featured on J.S. Menefee’s blog and edited by J.S. Menefee
Spring. Most people think of rain showers and flowers in bloom. For authors, it should be well past the time to start looking at festivals to attend with books in tow. Like submission deadlines, some festivals close the application process three months in advance, while others close them four weeks prior to the event.
Now, I’m not discounting the more author and reader-oriented venues. Those are fabulous options, but most of those take places in key cities. We can’t always afford to travel several hours to attend them.
The perks of a local festival, however, shouldn’t be discounted. At a local festival, you can build up your presence in the local papers, you can end up on the local news if they do a live broadcast, and you’ll be building yourself a local fan base – all of which can spark more chances for you to reach new readers.
For a list of local arts and crafts shows check out this website: http://www.artscraftsshowbusiness.com/Default.aspx.
It shows you last years’ and this year’s list of shows. A simple Google search can lead you to the correct Chamber of Commerce.
Before we get started on what you should bring, let me tell you about a book that breaks down the barriers standing between novice writer and becoming a selling author called Working the Table. This book talks about selling techniques, what to bring, how to get space at the venue, etc. For many, this book will open a gateway into confidence, and that is the key to making sales.
When I go to conventions and festivals, I joke that I “put on my cape.” It makes me feel like I’m not Boring Me, trapped behind the computer with two kids, but an author who has adventures, and who can own being in the spotlight. I learned about my imaginary cape when I worked in retail. I was in my element, there, but I didn’t have the inner courage to be anything other than soft-spoken me. That confidence to speak out and shine comes with knowledge and time. I can’t provide you with time, but I’d love to help you with the knowledge.
For well-established conventions with an expected rate of 20k people, take 20-25 copies of every book you’re bringing, especially if they are standalones. If you write series, order another 20 each of the second and third books and use those specifically for sets. Offer a discount if they buy the series. For example, with my Laughing P series, one book was $10, but to purchase the series was $25. That’s a $5 savings, and people liked it.
If the convention isn’t well established (5 years or more) with an expected visiting rate of 20k people, you don’t need to lug around that many books. 15-20 copies of the first in series or standalones and 10-15 copies of book two and three. The discounts still work at this level as well.
If you have more than three books in a series, you can bring fewer copies of book four onward to only five copies each. The sell-through at this type of convention is small, unless they’ve read your first few books or you’re already at the level of Hamilton, King, or Stanford.
If you network locally prior to your event, you can offer “preorder specials” and encourage people to buy the books before hand and pick up at the event, and also offer them something special. This could be a price discount, a freebie thrown in, or anything else that makes preordering worth it for them, yet still profitable for you. This is also a good way, once established, to help fund the inventory and other supplies you need (but don’t rely on it).
Note: This outreach prior to the event can also be a good indicator on how many books past #3 in the series you need to bring. For example, if you have many people preordering book 4, maybe you need to increase the number on hand at the festival, as well.
Just keep in mind that, at conventions, it is better to come home with books left over than to not have enough to last the entire convention. Any you don’t sell can be sold at the next local festival, or used for giveaways, sold through your online store, etc.
Don’t expect all conventions to supply tables. Some do, some don’t. Walmart sells both folding 6’ and 8’ tables. These work great for this type of thing. At most conventions, the standard is 8’ table in a 8’ or 10’ space, and when we get to banners, below, I’ll tell you how you can do the same marketing with only a 6’ table.
Pick a table cloth that isn’t smooth. If it’s too smooth, like the plastic party ones, your items are going to slide everywhere. A good cotton one works well, because if something spills, you can wash it. They hold up, they don’t get odd little tears in them, and you can pick a runner to divide the front of your table from the back half, helping to draw people’s eyes to your books. Don’t be afraid of colors! Pick colors that are part of your brand, or which pair well with your book covers.
Let’s face it. Your table is going to get crowded with books if you don’t use vertical space, until the time that you have too many books and need to stack books on top of books, use plate holders (wooden ones are preferred as they don’t warp or crack easily but the metal ones are easier for customers to put books back into) work great for supporting your book. Bring two extra. They are durable, but that doesn’t mean they’re indestructible.
