Things to Consider in Selling Your Book at Festivals & Flea Markets

by | Marketing Books | 30 comments

But making money at fairs and shows isn’t as easy as it seems. It requires research, planning and the ability to keep a smile on your face while standing on your feet for long hours. And that’s not for everyone.— Rosalind Resnick

by Hans

by Hans

This spring, I took Calculated Risk, my inspirational contemporary romance, and my two books of Contemporary Christian short stories to festivals and a flea market. Consider these observations and experiences in your marketing plan.

by ClkerFreeVectorImages

by ClkerFreeVectorImages


1.  Music Festivals


•  If the primary draw is music, interest in any kind of vendor was much less than at flea markets I’ve attended. Attendees of music festivals come to listen and dance to the music.

by OpenCLipartVectors

by OpenCLipartVectors


•  Because of the folksy atmosphere of music festivals, readers and tourists who attend such functions tend to gravitate to books based on history, activities, or other subjects related to the area.


2.  Book Festivals


  • The first one I attended was part of a music festival. (See Music Festivals)
  • The second one assigned an author to each store on a quaint town’s Main Street.

•  I did better than the other authors. Why? I sat in the back of a friend’s art studio, where she was teaching an art class to children. The salesperson was to send back book-fest wanderers. All my sales came from the storeowner, salesperson, and the parents and grandparents of the children. None were part of the fest.

•  Long-term road construction outside of town hampered people in the golf community, the town’s main source of sales, from coming to the book fest.


by geralt

by geralt


3.  Flea Markets


•  Unlike music festivals, people who attend flea markets are looking specifically to spend money at vendor stalls.

•  Probably less than 10% of attendees are book lovers.

•  The local flea market had considerably less people flow through than any of the music festivals. Yet, I sold more books at the flea market than at any one festival.


4.  Success Can Be Something Other Than Sales


•  Book-related professionals seem to attend book festivals looking for authors. I met four.  

•  At a book and music festival, I received two author event invitations. One from a library representative, and one from a bookstore manager in a larger city.

•  At a book fest, a used bookstore owner invited me to stop by and talk to her. I will.

•  At the festivals, I met other authors, and we shared contact information. Often authors in the area will alert you to other opportunities.


5.  Book Sales & Expenses


•  Unless your book is based on history, activities, or other subjects related to the area or you’re a great salesperson, expect to sell few books.

Calculated Risk by Zoe M. McCarthy•  I sold more of my short story books than my romance novel, Calculated Risk. Possible reasons:

•  The short story books were less expensive.

•  The short stories appealed to people who don’t have the time to read novels.

•  Romance appeals to only a subset of mostly women.

•  The music festival in which I sold the fewest books charged $25. The others were less or free.

•  The music festivals required I bring a 10’x10’ canopy and table.

Before spending time or money on festivals & flea markets consider these things. Click to tweet.

What has been your experience in selling books at festival and flea markets?

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  1. Inspirations By Katheryn

    I spent six months at a local weekly parking lot market. I had a 10×10 canopy and three tables in a horseshoe. There was room for two folding chairs, which I set facing each other in the front. I made two backdrops of white peg board 3′ in the middle, and 1-1/2′ on each side, connected with a folding piano hinge. I got frameless lucite picture frames, and put pics of my books covers on the wings. In the middle, I got 18″ x 24″ frames for $12 at K-Mart, and made larger posters giving the general theme w/a large picture.

    No one stopped until I started saying to everyone who passed by, “Come see some of the books I wrote”. About half would stop and say, “YOU write books?!?!”. I would smile and “modestly” say, “Yes.” The market lasted five hours every Tuesday morning and I averaged one book an hour. (My books are all religious ~ fiction and non-fiction. My non-fiction sold the best.)

    We were in a quaint part of down town and most people just saw us by accident if they happened to go down there on business, so didn’t come prepared to spend money. I did have free copies of two poems printed on fancy paper and placed in the front; people liked those.

    The booth was $5 each week paid to the owner of the building next to the parking lot who let us use her bathroom. Once a month, we stayed open until 9:00 PM because there was an old-car show on the street in front of the parking lot. I bought a spot light with white hallogen 200 watt bulb that lit up my booth enough to see the words. On those long days, they charged $10 for the bathroom and using their electricity. Always did best at those all-day events.

