Word on the Street 2022 Vendor Experience - Toronto, Ontario's Largest Book and Magazine Festival
This blog post is for my fellow indie authors who are humming and hawing as to whether they will make the investment to join Toronto, Ontario’s biggest book and magazine festival, Word on the Street. The Word On The Street is a national celebration of literacy and Canadian writing that typically takes place each September. I’m going to give you a catalogue of my experience, sharing the hits and misses of the event from my point of view.
Event Organization: Below average
As the event approached, the two organizers we were put in contact with were superb. They answered emails promptly, gave us details on the where/how/when of it all and even shared tips on how to make our experience more successful. However, when we arrived at the time we were told, we were left standing around waiting for our tables. We were told this was due to a supplier issue. We eventually each got a table about 30 mins prior to the start of the event causing us all to rush our set up. This being the first event since pandemic restrictions, a few hiccups were bound to happen. It wasn’t the smoothest start but that first day still went very well.
The only other complaint I have is that there was no water and very little food. There was one drink truck that sold out of water fast and no water bottle refill stations as we had been promised. It would have been nice to see more food options. Plenty of porta-potties though!
I heard from many vendors and participants that this year’s location was ideal compared to where it had been in the past. There was plenty of space to walk and mingle. Queens Park is in the heart of Toronto and is easily accessible by public transit, car, and on foot. We had no issues parking, although it was a 15 minute walk from the venue which is typical for city parking.
Again, in this first festival post-COVID, the crowds were smaller than in the past. Vendors who had been there before told me it used to be jam-packed with people. Instead, we saw a fairly steady trickle of people as opposed to a deluge, more on the first day than the second (most likely having to do with the weather forecast). I found the mood the second day a little different too – there was less browsing and more window shopping. Traditionally, WOTS is held in September but this year they opted to hold it in June. This could have also contributed to less attendees since past goers may not have been expecting it 4 months in advance.
Being a total newbie, I had no idea what to expect in the way of sales. I brought 60 books (one title) because I didn’t want to sell out. By the end of the two days, I had sold 20. I was hoping to sell at least half of my stash but again, I have no point of reference. The tables beside me seemed to do well (maybe better? I didn't ask) with one table (who had four titles) selling out of one of her children’s books. A few tables down, an author of thriller novels, almost sold out of his entire lot! He had a great personality which has lots of value at events such as these. When sales were slow, I focused on handing out my promotional bookmarks. In essence, that's 100 potential sales! 100 people who now know about my book who didn’t last week. It’s progress.
I would give myself a “Needs Improvement” on closing the sale! Hey, gimme a break; I’m a writer, not a salesman. I hate being pushy. But thankfully some people didn’t need convincing to see the value in my book and purchased a copy. A handful of people gushed over it, with one woman sweetly telling me she looks forward to what I write next. It was these interactions that kept me going and meant so much to me as a self-published author! You meet so many different personalities at events. One gentleman started telling me how my book was not worth what I was charging (to which I was speechless) but then bought one anyway. Figure that one out.
Worth it all?
Being a vendor in the Indie Alley at the WOTS Book Festival does not come cheap. If you’re looking to make a direct return investment on book sales, it may not happen (it didn't for me….even with my price increase on the first day). However, there is much value in connecting with your audience and feeling the energy within the industry. The stages there were filled with great panels discussing topics pertinent to writers and readers alike. It was beneficial to listen in on these vibrant discussions.
Plus, never underestimate the opportunity of making contacts within your industry. For example, within the first hour I met the organizer of a book festival in the Halton region with whom I've been trying very hard to connect! She seemed genuinely impressed with my book, display, and my overall presentation. I was able to give her a short pitch and my one-sheet (don’t forget to bring some of those with you!), as well as communicate my interest in joining her festival. Having that face-to-face contact can make all the difference. I’m hopeful this will turn into a great opportunity in the future. I also met Canadian bookstagrammers whom I follow on Instagram, and had two days worth of content as I posted to my feed and shared stories, even doing a few IGTV lives that will add to my platform credibility.
What I’ll Do Differently Next time
I wanted to bring candy to entice people to my table but the organizers had a strict no-food rule due to covid. Literally all the other tables around me paid no mind to this AND did not get caught, so maybe next time I’ll test my luck too. One of my neighbours had a cardboard cut-out of her book’s character and it proved to be a good draw as kids posed to take pictures with it. I will see about doing this as well. Another table that was selling a joke book, authored by three pre-teens, stopped people as they walked by to tell them a joke. They did extremely well. So hey, maybe my cardboard cut-out oak tree should tell jokes?! It’s not a half-bad idea.
I was very happy with the interactive component I had with people writing what their oak tree would say! This got the older kids involved, and I must say, they came up with the kindest, most encouraging messages. It gave me hope for the next generation.
My table was certainly beautiful to adults and older kids but did not pull the younger kids. Adding stuffies or a SPONGE-BOB HOUSE (like the people behind me) are a good addition for children’s book displays. Another thing I noticed is that I have to go BIGGER. Fonts, boards, QR codes, all of it needs to at least double in size to catch the eye of the passerby. I was the only table with music and I think it helped. I played the oldies to garner some nostalgia for the older adults. In the very least, it helped me and my neighbors stay positive and cheerful throughout the 15 accumulative hours selling our books.
Being such a large and somewhat expensive event to sell at, I don't believe I will participate again unless I have more than one title to promote. Our competitors were the children’s publishing tents about 20 metres away who were selling dozens of titles in one place. I’m looking forward to the smaller events I have scheduled in the months to come that are closer to home and significantly more affordable to the indie author. It's also really nice to connect with one’s own community. Most of the vendors at WOTS were Torontonians.
All-in-all, I’m quite happy I took a chance on myself and went for it. Cutting my teeth on such a large event, I have no qualms or concerns for my next ones. When will those be? In Fall 2022 but I cannot give you more until details have been finalized. Once they are, I’ll share and post away on Instagram, Facebook, and the blog. Maybe I’ll even see YOUR lovely face at the next book fair. Stranger things have happened :)