Don't be THAT Author Some Things I've Learned at Book Festivals (Alissa Grosso)

I'm sitting at a local book festival. The author beside me has recently organized a writers' festival and has some fliers about the event at his table along with his books and bookmarks. When a fellow author at the event stops by to hand out postcards about his own book, and my neighbor hands him one of his fliers the postcard-hander-outer responds with derision.

"Are you looking for speakers?" Mr. Postcard asks.

"No, we already have a great lineup of speakers and panelists. We'll be covering a lot of writing and publishing topics and thought you might be interested," Festival Organizer says.

"I already know everything there is to know about this business," Mr. Postcard says.

Except the fact that it's a bit obnoxious to go around handing out promotional material for your own book to the other authors in attendance at the festival, I think to myself. Maybe someone like Stephen King or James Patterson knows everything there is to know, but I'm doubtful that the man desperately trying to move copies of his self-published book at a regional book festival has it all figured out.

When Mr. Postcard goes on his merry way, my neighbor leans over and says to me, "If I ever get so old that I think I have nothing left to learn, I hope someone puts me out of my misery."

In case you are also not ready to be put out of your misery here are some lessons I've learned by attending book festivals.
Some authors at a book festival. I've learned a lot from these ladies, and can personally attest that none of them would ever commit any of these faux pas.

Other Authors Are Not Potential Customers
Sadly Mr. Postcard is not the only one to have taught me this lesson. In fact, just about every book festival I've attended seems to have their own version of Mr. Postcard. While I applaud these authors for being bold and gutsy and for really, really wanting to sell copies of their books, I wish they would think about the situation a little more.

Every author who attends a book festival is there because they want to sell copies of their books. They don't come to a festival with the intention of buying books by their fellow authors. Festivals are a great time to meet, network with and share "war" stories with fellow authors. But if you are using your festival time to market your book to other attendees you are wasting your time.

I used to be a salesperson for a book distributor that sold to the library market. A couple of times a year I attended library trade shows where my company had a booth in the exhibitor hall which housed booths from other book distributors, manufacturers of library furniture, software companies, etc. I spent my time at these events talking with and attempting to make connections with potential customers, that is, librarians. I didn't waste my time pitching our services to the woman at the booth that sold the library study carrels because obviously she was not a potential customer. The difference at a book festival is that all the other exhibitors are there to sell the same exact thing you are, books.

More authors at a book festival. No Divas in sight.

Don't Be a Diva
Another day, another book festival. This one happens to be hosted by an independent bookstore. They are nice, hardworking people who have gone out of their way to make the experience a pleasant one for the authors in attendance.

One of the authors arrives. If I were to mention his name those of you in kid lit circles would recognize it, but he's not exactly a household name. He arrives at the authors lounge and pretty much the first thing he says is that he needs coffee.

There's a spread of food for the authors and coolers full of drinks. All the other authors have had no problem helping themselves, but the Diva plops himself down and waits to be served. One of the organizers pulls a bottle of iced coffee from the cooler. The Diva acts as if he's being handed radioactive waste. He absolutely must have hot coffee, but there is no coffee maker in the room.

I have to leave because I'm conducting a workshop, so I don't get to see how the rest of the coffee drama plays out, but I'd been considering buying one of the Diva's books as a gift for my nephew, and have now changed my mind.

Some authors at a book store. Please note that none of them has her nose buried in her own book.

You're Not That Great
It's a local author festival at a nearby Barnes & Noble, and there's a huge crowd of authors throughout the store. There's no rhyme or reason to our assigned spaces YA next to science fiction next to erotica next to mystery. It's a bit weird, but it means I do get to sit near authors I ordinarily wouldn't.

One of those authors whose books I have previously read and enjoyed is a few seats away from me. I think the whole event is maybe two hours long. He spends the whole time with his nose buried in a book. Okay, I think, maybe he's shy or maybe it's one of those books that you just can't put down.

Someone asks him what he's reading. He reveals that it's a copy of one of his own books.

"At least I know it will be good," he says.

Personally, I think it's a bit rude to come to an event and spend the whole time with one's nose buried in a book, but if one is in a large bookstore that's filled with a diverse assortment of books and you choose to read one of your own and make pompous remarks, people will notice. Maybe even the YA author who used to enjoy reading your books, but hasn't picked one up since that night.

Chances are if you're reading this, you probably know all this. It's common sense. Unfortunately the Mr. Postcards of the world will not bother to read this post because they already know everything and so the rest of us will have to put up with their annoying behavior.


  1. Actually, some authors will buy other authors' books at festivals and bookstore events, but that's a bonus--it's much appreciated, but not something that should be expected or solicited. It's just not possible to buy every book of every fellow author, and I'm really honored when anyone buys one of mine.

    1. I try to buy books from authors I meet, too. Gives the reading experience a whole new dimension, doesn't it?


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