, seminars, etc in your area that will provide you with the same networking opportunities?
o What connections are you trying to make and do you have realistic expectations as to what the connection will do for you? Do you think that person is going to sign you, critique your book, or introduce you to someone who will make you an offer you can’t refuse. Can you get the same result by querying the person first?
• Cost: Is the entry fee reasonable and are you clear on what it encompasses? How much will you pay in travel, i.e. airfare, hotel, meals, rental car, gas, meals, parking, and incidentals? Will you be satisfied if after all the bills are totaled you haven’t made back your money, had a chance to make connections, and the networking experience wasn’t worth your time or money?
o A trip to an event can easily reach $1000 or more if you are traveling into the designated city.
o There are no guarantees that you will sell 1 book, let alone the number needed to recoup what has been paid out.
o Let’s face it, a lot of these events use the fees paid by paying attendees (the vendors) to cover the cost of bringing in featured speakers. If they are speaking while you’re off in another room trying to sell your books, chances are not too many connections will be made, unless of course you pay to attend their workshops, etc. You may also get a quick hello, or even a picture, but not a real sit down one-on-one conversation.
• Research: Other than the event appearing to be the place to be, what do you actually know about it? Who are the organizers, what is their expertise, how did they get to where they are, what is their business plan, financial structure, and other credentials; and what are they offering you besides a 6 ft table? What are others saying about past events? What do you need to learn or take-away from the various seminars and workshops and speakers, and why do you need this information? Other than names you’ve seen everywhere on the internet how can these people benefit you on your journey. Are they saying something that is so insightful in person that you couldn’t get it by doing a Google search and accessing it from the comfort of your home?
Simple things that can save you from registering for a bad event:
• Ask prior participants to share their experience. Find out who participated (as a paid vendor) the prior year and then compare the list to current year vendors. Have any of them been elevated from vendor to featured guest? If there aren’t too many repeat performers then chances are the event may be more fluff than substance.
• Is the majority of returning vendors local residents? Remember, it only costs them the entry fee and think about the author I mentioned above…you should be selling and building relationships within a 250 mile radius of your home.
• Utilize Google. Search for media on the event. Not just press releases sent out by the event planners, or plugs committee members have posted on various sites, but local newspapers, radio stations, televisions, etc that wrote about past events and the upcoming event.
• Google the event under images. See if any come up under Flcker or other photo services. You are more likely to find pictures taken by patrons and vendors on these sites. View the pictures carefully and note how many are of patrons at the tables of vendors learning about their books and supporting them.
• Do Not be the advertising outlet for events. Keep in mind, if you are not from the area, telling people on your Facebook and Twitter pages that you will be participating at this event is not good advertising if they do not live in that area.
• Do you know someone who lives in the city of the event? Do you have a way to determine if your Facebook and Twitter contacts live in the city of the event? Ask them what the buzz is, have they attended in the past or plan to attend the upcoming event. Ask them to ask people they know the same questions.
• If the event is featured on Facebook or Twitter go through the list of people who have connected with the group and see how many are actually from the area where the event will take place. I think we are all guilty of joining pages ‘just because’ and having absolutely no interest in its content. How many of the “friends” are actually posting on the page that they are excited about attending, or making connections with the “vending” authors who have posted information on the page.
Hope you found this information beneficial and if you have more points to add, please do so. I do not proclaim to be an expert but I have absorbed so much in the short time I’ve been on this journey. I have had to shift gears and go in new directions several times. There are many traps set for new authors because people recognize our hunger and prey on our inexperience. Others believe they have the right recipe to prevent what happened to them from happening to others but at the end of the day you have to do you. But once you determine where you’re trying to go, don’t rely on GPS but believe in yourself enough to plan your own journey.
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