The Winter Institute 12 education session “ABC Presents: Starting a Children’s Book Festival” offered attendees valuable tips for organizing and promoting a children’s or teen book festival.
The session featured panelists Cathy Berner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas, which hosts the Bookworm, Tweens Read, and TeenBookCon festivals each year; Todd Dickinson of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Pennsylvania, which holds the Lititz Kid-Lit Festival each November; Tom Roberts of Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe in Warwick, New York, which participates in the Warwick Children’s Book Festival each fall; and moderator Wendy Morton Hudson of Nantucket Book Partners in Nantucket, Massachusetts, which organizes the Nantucket Book Festival each June.
Booksellers hold book festivals in their communities for a variety of reasons. For Aaron’s Books, participating in the Lititz Kid-Lit Festival is part of the store’s brand, said Dickinson. “We believe our community is better if kids meet authors, kids get excited by books, and kids read. We think it’s important for our community to see that we’re more than the brick and mortar of our store,” he said.
Berner noted that bookselling is a calling that provides immense satisfaction and that is what drives her to offer opportunities for young readers to meet authors. “When you walk across an auditorium leading 25 authors who are as diverse as the world is and you have 800 to 1,000 kids screaming like they’re going to lose their minds, it’s why we do what we do. It’s a wonderful thing for us to be a part of,” she said.
Below is a roundup of tips offered by the panel for teaming with area organizations, developing programming, and handling ticketing and on-site sales.
Scheduling and location:
- Hold the event in a local school or community center, or outdoors under a tent (but plan for a backup location in case of inclement weather)
- If the store is located in a tourist area, take advantage of the busy season
- Be sure your festival does not compete with other children’s events in the area
- Collaborate with area librarians or literacy groups to launch the festival
- Invite art-savvy librarians or other volunteers to design promotional materials to distribute around town or in schools
- Talk about the festival at teacher’s nights at the bookstore and let teachers spread the word
- Ask newspapers and local radio shows to help promote the event
- Ask reader volunteers to help plan and promote the festival, and to help on-site (but keep the sales duties limited to bookstore staff)
- Invite members of the 501st Legion or Rebel Legion to appear at the event in Star Wars costumes
- Reach out to sales reps and publishers for anything from event discounts to costumed characters
- Work out a good rate with a local bed and breakfast and offer that rate to visiting authors
- Create a mission statement for the festival and stick to it, such as Blue Willow’s “Connecting teens with authors” for TeenBookCon
- Develop a schedule of programming that suits your store, whether it’s a full day of panels and events or simply setting authors up at tables and letting readers meet and talk with them
- Cater programming to the appropriate age range you’re targeting, such as story times for younger readers or keynotes, panel sessions, and workshops for older readers; keep in mind that the word “children’s” may deter older readers
- Hold dedicated festivals for various age ranges, such as Blue Willow’s Bookworm (pre-K through third grade), Tweens Read (grades four to eight), and TeenBookCon (grades nine to 12)
- For young readers, limit the festival to just a couple of hours, have fewer authors, and hold it in the morning
- Solicit publishers for author suggestions, or invite authors directly, through e-mail or social media
- Tickets can be given out free of charge or for a fee; Aaron’s Books charges $8 for adults, $5 for children and teachers, and $20 for families
- Use tickets to help with planning and book ordering, or to track attendee data
- Take advantage of online ticketing services, such as Eventbrite or Brown Paper Tickets
On-Site Book Sales:
- Round the price of books up or down to the nearest dollar or 50 cents
- Use laptops enabled with your store’s point-of-sale system to track sales and inventory
- Run portable credit card readers or Square readers to take credit card payments
- Use a spreadsheet to track titles, prices, and ISBNs in the cash line
- Limit book signings to those purchased at the event or from the store ahead of time