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Forum Home > The Journey > Miami Book Fair International...Big Crowds Bad Location

Tracy L Darity
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The byline read: ‘From humble beginnings as a two-day fair in 1986, the Miami Book Fair International has grown into an event of international acclaim that features renowned authors and celebrities.’ The same article goes on to state that the now weeklong event will be at the Wolfson Campus of Miami Dade College; and boasts attendance of 225,000 people each year. Sounds exciting? You bet!

 

Normally, when I venture into an event I have little expectations, but for the MBFI, I was pumped up and ready to get my grind on. The street fair, which I was participating in, ran the final three days of the week-long festival. It was being held on a college campus and in the middle of downtown Miami. To keep costs down, I chose to share a booth with another author, which can be a risk since you don’t get to choose the author or know their identity until you arrive to set-up. Our banner was missing, so the reveal was delayed a little while longer. Leading up to the event communication with the organizers was very professional. We received numerous emails walking us through the process, letting exhibitors know when to arrive, where to park, and what section we would be located in. For a returning vendor I am sure there were no surprises but for the newbie, like me, the illustrations and maps turned out to be a little misleading.

 

Meet the Neighbors. Arriving at Miami Dade College was easy enough. I was elated to see the Marriott, where I would be staying, only blocks away. I could have walked if I wanted to—of course I didn’t. Getting into the fair was a task. It must be a hidden rule somewhere that downtown logistics must be as confusing and difficult as possible. With one-way streets and early lane closures, I found it virtually impossible to reach my destination by car; even if I could see it right in front of me. After a brief call to organizers, I was instructed to park and walk. A 30 minute journey to the ninth floor of the parking garage and a 5 minute wait for the elevator didn’t leave me discouraged. The already large crowd an hour before the event was to start was a good sign. Fast forward past registration, the helpful volunteer who showed me to my booth, and a couple of trips to the car to unload my things; I finally met my booth-mate. Her name was Kristie Cook, author of the Soul Savers Series, which includes her debut novel, Promise. Kristie was accompanied by her two close friends and business partners, Lisa and Chrissi. All three ladies were very personable, entertaining, and we all gelled quite nicely.

 

What’s a Kabbalah! Location is a huge part of the game if you are going to be successful in an event of this magnitude. A lesson we quickly learned. My first red flag was when I hurried behind the volunteer who showed me to my booth. The main streets of the festival were wide, with entrances at both ends of the block. As we journeyed down the main street, we either had to exit the fair or cut beside and behind an end booth to get onto NE Third Street, which was my section. The sun seemed to dim a bit and the road narrowed. As I walked along I was handed literature on Buddhism, Islam, Bhakti-yoga, and noted an array of exhibitors dealing with religion, spirituality, schools, self-help and unique publishing houses. Somehow an author offering contemporary fiction didn’t seem a good fit amongst these titles. At the opposite end of our dead-pan alley was the children’s section which opened up to a courtyard with various festive activities, and ultimately led to the food-court, another wide, bright, street that commanded the attention of visitors.

Kid's Day... As with the Zora Neale-Hurston Festival in Orlando, Friday was Kid’s Day. Children were treated to a fun filled day of literature, theatre, popular characters, and much more. I think this is a great opportunity to expose kids to books. Although I didn’t meet them on Kid’s Day, I had the opportunity to meet the non-profit organization Urgent Inc, which based on their website is doing good things in the Miami area. Kid’s Day was well-organized and the children seemed genuinely happy to be there. I commend the teacher’s and parents who take the time to chaperone children to field trips, which are starting to be a thing of the past in a lot of school districts.

 

Excuse me but are you Bernice McFadden? Even when things aren’t going exactly the way you plan, there still can be a silver lining. In my case, it was meeting one of my favorite authors, Bernice McFadden, whose novels include Glorius, Sugar, Warmest December, and Saving Donovan. Ms. McFadden brought to two, the number of “high caliber” authors I had heard of at the event; the other being former president George Bush, who was on program earlier in the week. Imagine, 300 authors and I had only heard of two…wow. 

 

I can’t say that MBFI was a wash, because I did make sales; handed out tons of promotional pieces, some, that have since turned into sales; had an Asian woman approach me to say she had read He Loves Me He Loves Me Not! after seeing an ad on Facebook, and really enjoyed it—now her sister was reading it; meeting the mother of a Literary Agent out of New York, who shared with me the struggles that everyone in the publishing industry is facing these days; and meeting new authors like Kristie and Gladys Lawson, as well as hundreds of well-wishers (in particular, the lady who wanted to pray for my endurance because she wanted to encourage me to stay on course to see where my journey would take me).

 

Location played a huge part in my experience at the festival but I still learned a few things about maneuvering the book festival circuit.

  • Book festivals of this nature may be good for author appearances but not necessarily for authors selling books. The big winners, from what I could see were the discount book sellers with prices at $5 or less; and the fair-goers who held out to the last hours of the festival and picked up freebies from publishing houses that didn’t want to ship their books back. Oh, did I mention the tiniest books in the world? These people were set-up in every section and people flocked to them in droves, especially the kids.
  • Although you may land a great booth-mate, it is really best to have your own booth. Kristie and I write in different genres, so at times it was confusing as we pitched our books to people who stopped by. Some peopledidn't even realize there were two authors in our booth.  Having your own booth gives you more room and total creativity over your set-up. With two separate themes going on, at times we only captured the eye of on-coming traffic.  Although we were given a really nice vinyl banner, it is totally useless because we had to cut it in half at the end of the event….okay, I probably wouldn’t have used it again anyway.
  • Always ask about logistics. If the organizer can’t guarantee you that at the very least, you will be in a section that reflects the genre of book you are selling, it may be best to pass on the opportunity. Not everyone who attends festivals do so with the intention of buying something, so not only are you competing with booksellers for the dollars of those who intend on buying, but you end up fighting an uphill battle to pull in those just trying to get from point A to point B, and just happened to use point E as the connector.
  • Even though reading stretches beyond race, creed, religion, and sex, it doesn’t mean that your intended audience will be amongst the promoted hundred’s of thousands of visitors. MBFI was held on a college campus, but college students didn’t appear to partake in the event, other than as volunteers. Miami is a large melting pot of cultures, but for the most part those of African descent represented a very small percentage of the crowd. Miami is known for its large Cuban and Haitian populations but there was a large European presence, which made this a truly International event. I guess I can now boast that my books appeal to a widely diverse audience.

My weekend in Miami was relaxing and much needed. The Miami Book Fair International is a book lovers dream. If you are looking for anything in particular, oropen to something new, I am sure it could be found there. I did take several opportunities to walk around and enjoy the fair. Maybe I will participate again in the future if I can get a guarantee of better placement. Until the next time…

 

Much Love,

 

Tracy

 

Tracy L. Darity is the author of He Loves Me He Loves Me Not! and Love…Like Snow In Florida on a Hot Summer Day. Her on-line travel journal is a personal account of her experience selling her novels at various fairs, expos, and festival’s. For more information visit: www.TracyLDarity.com.

December 15, 2010 at 4:55 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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