Learning what you need to bring, how to create great displays, and how to prepare for live events is a lot of fun! It’s exciting when you realize how creative you can be and the various ways you can stand out. Little subtle things can make a big difference, not just for your table displays but also for creating opportunities down the road.
If you have found this list before reading the related article – How to Prepare for Your First Author Events, go read that one too. It’s packed with great information to help you do your first live events and signings. Both of these lists are also great for speakers and entrepreneurs who do live events and have tables to showcase their stuff.
There is an amazing number of things you can for your events and with your displays. This list is to help guide those new to doing live events and it’s always a handy checklist for veterans to keep on hand.
Additional Author Event Prep Tips
There are important 2 things to think about when you are preparing for your event.
#1 Who will the audience be?
If you write multiple genres, you may be better off to just bring along one kind of book. If you are a speaker or representing a business – you want to bring stuff along that will meet the interests and needs of the audience and highlight how your stuff will benefit them.
Is the audience older? If so, make your posters and wording larger and easier to read.
Do you have lots of small pieces of swag? Put them in containers or set them back away from the front edge of your table if you expect there to be lots of children attending.
Your memoir about your travels around the world may not do well on the same table as your fiction books in a predominantly fiction event.
#2 What is your purpose?
Is it to target a small percent of those attending, or as many people as possible? Are you just wanting to sell your books? Or do you have other stuff that can also catch a visitor’s interest in coming months?
Why are you participating in this event? To sell books? To gain exposure and experience? To expand as a professional writer?
If you just have books, that is all they can get from you. If you only write one genre – try to find events that will cater to your audience and be of similar topics. (Don’t be afraid to rock it as the only person in your genre though. I’ve seen some excellent lines at author tables whose topics are not in line with most of the attending genres.)
If you also have a blog, videos, webinars, other products/services, courses, live workshops – this can help guests become long term fans and customers.
Have a sign-up sheet for your mailing list!
What is the purpose of you attending this event? Think short term and long term, small picture and big picture.
It is more than just selling books. You can network with event coordinators and other writers. You can connect with lots of different people visiting. There is so much to learn about doing events and about yourself – remember to take time to observe yourself and the event itself.
Other Things to Think About Before Your Event
Set a few goals
Other than every author’s #1 goal of “Sell as many books as I can.”
Network with 3 other authors.
Ask the event host about any other events they are running or know about.
Really connect with 3 people who come to my table.
Recommend another author at the event. (If you know some of them buddy up before hand and refer each other’s tables.)
Hand out 25 business cards (base the number off expected crowd size).
Check out other tables and find 3 ideas you’d like to implement for swag/display or something that triggers your creative genius.
What price(s) are you going to sell your books at? A lot of books end in .99 but it can be a pain to dole out change at live events. Round the number up to an even .00. People will not care about paying the penny and they save money by buying in person and not paying shipping when they order online.
Whatever price you select, make sure it covers the cost of your book. Say your book sells online for $9.99. Either round it up to a flat $10 or consider dropping it to an even amount, $7.00. But if you’re book cost $5 to create/make/publish you want to make sure you price your book higher than $5.
If you are traditionally published check with your agent and publisher before doing live events to make sure you are following your publisher’s protocol.
With that being said – don’t discount the price of your books just because you see other authors doing so. Set a price that you believe your book is worth and stand behind it. (Obviously the higher the price – the better the book ought to be.)
Totally in line with the above – if you have sequels or books that go well together – create a package price too!
Get creative with how you display your prices. I enjoy using decorative mini chalkboard stands (think wedding table display – they work really well). Wander around arts and crafts stores and you’ll find all sorts of ways to display your prices and other information.
What else can you present?
In my Empowered Writers program (free) and my Expanding Your Author Platform webinars and workshops I teach writers the importance of learning to expand your professional platform. Having an extended platform creates so many opportunities for writers to gain experience, skills, wisdom, along with a variety of ways to reach new customers and connecting better with current fans.
Authors think that they only need to write books, but when writers open up their mindset about what they can add to their platform, the possibilities for growth and income are endless.
