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Setting up for a book fair or book signing

I’ve participated as a vendor in three book fairs; two of them were large multi-day fairs–the Miami Book Fair International and MegaCon (Orlando). The Florida Writers Association is getting into the game with a multi-genre book signing in May 2016. If you’re one of the authors, or if you’ve ever wondered whether to take part in a book signing or a book fair, here’s a handy list of what you might need.

What the organizers usually provide:

  • Table (be sure you take note of the length of the table. For a full display as I’ve noted below, you’ll need 6 – 8 feet at a minimum)
  • Chairs (makes sure you have at least as many chairs as you have people standing behind the table)
  • Wastepaper basket
  • Signage (usually small)

Sometimes, you’ll receive a table cloth (usually plastic) and a tarp (if your event is outdoors)

What YOU need to bring:

A table cloth (made of actual cloth. It’s a small expense, but quickly elevates the professionalism of your display.) Pick the size/color that works for you.

A book display case. If you have one or two books for sale, you can just put them on the table. But once you start reaching 3+ books, it really helps to have a wire display stand. Also, the stand elevates the books so that people just passing by can see something as opposed to nothing.

Counter-top literature holders, e.g., for brochures and business cards

A money box. Stock it with change.

Your books (Well, duh. Be organized–label your boxes so you can restock quickly). If you use print-on-demand, order them well in advance so you don’t have to use rush shipping.

Browsing copies of your books. These are books clearly labeled as browsing copies. Sometimes, people can be reluctant to browse nice, new shiny books especially when the author is standing there in front of them. Your browsing copies make it inviting for people to check them out. I made “browsing copy” labels in Powerpoint, laminated them, then cut them out and pasted them on my books.

Clear plastic bags. Why clear? So that people who buy your books can continue to carry them around as a walking advertisement.

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Brochures showcasing your books. These are easy to hand out to people who are just passing through. I like the 5.5 x 8.5 flat ones because they’re great advertising inside the clear plastic bag. I distributed the colorful flyers at MegaCon.

When I presented at SuperCon, I used smaller flyers in black and white that I could print four to a letter-sized page–cheaper and I could make them at home (see below)
When I presented at SuperCon, I used smaller flyers in black and white that I could print four to a letter-sized page–cheaper and I could make them at home (see below)

 

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Business cards. I like to get them from Vistaprint, especially when they are on sale.

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Banners. These can really help take your display to the next level. Design your posters (I got my cover designer to help), then stalk Vistaprint, and purchase them when they’re on 50%-off sale. I’ve found Vistaprint provides the best value for money. I have two vertical banners (see below) and one horizontal banner. I actually lay the horizontal banner on top of table-cloth for extra oomph.

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Banner stands. Do NOT forget these (or you’ll be using lots of duct tape and twine–see below). Vistaprint also sells them at a really good price.

New Release Mailing List sign up forms. You do want to stay in touch with these people, right? I offer a free e-copy of Perfection Unleashed to anyone who signs up for the mailing list. After the fair, I add all the folks to my mailing list and e-mail them the online link to Perfection Unleashed.

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Laminated special announcements (see below), e.g, discounts, pricing sheet (include the fact that you accept credit cards.)

Pens (for book signings, etc.)

Duct tape (preferably clear)

Twine (you never know…I actually landed up using LOTS of twine at the Miami Book Fair to keep my banner stands from blowing down in the wind.)

Scissors (unless you intend to use your teeth to tear duct tape and cut twine.)

Credit card reader. Yes! Go get one with Paypal or Amazon or Square. Many people at book fairs will pay cash, but you don’t want to turn people away just because you can’t take credit cards.

Branded T-Shirts. Nice to have for a consistent, professional look. You can also order these from Vistaprint.

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A big plastic box to carry all this stuff (other than your books which will likely be in their own boxes).

Dolly or hand truck to move the big plastic box and your boxes of books. Think hard about how to minimize the number of trips you have to make and the number of loose things you have to move.

What to do:

Practice your setup at home.

Make sure you know where to go. Drive there ahead of time if you have to. Figure out where parking is and where the tables are. Brace yourself for a long walk with lots of stuff (you did get the dolly/hand truck, right?)

Arrive early and setup early.

Do not put too many of one type of book on the table. Apparent scarcity makes people more likely to buy. I usually limit myself to one display book of each type and two or three more of that type of book on the table.

Use the clear plastic bags as walking advertisements. When people buy the books, I put the book into the bag–cover facing one way and the brochure facing the other, so that whichever way the plastic bag is carried, people passing by see something about my books. Sometimes, when someone walks by overloaded with stuff, I’ll offer them a plastic bag with my brochure in it.

Find a way to pull people in. Often, people will just walk past booths when attending a fair. At MegaCon, if someone stopped to glance at my booth, I’d pull them in with “Do you like to read?” That simple question was often enough to make them stop. Sometimes, the answer was “No, but my friend does…” And then they drag the friend back to browse, and a sale is made.

Practice your spiel. People will ask you “what is this book about?” Get your spiel down to 15 seconds. My 344,000-word Double Helix series was distilled down to “…the conflict between the lab-created perfect human being and his physical template, an alpha empath, and the woman they both love, an assassin.” Test a few variations and see what works  best.

