I occasionally receive orders for books that authors plan to sell at book fairs. Unfortunately, in almost every case, the authors are sorely disappointed in the resulting sales.
Authors assume that thousands of people are coming to a book fair to buy books. While that may be true, the sad fact is most of them probably plan to visit the fair to see the one or two celebrity authors who may be holding a signing, or to hear a speaker (who is also an author) on a specific topic. Also, some people go to book fairs, decide what they want to read, and then borrow the book(s) from the library, or buy them used. Some people do buy new books at book fairs, but they usually don’t buy a ton. It’s not like a flea market, where you see people walk in empty-handed and then walk out with bags of stuff they’ve purchased (though at book fairs they might walk out with a bunch of freebies – business cards from authors, magnets, etc.).
Once, an author wanted to order several hundred copies of her book for a book fair. She assumed, since more than 1,000 people were expected, that she could expect to sell books to at least half of them. Before processing the order, I told her what I’m telling you now. She cut her order down to 100 copies. I told her I still thought that was too many, but she was insistent. She ended up selling less than 10 books at the fair.
Here’s the honest truth. Book Fairs don’t generate a ton of sales for unknown authors. Unless you’re very well-known (either nationally or locally), you can expect to sell perhaps a handful of books at a book fair, if any. Your book will be competing with numerous other titles for the visitors’ attention. Authors go to book fairs thinking people are going to be lining up to buy all the books there. It just doesn’t happen that way.
I, personally, would never try to sell books at a book fair. I can generate more sales by doing online marketing tasks at home (and spend less money while being home with my children and husband) than I can trying to attract attention from people who are surrounded by hundreds or thousands of different books. I save time and money and, most importantly, I don’t have to squeeze into a pair of pantyhose.
That said, if you come up with a gimmick for the book fair that will get tongues wagging and the press talking about your book/you, you might sell a few more than a handful.