Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Marketing, Desert Style: Tucson Festival of Books 2013

A book festival is always fun. You get to meet so many interesting authors. This time I trekked to Tucson, AZ, for the Tucson Festival of Books. This was the fourth year for the event and even with below normal temperatures and a brisk wind, the attendance was close to 80,000 for the two days.

Even though I have been to many gatherings like this, being a veteran of Comdex and the LA Book festival among many, I was anxious to visit my first Tucson festival.

My goal was to talk to as many authors as I could to expand my list of HBS Author’s Spotlight candidates and to see how the authors were trying to sell their books and themselves.

There were over 400 authors, I was told, with about 20% being in the Romance and Mystery genre.

One of the first booths I came upon had one of my Spotlight crew, R.P. Dahlke and Mystery writer Terry Ambrose. That was the start of a fun day.

Stumble Upon

I quickly found out that my work was cut out for me. You literally had to stumble upon an author. If you had a task of talking to Mystery Writers, you had a big challenge. They were scattered everywhere and so were the readers, 55,000 that Sunday.

The authors were divided into two types of booths. There were three Author pavilions with authors sitting at tables with their books and sales pitch in hand. And there were exhibitor booths with affiliated authors signing at scheduled times.

Author’s Goals

When you attend an event like a book festival, you should have a set of goals going in like selling your book AND getting the reader/prospects to look further after they leave. If you sparked their interest, they will check your book out online. They may even tell someone else about meeting you.

A book festival requires a different approach than a regular book signing at a bookstore, to be sure.

I asked Author Terry Ambrose about his approach.

“The great thing about the Tucson Festival of Books is that there are readers everywhere you look. In a book signing, the readers come specifically to see you, so your audience is composed primarily of those you know directly or peripherally. At an event like the book festival, you're meeting new readers whom you never would have met had you not gone to that event.”

Observations - Sales Tools

Let’s take a look at what I observed while I made my rounds talking to the various authors. I will start with the sales tools. Allow me to jump ahead of myself. When I got home I went through all the literature I picked up. I thought it would be fun to give credit to the top item in each category of the sales items. This should be a shopping list for authors attending book events.

Business Cards

The cards ranged from 4-color quality cards with cover pictures to computer stickers on cardboard to none at all. One author said he forgot them. My top card of all the cards I received was from:

Darrell James for Nazareth Child


Most of the bookmarks were professionally done with covers, review snips and contact information. Why in the world would you go to the expense of creating a bookmark without contact information but I saw that also. I had a tie in my little contest on this one:

Sharon Skinner for The Healer’s Legacy and Susan Oleksiw for Anita Ray Mysteries

Post cards

Most of the post cards had copies of the author’s book covers. All the authors who had them had done professional jobs. My top picks came out in a draw again:

Terry Ambrose for License to Lie and Todd Borg for Tahoe Trap


I saw several flyers on colored stock. This was something that I thought I would see more of. There is so much area (letter size) to get your message across. Besides, the cost factor is a plus. My top pick here was:

Betty Webb for The Llama of Death

Display Banners

Most of the banners were bland, I thought. The one that really caught my eye was my top pick for this category:

All Mystery e-Newletter (See banner below)


There were lots of books with great covers. The authors were more than willing to sign a purchased copy. There were too many really good ones to pick here. One author even gave me a copy of her book after I introduced myself.

Thanks so much Katherine Monk for giving me your book Joni. @katherinemonk

Sign Displays

The same great quality was displayed here, also with cover blowups. It was hard to pick one here too.


Here was my biggest surprise of the event. I was confronting authors at their sales point. I talked to a lot of authors with mixed responses. Some had long pitches, some had none.

A book festival is more than signing a book. It is a sales opportunity for than and in the future. The most effective pitch was the short, quick one, in my opinion. With that many readers in one area, a long pitch surely lost some opportunities.

I asked Author Terry Ambrose, a veteran of the festival, about his festival pitch?

“[Long ago I] learned the importance of the hook. Depending upon the reader, the author has on average 10-15 seconds to describe their book and get the reader interested. I have three different opening lines that I'll use depending on the question I get from the potential reader.”

One of my observations was that almost none of the authors qualified me. They saw a live one, and there were many at the festival, and jumped right into their sales pitch. We are talking 55,000 people on Sunday.

How about these questions? Do you read Mysteries? Do you like Suspense?

As I saw, there was a variety of people at the festival. You had readers. You know people that love to read. And then you had tire kickers. There were people who were there for a good time but were not buyers. Note: Tire Kickers sometimes buy books and a good impression will last.

There was a lot of foot traffic and the authors needed to work the prospects. Talk to them. Socialize with everyone. Hand them a copy of your book. Here take a look? You never know.

My Takeaway Ideas

Idea 1
After observing a trash can filled with Author’s literature and plastic bags, I had a flash back to my Comdex days. I had learned a lesson there. Give your prospect something of value. Something they won’t throw away. Not expensive stuff. Maybe a pin with your book title, your name and web address or twitter tag. How about a pad of paper, hotel type, with your book title, your name and contact information?

Idea 2
This looked like a perfect place to offer free ebooks to reader. If you can have Amazon give away your ebook for 5 days, why not give the attendees a shot at it. If you make this a primary objective, give your prospect an opportunity at one of your ebooks. If they like your work, they will buy your other books.

Idea 3
Because of the loose organization of the festival, the reader/prospects really had to do 'on the spot research' to find out what genre the author was selling. Have a name plate made up and place it on the table beside you. Something like: Mystery Writer - James Moushon – the Jonathon Stone Mysteries.

Prospects who weren't looking for Mysteries would move on but others might stop. Qualify. Qualify. Qualify.

At the end of the day

So I needed to ask a veteran of the Tucson festival what she thought of the event. Rebecca Dahlke responded with this:

“As for the Festival audience, it was wonderful! People come prepared to buy books, and aren't afraid of trying new authors. Anyone who can pitch a book to a reader surely sold some books at this event.

This year, I concentrated on ‘pitching’ All Mystery e-newsletter to new readers instead of selling my books:

I had authors, Terry Ambrose and Clark Lohr in my booth with me, and bad weather on Saturday didn't keep people from buying books. The guys sold multiple copies both days, and I think they would consider it a successful weekend!”

So a good time was had by all. I hope there were lots of books sold and relationships formed.

One last word for authors. You never know who you’ll meet at the show and what that relationship will mean to you. The passerby could be a buyer, a tire kicker or they just may be someone who will write an article about you for a magazine or the Internet.

Related Articles:

eBook Marketing: Include Live Contact Information in Your eBook
eBook Marketing: How Do You Target Your Reading Audience

Follow me:

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Or visit my blog: The eBook Author Corner
Take a look at my Author’s blog: HBS Author’s Spotlight
And the HBS Mystery Readers’s Circle

Check out the Jonathon Stone Mystery Novels:
Call Off The Dogs

Or newly released
Black Mountain Secrets


  1. Thanks James for the great coverage. By the way, the long pitch for LICENSE TO LIE is "with $5 million and their lives on the line, can a determined criminologist and a beautiful con artist learn to trust each other—or themselves."