If you have other products (like knick-knacks, stationary, journals, tote bags, water bottles, etc.) you can bring some along and sell them along with your books.
If you provide other services (related or unrelated to being an author) you can display information about them on your table or have them handy if you have the opportunity to naturally mention them.
This isn’t to go overboard and be ridiculous about it, but there is nothing wrong with genuinely showcasing who you are and what you do. Just keep it appropriate and don’t let your other products/services take over your table.
I will use myself here, as an author, speaker, educator I will provide an acrylic display with information about the topics I speak on. I have smaller postcards I keep under the table with the same information, if anyone is interested or asks, I can hand them a postcard.
I’m also a youth coach, kickboxing, and women’s self-defense instructor – in essence it is my second business, but it correlates with my brand as a writer/speaker teaching awareness and self-empowerment skills. I keep a stack of these business cards handy as well, along with information about the self-defense seminar basic info.
I teach via webinars and online courses – so when I have upcoming webinars I will have a little display with information about them (do the same thing with upcoming live events!). Same goes with my courses.
My books relate to everything else I do, so I can casually mention the other services I provide when people are really interested. Again – it depends on what live event I am doing. If it is just an author event – my table is 85% book related. If it is one of my own speaking events/conferences – I load the table with a bit of everything.
The Art of Swag
I know I will hear arguing from some people about this but my 8 years of experience in creating displays in a large bookstore are pretty solid.
Swag (for those who are new to the term) is the fun little freebie giveaways that authors (and marketers) use to help promote their work. Think bookmarks, pens, keychains, you get the idea.
Now if you decide to use swag, if you are going to invest in swag (it can be costly as they like you to order in huge quantities), put forth the effort to at least put your name (or brand) on the items so people will actually have to see your name every time they pick up the item.
You don’t have to use swag! If you are new to doing events and don’t know where to begin – don’t fret. Really don’t. Write down as a goal to observe what other people are using for swag at live events. Write down whatever ideas come to your mind that are fun, different and that pertains to your personality and/or your books. As you gain experience and exposure with live events, and you’ve developed a clearer idea of what you’d like to use to represent you – then go forward with creating and ordering swag to give out.
If you do decide to utilize a little swag giveaway – be wise about it. Select 1-3 items to put out, make sure they take up as little space as possible on your table. MAKE SURE your swag doesn’t out display your books! I’ve seen some tables where you could hardly even see the books – there was just too much there.
If your table is so overcrowded with free stuff – people will just snatch it all up and forget to look at your books. They won’t even see you behind the table. Don’t believe me – just watch people at events. Some authors give away more swag than they make in the profits of selling a book. It happens. I will share some excellent display ideas in a bit.
You want your swag to be gentle reminders of you and a way of saying thank you to fans and potential buyers.
Here is an example of one way to successfully do swag:
Author Jane Doe has decided to do pens, mini candy (with her name on the label), and a mini journal for her giveaway items. The pens are in a little basket on one corner of her table, the candy is in a cool little dish on the other corner. These are both for anyone who passes by and wants one. When people purchase her books she also gives them the mini journal (that has her name or book title on it).
The nicest/coolest swag item she has is reserved for those who actually buy her books.
You also want your swag to be cost effective – as I mentioned above. Make sure you will still retain a profit after your events! If you have only one book to sell (unless it is a best seller in which case you likely won’t be reading this), you don’t need 12 swag items. Even if you have 5 books on your table – 12 swag items is a bit zealous.
I also talked about getting creative. If you are not creative outside of writing – go ask your crafty and photography friends to help give you ideas (then give them free swag in exchange). People who are visual oriented will be able help you come up with something awesome.
If you have other services (or are a business owner) you can also give out coupons! Or if you have a friend who wants a little promotion and it relates to your book/genre – hand out coupons for them.
I have a program geared especially for fellow writers. When fellow writers sign up for my Empowered Writers program (free) – they receive occasional coupons for my writing courses and workshops.
I know some romance authors who have a good friend that is a massage therapist or florist and they give out coupons for their friend’s business when someone signs up for their newsletter or buys a book. (this works well for local businesses.)