When you’re picking out holders, take your books in with you and see how well they support your book. Too small of a holder, and it’s going to topple; too large, and the book is going to look small and you’re going to be wasting space.
To give your books variant heights, stack a few copies below the display and see if you prefer that way over the other.
When you have enough books to need vertical height, I went with wooden crates and the plastic 5 by 7 picture frames that can be purchased for around a dollar each. I use the picture side to rest under the crate and in between crates while using the stand part to act as a holder for the books.
Signs are more than just something pretty. They are a beacon that can be seen across a venue and gives people relevant information at a glance.
Get a few 5”x7” clear photo frames (vertical and horizontal). If you’re pushing a series, have a sign that states it clearly. Have another one for a sign that reads, “Books make great gifts.”
Mention whether you take cash and card, as at festivals, people tend to buy more than they would have otherwise, if they don’t have to be cash conscious. If you haven’t yet started looking around at card readers, Square Up offers a free swipe reader, and their processing fees aren’t going to break the bank. Along with a 1”x1” small card reader, they send a sticker that you can place on the 5”x7” plastic sign that shows what cards you accept.
To save yourself some money, use your printer and design these signs in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, Photoshop, (whatever medium you are familiar with) and print the images on poster board. It holds up well and looks more professional than printer paper. You can use the inserts in your frames to double check before cutting the board down to size.
On top of vertical signs, have bookmarks, business cards, postcards—things people can take that contain, at a minimum, your book covers and your website URL. These would be worth putting on the front part of your table, along with a sucker basket (Dum-Dums work better than Tootsie Roll Pops). People like free candy, and when they stop to take a piece, start a soft sell that simply engages them as human beings, and not like an insurance salesman.
When we think of banners, pictures of the horizontal ones pop into mind. Simple or not, these banners serve a few purposes.
- Make it easy for convention-goers to find you
- Display information at a glance before they get to the table
- Conversational pieces
At conventions, these banners do all that, and if people stop to take pictures with friends, your banner is in the background, easy to read. It could be the backdrop of a social media spread that sparks at least one person’s interest to check you out even further.
Make sure your name and website look good and print them larger than you think is needed. Don’t cram a lot of information. You don’t need them reading a sales pitch, a tag line, etc on the banner. Your banner is going to outlast the smaller promotional items that you can specialize. Otherwise, you’d be ordering a new banner with each release, and that can stack up to an expense you just don’t need when starting out.
These can help with turning a six-foot table into a workable eight-foot spread. These banners are taller than six feet, two feet wide, and they are prime items for garnering exposure. Massive cover photos, your name, website address, and series title sparks interest. Make sure the series is on the table beside it. Again, being the background of photos taken by goers is a perk, but it also makes you look more professional. You can stack multiple vertical banners for behind and beside the table, and if your table space is at the end of a row, you can turn the vertical banner so that it juts out (experimenting is a good thing) catching people’s attention over and over as they travel down the rows.
Another perk to the vertical ones is that at indoor conventions, there might not be a place to zip-tie or command-hook your horizontal banners. The vertical banners, however, can take their place in a pinch.
Whether you need a vertical one or a horizontal one, I really like Vistaprint’s banners. If you follow them, they mail out coupons like crazy, so don’t wait until the last minute to order things!
Mesh vs Vinyl Banners
If you are doing outdoor events, look at mesh banners. The air passes through the banner instead of creating a sail-like effect that is common with solid vinyl banners.
For indoor conventions, you don’t need one, but for outdoor ones, it’s a must. It protects your products from the sun, or drizzle, but it pulls double duty as the horizontal banner zip ties to the supports. Awning weights are also a necessity to keep it from shifting in a breeze, and most stores sell them near the awnings. (You can also make some, if you need. I use 8lb weights with bungee cords or a gallon jug of water on each leg of the awning.)
From places like VistaPrint, you can have custom awnings made that features your name and logos. These fancy ones are an expense you just don’t need. From wear and tear that comes with constantly being moved about, they are prone to tears and faulty equipment, and spending $500 on them isn’t money for a beginner that you need to spend. A simple $50 dollar one will work great for your first few years going to festivals and conventions. Put that money toward giveaways such as bookmarks, postcards, etc.
