Every third Saturday in July, authors and readers converge at 135th Street in Harlem. For bibliophiles, the Harlem Book Fair is the perfect place to indulge in their obsession.
Readers get an opportunity to meet some of their favorite authors. Authors get to meet their fans. This is also an opportunity to learn about current trends from industry professionals in one of many panel discussions.
Saturday, July 21, 2012 was no exception. This year, the published and self-published came out in full force. Street teams were t-shirt clad, handing out posters and other promotional materials. There were life-sized cardboard cut outs, banners, and tables dressed to the nines. I’ll go as far as to say that for African American writers, this is the event we aspire to. And this year, with New York Times bestselling author Zane leading a frank Q&A for the aspiring, this was the place to watch and learn, much better than any guerilla marketing book I’ve seen.
The Harlem Book Fair has been a ritual for me. Every year, I have been out there with my notebook or taking mental notes. I have seen the best of the best, setting up shop, engaging passers-by as well as celebrity authors wandering through the crowd incognito. I consider myself a staunch advocate of quality writing. And as much as I love a good wordsmith, I’ve come to realize this: at book fairs, before I begin to consider content, someone or something has to grab my attention and draw me to the table. Because I myself am a writer and publishing industry enthusiast, immediately, certain things go through my head. What is special about the author and/or title? Is he/she approachable? Is the concept engaging? How attractive is the cover? Are they using body parts to sell the book? What message are they trying to convey? How is their presentation? Are they building a brand or just selling a book? Do they have a banner and/or marketing material? Do they have a website and social media? How many different platforms offer their title?
Over the years, quite a few venders have impressed me. Some have even separated this frugal consumer from her hard-earned dollar. Among those are the following:
Valerie Chandler Smith is the author of To Each His Own. When I first saw her at the fair several years ago, she may have had the smallest table, but inside of two minutes, her infectious personality made me feel like she was my long lost cousin. I gave her my last ten dollars, read her book from cover to cover, emailed her my thoughts, and later bought the sequel. Her cover art is framable, her branding is consistent, and I still remember her characters. Her titles can only be purchased through her web site: http://valeriechandlersmith.com/
Sheilah Vance is the author of Chasing the 400. I saw her the year she debuted. Her presentation was phenomenal. Everything was branded and color coordinated down to the author’s own attire. For that reason, even as a self-published author she stood out from every other book vender. Sheilah is now the owner of her own publishing company, The Elevator Group. For more information, visit http://www.theelevatorgroup.com/
Michelle Richardson is the author of It’s Simple. 2012 may have been her first year at this book fair, but everything about her presentation was near perfect. If someone were to ask which publishing house she hailed from. My response would be “one of the best.” However, she is independently published, thereby serving as her own best resource. She was courteous and extremely personable. I look forward to seeing how she’ll evolve in this industry. For more information, visit www.michellerichardson.com
Omari Jeremiah is the author of the Paperboy series. I remember seeing him at the Harlem Book Fair shortly after he published his first book. He was ten years old at the time, not much older than my own son. I made it a point to purchase a book from him every year I saw him on the strip. All four of Omari’s titles are available online, wherever books are sold.
Beverly Burchett is the author of Queen Kinni. She is also the founder of Blackcurrant Press, a small publishing house. Beverly was gracious and approachable. Her press is already responsible for quite a few titles, including Single Mother the New Father and Not Just a House Party by the Full Force Brothers. The Full Force Brothers, including Bowlegged Lou, were also present, greeting fans, signing autographs, and promoting their new release. To purchase books offered by Blackcurrant Press, visit: www.blackcurrantpress.com/
Sadeqa Johnson is the author of Love in a Carry on Bag. This was the first year I’ve seen her. Her debut novel released in March of this year. Already, she is everywhere. Her marketing engine is on full blast. She arrived with a team, her presentation was stellar, and she served on the Independent Publishing panel. Hers is one of the best starts I’ve seen in a very long. I am certain her hard work and support with register as book sales. For more information, visit: www.sadeqajohnson.com
Eartha Watts-Hicks is a freelance writer and editor. Her debut novel, Love Changes, is slated for release in the coming months. For more information, visit www.earthatone.com
Photo credit: the author with entertainer Bowlegged Lou from the group Full Force and House Party at the Harlem Book Fair, Harlem, NY.