Decide your priorities and consequently, your pricing strategy. Why are you at the fair? Are you there to get your books into as many hands as possible, make as much money as possible, or dump inventory (not an unworthy goal) My goal, always, was to get books into as many hands as possible, and therefore, I offered discounts.

My paperbacks are typically priced at $9.99 on Amazon. My royalties/profit from Amazon ranges from $2.50 to $3.50 (let’s average that to $3.00). My direct cost, however, ranges from $3.00 to $4.00 per book, including shipping (let’s average that to $3.50.) If I sold 3 books on Amazon, the reader would pay $30.00 and I would get $9.00. However, when selling direct, I discount my books to “Buy 2 get 1 free.” The reader pays $20.00 for 3 books, and my direct sales profit is ($20.00 – $10.50 = $9.50.) Basically, the reader makes out with a steal, and I make about the same as I would if Amazon sold the books for me. Of course I could have kept my direct sales price at $9.99 per book and increased my profit, but I really wanted readers, so I was prepared to discount it. Keep in mind, in the US, $20.00 is also something of a magic number if only because we have $20 bills (in abundance relative to other bills.) $20.00 is a very easy number to work with. Also, my Double Helix Collection (the door stopper edition) is priced at $25.00 on Amazon. In direct sales, I cut the price to $20.00 (magic number) and once again, sweetened the deal for readers by selling them ALL four individual books of the Double Helix series for $20.00 (if they wanted individual books instead of the door stopper edition). Yes, I didn’t make as much on that sale, but I got my books into the hands of readers (and I moved a ton of inventory.)

IN SUMMARY

I landed up selling about $850 worth of books at MegaCon. The Miami Book Fair, however, was a bust. And that, my friends, is the final lesson of this excessively long blog post. Some book fairs will work better for you than others. MegaCon draws in the science fiction and fantasy crowds. My books fit in there perfectly. The Miami Book Fair, however, was populated by people looking for steep bargains. Libraries were also vendors, and they were dumping paperbacks at a $1.00 a piece, and hard covers at $3.00. I simply couldn’t compete.

The best part of the fair, though, is meeting fans. Someone to whom I’d sold the Double Helix Collection sent me an e-mail saying he loved them and had told his friends about the series. He also asked to buy signed copies of my other three books. He’s on my New Release Mailing List now and chances are good he’ll pick up new books I release.

If you’ve taken part in book fairs and have other insights to share, I’d love to hear from you. Alternatively, if you have questions, leave a note and I’ll respond to them. Hope this post was helpful to you!

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Jade Kerrion writes at 3 a.m. when her husband and three sons are asleep. Her science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary Life Shocks romance novels aspire to make her readers as sleep-deprived as she is. She is the author of the Double Helix series which has won eight awards and features her favorite female character, the assassin Zara Itani, who can wreak more havoc with love than most people can with hate. Visit Jade at her website

12 Responses

  1. Nancy J. Cohen
    | Reply

    Excellent article, thanks for sharing. While I’ve done book festivals as a group event, I haven’t done much of them on my own.

  2. Chris Coward
    | Reply

    Useful post! I took notes! Thank you, Jade.

  3. Wanda
    | Reply

    Hi Jade! This is a great post. I have been to several book fairs and look around at what other authors do and have learned to add the nice tablecloth, the banner, etc. But, you give great advice that covers everything an author would need to look and be professional. I especially liked that you discussed the discount of your books. Thanks for your honesty. I have struggled with wanting to discount but losing the profit. I now have a new goal which is more about getting my books into more people’s hands rather than the profit. I do love all the people I meet. I also enjoyed learning about your email list. I haven’t started that yet but I will work on that next.

    • Jade Kerrion
      | Reply

      I’m glad you found this useful. Perhaps my next blog post will be about mailing lists! 🙂

  4. Dallas Gorham
    | Reply

    Great advice. I have yet to do a book fair or even a book signing. I will remember these points.

    • Jade Kerrion
      | Reply

      Book signings are fun, and I hope you have a chance to take part in one soon.

  5. Tricia Pimental
    | Reply

    Your post is extremely helpful, Jade. This Saturday I’m having my first signing for my next book. Although I’ve had experience with this in the past, there was always something I wished I had thought of. Now you’ve done it for me. Thanks so much!

  6. Maddie Lock
    | Reply

    Hi Jade, thanks for a fun read and comprehensive info. Your success at MegaCon versus Miami Book Fair makes sense: we need to know what our market is. My children’s book, Ethel the Backyard Dog does very well in any venue that attracts grandparents. I have tried many different venues that attract children and parents and will sell a few books, but when it’s grandparents I clean up. Part of it has to do with the illustrations, which are old-school pen and ink with spot color, but a lot of the appeal is the thought of the grandparent reading this sweet dog story to their grandchildren. Sometimes I am able to offer a bonus in having my illustrator accompany me and do free quick-draw portraits with each book sold. This is also huge, as she can do drawings even from phone pictures.

  7. Joni M Fisher
    | Reply

    Thank you, Jade, for this information!

  8. rectangle banner
    | Reply

    Great post, I like the idea of printing on shirts for your book because it’s like promoting on the go or wherever the shirt will go. It would be more engaging to use social media.

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