Barnes and Noble Bookfair Fundraiser - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly


I recently had a wonderful invitation to come and read Poster Girl at a Barnes & Noble bookfair hosted by Change 1 Child in Brooklyn. A book reading and signing at Barnes & Noble in New York, how cool does that sound?

I asked the Change 1 Child organizer, Simone, if they would be interested in me bringing some of my leaf sheets with the small crayon packs of orange, red and yellow crayons, so that kids could color autumn leaves while I read my story (which has an autumn leaf theme).

Sure, but would I be able to bring enough for as many as 200 children, because they had given the bookfair information out to teachers and were expecting a big turnout.

200? Yes, I could do that.

Thursday May 14, I took the train down to New York (carting 200 color sheets and crayon packs neatly stuffed into a giant laptop bag) and managed to get on the correct subway and to the event in plenty of time.

Simone showed me the area they were planning on having authors and storytellers present at — right by the front of the store. The kids who were here were currently upstairs by the children’s book section. Indeed when I went up to use the bathroom (also upstairs) I noticed a number of school-age kids sitting on the ground, since all the cushy chairs were filled (there are usually less cushy chairs in the kids section anyway).

It turned out I was the first author or storyteller and Simone said they would make an announcement when I began reading. Only this was a learning experience for Change 1 Child also and what we all learned is that you are not allowed to ’round up’ or announce that ‘it is now story time downstairs’ or approach customers to try and get them to take any action. So…. what this meant was I began reading to a very small handful of people, mostly moms with toddlers (my book is really for the school age crowd), and some bookstore and Change 1 Child volunteers.

This was a tough audience because it is not my story’s target audience. When I began reading one second grade girl and her mom sat down (the only portion of those listening who are my target audience). But the show must go on, right?

My audience was polite and sympathetic (at least the moms), but it was not what I hoped for. After I read the book and answered a few questions, “Where do you get ideas for stories?” and “Can you tell us a bit about writing the book?”, my time slot was up.

Since I wasn’t going to get the sales I hoped for, I was darn sure I was going to get something out of the day and I sat down to continue observing, learning, planning.

The next person up was a professional storyteller, who came with costumes and stories which frankly I didn’t always understand the plot of the stories, but which involved a lot of action and audience participation. And… there was also more audience. I noticed that about 4:30, three or four sets of girls with backpacks and Mom in tow arrived and sat down. I wondered if some of the kids who had told teachers they were attending were at after school programs. When Mom got off work and picked them up, then they came to Barnes & Noble.

So… what did I learn

For Barnes and Noble Book Fair organizers …. the idea of bringing in authors to read their books is a great one. If you have kids as a focus to your group, then be sure to locate your event by the kids’ section of the store. I suspect that if I had been within hearing distance of the kids’ section when I started reading, that I might have drawn a few over, Pied Piper style. But I didn’t have the chance.

If you don’t have any idea about authors you could invite, then ask a Barnes & Noble bookstore worker or contact SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) (look for a local chapter, but if you can’t find a local chapter, you can contact the National Organization — children’s writers are NICE people) and explain that you are looking for an author OR illustrator. Or google ‘professional storyteller’, some will work for free for a good cause.

Also for Barnes & Noble Book Fair Organizers … do publicize your event however you can, through your organization, local newspapers, etc. I believe Barnes & Noble’s publicity is limited to a pretty ho-hum sign announcing that the book fair is going on.

For authors reading at book fairs (Barnes & Noble or others):

  • If possible, request that you NOT have the first time slot. People arrive late. Let someone else warm up the crowd.
  • Make your presentation as visual as possible. One thing that did get a reaction out of my audience, which bordered on coma-like, was when I pulled out my sheet of autumn leaves in full-color which are just like the ones, Paula (my main character) creates in the story. I also had brought one of my original illustrations, because my book is so small, that there is no point in holding up the book for all to see the picture. When I mentionned this to my husband, he suggested that I use one of the local photo printers to print the illustrations even larger 11 x 14 and mount them, so that I can have a giant book next to me with pictures for people to look at while I read.
  • And audience participation is also good. When I read to school age kids, there is a line in the book where the teacher says, “Let’s have a round of applause for….” — this line makes school-age kids clap. In fact, when I read the line at Barnes & Noble, I looked at my solo second grader and noticed that she quietly put her hands together in a clapping motion. I’m thinking about other portions of the book that have sometimes elicited an unprompted audience response, such as the line, “Guess who we see?” …. sometimes makes kids guess. I’m going to try to build on these interactions and discover more.

    So… there you have it, the good, the bad, the ugly from my day at the Barnes and Noble bookfair. I realized that in general while I claimed this blog would be about “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Self-Publishing, Children’s Books and Me” that I’ve tended to stick with the good. As someone who advocates self-publishing and has written about how to successfully self-publish children’s book, I hesitated to describe my stumbles and missteps. But this morning, I suddenly realized this is silly. In every good story the hero or heroine, tries and fails, tries and fails, tries and fails along the way. So why would I omit the part of my own story where I try and fall short?

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