Make sure your swag is appropriate for the event/occasion. If you write mostly erotica but are at a big multi-genre event with several children’s authors – keep your adult swag at home, or at the back of your table and out of the reach of kid’s hands. Picture the look on a parents face if the kid skipped a table ahead and grabbed your swag item. If the parent would stride over screaming at you – it may not be appropriate. Entertaining maybe, but not appropriate. If parents would be okay with their kid accidently taking your swag item – they it is probably safe to display at the front.
Same goes with small items – if you think little kids can reach it and choke on it – don’t put it at the front of your table or place it in a bowl or some container that is more challenging to get into. Speaking of kids – no matter what you write you can find some cheap and fun stickers that any kid would enjoy!
The Display That Beckons:
You can make your table stand out and shine with a small budget and little swag!
Purchase something that looks cool and unique – that just screams your personality. It could be a shelving unit (small one), a funny easel, an odd pen holder, a shiny or glittery artsy thing to hang in the front of your table. It only needs to be one thing and make it authentic to who you are. (Nobody can copy you.)
Invest in some easels – they are cheap and usually come in a multi-pack. A stack of flat books looks bad. You want to show off your book covers – they attract attention from over yonder and spark interest.
If you write in one genre, have fun finding things that relate to your books. I know an author whose romance novels center on cooking and baking theme. She uses a different cookie jars to put her swag items in (sometimes actual cookies) and she wears an apron with her pen name on the front and has a coffee mug with her book title as a pen holder.
I believe one time I saw someone had created a unit, a wooden crate of some sort and used rope lighting around the outside edge of to draw attention to their books. (They had access to an outlet.)
If you decide to make a stack of books (recommended) always display them spine forward (spine to the customer), never and I mean never let people see the white pages of ends and sides of books. That is unless you have some crazy cool pattern design on the edges of your book’s pages. Look at displays in bookstores, you will find most of the books spine out.
Utilize your price signs to enhance attention to your books. It is worth getting cool/cute little stands. (I use mini chalkboards.)
If you have a lot of different books – cascade the stacks – high stack in back and a low stack in front – so people can see all or most of the covers. Keep your stacks height in perspective. You don’t need a stack of 20 books when the book is 300 pages thick. You don’t want the stack of books to tower way above your head when you are sitting behind them.
Tall books also go in the back, smaller books in the front. If you have a large book and it looks tacky standing up in an easel – go ahead and lay it flat, front and center – make it a coffee table book and encourage people to flip through it.
Speaking of being able to see you, make sure people can see you! After you set up your table, go stand in front. Then sit behind it and have someone take a picture of you. Look at the picture. If your books are blocking you – change your table display. You want people to see you. You want to look like a warm, fun person to approach. If you write horror, over extend your appearance of friendliness.
If you have 2 books, make a stack of 4-7 copies with one in an easel on top or in front of the stack on each side of you at a slight angle. If you have 4 books you can do 2 stacks on each side of you. An odd number gives you space to put out an informational display.
Think about each event as you prepare for it. Who is the audience? Is there a general theme? Does the host have any guidelines for your table? If you have large posters or standing easels to put up and you are not sure about them – ask the host first before putting them up.
You also want to think about the surrounding space of your table. Is there a lot of room to move? Not so much? You might find that your table has extra floor space or an actual shelving unit or countertop next to it that you can also utilize for display space. Check for air flow. Are you next to a fan, open window? Make sure your displays are standing strong and won’t blow over. Same goes for anything light or loose on your table than can drift off in a breeze. (Yes, this happens. Take tape with you.)
I’m going to give you homework. Sometime in the next week go to a bookstore and wander around. Notice which displays stand out to you and why. Jot down some notes, take a few pictures. Then go look at the displays you walked right by and see if you can notice why it did not catch your attention.
One more thing:
Remember to take a cash box/zippered bag and get cash out before your event (like earlier that week).
Don’t accept checks unless it is from someone you know personally. (Checks are pretty much outdated anyways.)
Look into a mobile payment system. Go type in mobile payment system into Google and many will pop up. Just be sure to double check which devices are compatible before you go ahead with one.
I packed a lot of tips in here! I have a whole lot more!
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