Always have these things in your convention things:
- zip ties (the old adage if it moves and shouldn’t, well in this case don’t use duct tape but zip ties)
- Command adhesive strips
- Tape (a little tape [packaging and scotch tape] goes a long way in securing things temporarily
- handcart (you can’t always drive to your area and set up)
- hand sanitizer (people = germs. Conventions are worse than a pre-k class, and you don’t know where their hands have been)
- paper towels (whether you spill something or someone else spills something, paper towels are a must)
- Stashed in the car, a change of clothes and a spare hair brush and band. (From spilled things, leaky pens, and sweat, having a back up is more than just a necessity, it’s being smart. You could be hours away from home).
- hand wipes are also worth putting in your arsenal. (like paper towels, sometimes you need to clean your hands, your chair, etc and you won’t have the time or access to run back and forth for cleaner and damp paper towels)
- Pain medication (you’re going to be on your feet for a while, bring Ibuprofen or whatever works for you. Don’t make yourself miserable, it shows to festival-goers.)
- First Aid Kit (you may or may not need a bandage, but you don’t want to bleed over your books or have a guest get a papercut. Be the one to the rescue with a prepared basic first aid kit)
Each convention has its own rules. Some supply tables and table wraps. Some don’t want to see any of the boxes that might be stacked under your table, or the table legs. There are specific hours for loading and unloading things, and the table fees can vary from $50 at a small festival to something like $400 for a table at BlizzCon, DragonCon, or ComicCon.
Practice turning your kitchen table into a convention table. Lay out what you want and mess with it until you are sure. The worse thing that can happen at a convention is you not taking that ten minutes of prep at home to realize your idea doesn’t work in practice. Experiment before you go. Some festivals want pictures of your setup anyway, so go ahead and snap a few. Use them to tease your followers on Social Media, and don’t forget to tag the event.
If you’ve never been featured in your local papers, write up a news articles about “local author attends [event]” and send it around with a few pictures. Once you get the knack for it, it’s easy enough to do each time you have a new release or go to a new festival. You’re looking for exposure—either someone sees you often enough that they finally look you up or they are going to the event and decide to check you out while you’re there.
A few days prior to the festival have all of your grooming done.: haircut, eyebrows, mustache, shaving, etc. You don’t need razor burn or the red arches of a brow on the day of, so give your body a couple days to heal.
The day of the festival, wear clothes that you are comfortable standing and moving about in. If you aren’t standing most of the time you are behind the table, you aren’t being inviting. Sitting down makes people think that you’re busy, and the last thing many will do is interrupt you.
Festivals are about being professional and personable. You’re turning these strangers into friends who care. If the festival is for a black and white gala, then you’re going to want more fancy clothes, if it’s the street fair, jeans and a t-shirt is fine, just make sure it isn’t going to be too controversial (wearing a Gator’s shirt at a Dawg’s football game for example).
Don your favorite shoes, comfortable jeans or slacks, and don’t fret if you go in a t-shirt or a polo, just make sure it is comfortable to wear. I would also advice watching out for shirts that show sweat. It’s going to happen, you’re either going to freeze or sweat, but you really don’t want armpit stains to be what readers notice about you. You can always apply more body spray, but you can’t hide a bad picture.
I’ve been to outdoor and indoor conventions. Personally, I like outdoor, bring-your-things conventions. I don’t have to worry about the size of their table if I can zip tie my banners to the awning. They also don’t feel as stuffy. Indoors, the noise bounces back and forth, and there’s no breeze to alleviate a stuffy room. At the same time, indoor conventions don’t have a threat of being rained out or the temperature doing something extreme.
I hope this helps on setting things up!
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P.S. – If your book series has a logo, you might want to get a few travel mugs done with them so at conventions, you can drink out of them and point people to places like Zazzles for their own or order some to sell.
P.P.S. – Take at least one person with you!
Update: Check out this article by Heather Hitchman about working the floor and the perks of having an assistant. https://www.1fantasticweek.com/blog/first-year-on-patreon-54xx6