Location. Location. Location.
I have been doing shows consistently for five years although I began selling work 10 years ago. I have learned a lot the hard way. The biggest lesson learned thus far is to find your niche. Your art is not the same as anyone else's therefore what is good for one artist does not hold true for others. My work thrives at some galleries and is dead in the water at others. Luckily I am thick skinned.
The only trick to finding out what shows and festivals are ideal for you and your work is through trial and error. You have to lose some shows to understand your market. In the last few years I have added and crossed shows on the list. My rule of thumb is no shows in churches or schools! My list is constantly in edit mode. In addition I have learned my sales are strongest October through December. Therefore my priorities should be to make January through September and concentrate on my busiest season.
Another rule of thumb is consistency and continuity. I set up my booth in a similar manner at all of my shows. I was a Visual Merchandiser for three years and I understand how to display my work. If I have the same display at all of my holiday shows then I can see how work is moving and what needs to change. If its a completely different display for each show its hard to understand what is benefiting my work: the display or the show. I do slight tweaks at each show but not a complete overhaul. This is based on what is moving and what product I have left towards the end of the holiday season.
My biggest gripe with selling is when show organizers give you their tips for why your work is not moving. This is agitating for many reasons. First of all, not all of the vendors will sell at each show. Its not realistic. Each show is going to have a range of sales amongst vendors based on the clientele. Its a fact. It sucks to be the vendor that isn't selling (and I have been on both ends of the spectrum) but it is something you cannot control. Again, find YOUR market.
As a former merchandiser and salesperson I have learned that my experience in retail has helped me as an artist (even though I hated retail!). Never, ever come into my booth and tell me why I am not selling. I once had an organizer tell me at a holiday show that was poorly attended my problem was that I need to wrap my booth in twinkle lights. How is cluttering my booth with blinking lights going to help sales? Another suggestion...Move outside your booth because the other vendors who aren't sitting within the booth are selling. In this case the vendors on either side of me were also sitting within their booths and had sales. How is that my problem when its not affecting my neighbors profit? I sit inside my booth at every show and have had success.
It takes time and money to perfect a show calendar and a plan of action. It also takes patience and thick skin.