Book Fairs With Minimal Headaches

Josie Leavitt -- November 2nd, 2010

We’re reaching that time of year when all schools, it seems, are having book fairs. It makes sense to have the book fair right before the holidays as folks are thinking about presents for the entire family. In-school book fairs are the most common, although the appeal of an in-store book fair is not lost on some schools. I want to talk about in-school fairs.

The most successful book fairs are ones with the most parent and teacher involvement. You’d think that goes without saying, but often book fair times are not really thought out for increasing sales. Our last in-school book fair had us slotted to be at the school during half days and parent-teacher conferences. Needless to say, the kids seldom came through and the fair was a bust.

- Timing is key. Work with the school to find a time, usually over several days, when the school is in session to have the book fair. Make certain the room you’re having the fair in can be locked at night. This protects the books and makes all involved sleep better.

- Secure good volunteer help before the book fair begins. This is perhaps the most vital part of any book fair. It’s also really helpful to have one contact person at the school. This person is key. She (let’s face it, not many dads help at book fairs) is your point person at the school, she knows how to run the cash register and, most importantly, she’s personally invested in the book fair’s success. It’s her job to make sure she has enough help at the school.

- Be very clear up front what the bookstore’s role will be. When we do book fairs, we provide the books. The school is responsible for getting the books from the store to the school and setting them up and making sure they received what we said they would. When the book fair is over the school is responsible for packing up and bringing the books back to the store. Although we have found that helping the school with set-up and display can help create better sales.

- Stores must provide a clear list of all the books provided. We usually give schools a master packing list and then a sales sheet to use at the register. As books get sold a hash mark is placed next to the title. These lists can be invaluable if there’s a dispute or the money at the end is either over (as the case usually is) or under.

- Ordering books for book fairs is always the hardest part. This is where you need to know your school. Are they looking for hardcover gift books for the whole family, or are paperbacks more what they’re looking for? One thing to keep in mind with book fairs is that Scholastic Book Fairs have gotten schools and parents used to lower prices on all the books, so having non-discounted hardcovers could really backfire. There is always the struggle to have a book fair that looks full without overwhelming the school. This has always been a challenge for us as we don’t take orders at book fairs, so if we run out of it, it’s not there to buy anymore.

- Work with the school librarian and teachers about wish-list books. These are often great sellers as parents are eager to help out by purchasing books that have been specifically requested.

- Remember to include your state’s award list books. Parents like getting books they think the kids will like that might also be books the kids have to read.

- We have found one of the best predictors of sales is doing book talks to as many classrooms as possible. Elizabeth gets really smart and she creates a flyer for her book talks that the kids can take home with them. Nothing’s as easy as circling the covers of the books you think you’d like. Then the parents can see what the kids want and can budget accordingly.

- The kids need to have access to the book fair. They often need to see the books more than once. So, if classrooms can go through the book fair twice, if not more, then they’ll be more likely to buy books. More importantly than the kids seeing the book fair, are the parents knowing about it and either giving their kids money to buy books or coming in themselves to buy books for their kids. Send notes home with the students about what time their class is going through the book fair so the kids can have money, orĀ  the parents can come at that time and shop with their child.

- While no one really likes contracts, sometimes they’re helpful for book fairs. A simple contract states what percent of total sales goes back to the school. It also protects the bookstore from damages as how they are dealt with can be clearly laid out.

- Check the books back quickly once the school gets them to you. The faster the store does this, the faster the store gets paid and the sooner the school gets its money. Also, disputes about damaged or missing books can be handled speedily.

In a perfect world, all the books sell, none get damaged and everyone is happy. I don’t live in such a world, but we’re doing a book fair next week, and I’m hoping for the best and that no one gets a headache.

One thought on “Book Fairs With Minimal Headaches

  1. Sonia

    Thanks so much for all the great info. We run a small, independent children’s bookstore in Mexico and have been doing book fairs for the past three years. We still have a problem dealing with damaged/missing books — how do you handle that with schools? Do you have any suggestions? It’s such great help learning from other people’s experience…

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