    I am in Arizona, so winters aren’t bad. Still, it was usually around 45 degrees when we’d set up at 6:30 AM. I normally wore two pair of slacks, three pair of socks, two shirts, and two coats, and gloves. Some brought a portable heater. Summers are too hot (average 110 degrees), so the market is not held in the summer.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Katheryn, your comment is so helpful. A friend in the booth next to me was so good at reeling people in. She helped me with a line to say to passersby, and it helped. I had free sticky notes (related to my character who lives by sticky notes) and bookmarks. I learned at the first festival not to offer nice candy. The same teens kept sweeping by and grabbing handfuls. I think candy is better at a bookstore signing. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience, Katheryn.

  2. Jane Foard Thompson

    Wow! That is all good to know. And it will probably be my excuse not to try, but I don’t have the book in hand to sell yet, so that may change my attitude. I guess the biggest take home for me is that we really have to work at selling our books, and be smart about it.

    When I did a lot of speaking and setting up booths as the Red Cross Outreach Director in Idaho, I found people stopped if there was something free for them, something that met their needs. Then I had the chance to engage them in conversation.

    • Inspirations By Katheryn

      My lookers did not usually stop at my booth because I had something free. They stopped because I spoke to them. “Come see some of the books I wrote” or you could say, “Come see the book I wrote.” People love being impressed.

      It got me away from the computer half a day one day a week. On good days, it shored me up. On slow days (which all the vendors usually had on the same day), the vendors would encourage each other. (Yes, the vendors talk to each other in the lulls when no lookers are wandering by, and that was always fun.)

      Since my books are not romance or mystery, I don’t sell as much as they do. On Amazon, I average selling one book a day. At the market, I averaged selling one book an hour (unless it was a slow day).

      • Zoe M. McCarthy

        Yes, it was nice to meet the authors near me in the lulls.

        • Inspirations By Katheryn

          I was the only author. Other vendors sold home made goodies, tee shirts, dog food, tool sets, jewelry, wind chimes made out of bottles, etc. I didn’t know if my books~especially being overtly religious~would go over, but they did as well as anything else out there. All vendors are enthusiastic and outgoing or they wouldn’t be vending. So we enjoyed each other and kept each other shored up.

  3. Inspirations By Katheryn

    I also offered a free gift basket with a book and something else (cups, vase, etc.) They weren’t interested (or didn’t really notice it), so I’d point it out and encouarge them to fill out an entry form. At the bottom they could check whether they’d like to receive a monthly newsletter on the internet and/or wanted to read my books free in exchange for a review. About 1/3 signed up for the extras. Still, I was able to get a lot of email addresses. For consolation prizes, I told them theycould come to my booth and get a free booklet (I put my Amazon shortreads/short stories in booklet form called Inspirations Under the Thinking Tree).

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      I did the same thing for bookstore signings, Katheryn. I offered a drawing for a basket of book-related items and collected email addresses. I like the idea of a consolation prize.

  4. Tanya Hanson

    HI Zoe, I love this post and learning how brave you are! This would terrify me, as do book signings in general…so glad my stuff is mostly e-book. I love learning new promo ideas because I am so terrible at it. Well done! xo

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hi Tanya, this introvert is really not so brave. My husband went with me to each festival and flea market. I got a little braver and better at each successive festival.

  5. Inspirations By Katheryn

    My first day I was so scared, I asked four men from my congegation to meet me downtown at 6:15 AM in the dark and help me set it up. (Books and backdrops are heavy.) Then, of course, they left.

    I sat down not knowing what to do with my pretty display. Then, one by one, the other vendors stopped by, welcomed me, and chatted a few minutes. Events like this almost always want more people than they get, so they want to make sure you are happy. I watched one across from me who was selling homemade skin cream. To everyone who walked by, she would say, “Hello. Do you have dry skin?” She did very well. Another lady who was beside me selling glutten-free bread, would ask people, “Come take a free taste of my bread.” Another one brought a CD player and played music. Such neat ideas.

    (But I didn’t stand all day. I beckoned people from my folding chair in the front. Sometimes they would sit in the second chair I brought and put facing my chair, and just chatted and rested.)

    There was a neighborhood yard sale last spring and I set up my books. Sold zilch. You never know. I was planning to have a booth at the county fair and know I would have done well (my version of well), but got busy getting my 8-book historical biblical novel series out all at once (how dizzying!) and forgot the fair. Maybe next year.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Katheryn, love the idea about setting up chairs in front (maybe a little to the side) of your table. I hope my visitors are reading all yours and others’ comments. You should put all your comments into a blog. :0)

      • Inspirations By Katheryn

        I’ll just put them in yours. I have a daily blog, sending a daily scripture thought to around 30,000 people worldwide.Since I have written 20 books, with each scripture blog, I attach a picture of the cover of whichever book that most closely identifies with the scripture each day.I don’t think I have enough material for a book; just a short read.

