I’m slightly shy.
Depending on the context, I can clamp up or crawl out of my shell. Therefore, sitting under a humid 6′ x 12′ tent, and watching book lovers pass by, is a situation I would usually avoid. “All the more reason,” I told myself before submitting an application to the Miami Book Fair International. I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone and I’m so glad I did.
This past Sunday was a “first” for me. I have had a few author events but nothing a kin to a book fair or convention. At my earlier book events, the host called attention to me and for me. In a book fair scenario, the author needs to be able to call attention to themselves.
Like many good things, it started in the microwave line at work. The rare book specialist at the museum asked if I would be in the Miami Book Fair. “No… But I want to,” I replied. After doing some brief research over a cappuccino, I signed up for a “Writers Row Author Booth.” It was both a financial and emotional commitment. More than that, I knew a book fair would be the type of venue that required me to be bold as well as offer the opportunity to engage with potential readers in a completely new way.
The Miami Book Fair International has become part of the city’s cultural fabric as well as a venue for thousands of writers and readers to gather in downtown Miami. Throughout the weekend, over 250 publishers and booksellers exhibit their gems or favorite reads. The city blocks off several streets to allow more than 450 authors to lead readings, signings, theater pop-ups, lectures, round tables, and hands-on art making activities.
The last day of the book fair, I woke up feeling restless. I was a jumble of nerves trying to keep a positive outlook and redirect my uneasiness into excitement. Once I picked up my registration packet and chose my booth, I started to feel more relaxed. After about two hours of arranging a suitcase, books, postcards, chalkboards, and paper flowers, I tried to focus on what I needed to say to fairgoers.
The author next to me was decidedly more extroverted and assertive in her “sales pitch” than I was. As the first few people trickled in, they barely glanced at me. I realized that more than a cute set-up, I needed to give them information and let them know they did not need to talk to me if they too were shy. I erased one chalkboard and added some keywords about my book. Once the words “Historical fiction,” “Leonardo,” “Art,” and “Florence” looked out on to the street, people began to slow down to read them and really look at Lost in the City of Flowers.
I spent the rest of the eight hours trying to encapsulate my book’s plot into a sentence or two. The conversations usually started with readers taking a postcard and then asking, “So what’s your book about?” With measured passion, I would say, “It’s about a girl who time travels to the Renaissance, and becomes an apprentice in the same workshop as the young Leonardo da Vinci.” Usually, their brow would slightly raise when hearing Leonardo’s name.
What got me through the day, and made it so fun, wasn’t only talking with readers but the courage my friends and loved ones gave me. Several familiar faces came by just to say “Hi!” or to supply me with a constant flow of caffeine and encouragement. I am so grateful for those that came and sweated it out with me under my blue tent. An extra big thank you to authors Autumn Doughton and Varian Wolf who passed on their wise words of wisdom.
The advice I can offer to other self-published authors that consider participating in an event like this is, presentation matters. Presenting your books in an appealing but informative way is integral to any interaction. Most importantly, present yourself in a way that is true to you. Only you can genuinely explain your passion, no one else can do it for you. The author next to me had a more assertive style that just was not me. Once I discovered my way, which was just to be welcoming and warm, conversation flowed naturally.
If you have any specific questions about my experience, don’t be shy! Feel free to ask away. I hope this inspires some of you to try something new and crawl a bit out of your shell.