        • Zoe M. McCarthy

          Well, thanks then, Katheryn for adding your comments to my blog.

  6. Bonnie Winters

    Hi Zoe! This is a great blog with lots of good observations. I haven’t done may festivals, especially lately with health issues, but when I did, I usually sold a few books each time. Since I love to sew and do crafts, I always had hand made greeting cards and other book related items like totes and book covers for sale too which helped draw people into my space. I also found sharing a space with another person who had merchandise helped too.
    I love Katheryn’s idea about inviting people in to see the books she wrote – great idea!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hey, Bonnie. I’m loving this conversation. So many great ideas for the next festival season. Maybe I could make book plates, with one for Calculated Risk on top, of course!

  7. Marie Wells Coutu

    Hi, Zoe, there have been some great ideas presented here. I’ve thought about trying something at the county fair (I could have had a table for the community all-day 4th of July celebration but my grandkids were here so I didn’t think of it). I’m wondering how you find out about the book festivals. I’d love to try one of those!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hi Marie, local county websites often give their events. I leaned about several from a local newspaper that listed 38 festivals and who to contact.

  8. stepmomshawn

    Hi Zoe, this is all so helpful for me, a new author who’s book comes out next year. I’m being published with a small publishing house, so I know I will be doing pretty much all of my own promotion. I had never thought of book fairs, flea markets, etc. I’m a fairly outgoing person, so maybe these will work okay for me! Public speaking scares me more, you know, getting up in from of crowds for book talks. But, getting people over to my booth, that I can do! 🙂
    Thanks for the advice and knowledge!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Shawn, you sound like the perfect person for festivals and flea markets. This introvert enjoys speaking to groups, but is scared when she has to converse with attendees at lunch. :0)

      • stepmomshawn

        Zoe, I am the exact opposite, which I understand is common. I’m an extrovert, but speaking in front of groups is hard. Introverts, I hear, have an easier time in front of an audience. Weird. :/ I joined Toastmasters years ago and that has helped immensely. I knew that I would need to do book talks and wanted to feel more at ease with them. I won a speech contest, so I guess I must be improving! 🙂

        • Zoe M. McCarthy

          Shawn, my husband, another introvert, joined Toastmasters, and he is a lay speaker. A great organization to prepare speakers.

          • stepmomshawn

            Yes, it really is a good organization. I grew immensely as a speaker from their support and encouragement. I will probably go back for a “tune-up” before my book is released. I want to feel comfortable with book talks and signings. 🙂

  9. Inspirations By Katheryn

    I love public speaking, but no one ever invites me. Maybe I tell too much talking with people in person.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Katheryn, I think it’s helpful when authors list on their websites titles of the talks they’ve given and are prepared to present again.

      • Inspirations By Katheryn

        Okey, dokey. I’ll do that right now. (Well, as soon as I get done writing today’s chapter. That’s how I write books, one chapter a day. Gotta get the highwayman to stop beating the poor merchant before he kills him.


        Okay, so I didn’t go back to my chapter. I’m so obsessive compulsive. So here they are:

        I love public speaking. I have so much fun. BTW, I don’t read my speeches. Horrors! My eyes are on my audience. I love them and they love me back, and it shows.

        • stepmomshawn

          Katheryn, I love your attitude! It’s so true that if you’re having fun up there, your audience is having fun listening. That’s the attitude I want to have when I’m in front of a group. I want to remember to have a good time! I’ll have to keep this in mind when my book comes out next year… 🙂

        • Zoe M. McCarthy

          Good for you, Katheryn, getting that task done. I am more engaged when speakers look at and speak to us. And Shawn, when I’m well prepared, I think speaking is fun too.

          • stepmomshawn

            You know, it’s funny. I sort of developed a love/hate relationship with public speaking. I would get so nervous, but once up there, I began to like it. I really think with lots of exposure, I could think of it as “fun”, too. I will get there!! 🙂 I have faith!

  10. Zoe M. McCarthy

    More like Love/Nervous for me for public speaking, Shawn. But promoting at Festivals and Flea Markets is more just uncomfortable that like you said, with more exposure should get better.

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