We’ve talked about this before, but this, like so many things relating to your author brand, should be an ever evolving project. Just as you update your website regularly, you should also be updating the look of your author vendor table.
What is an author vendor table? Well, depending on the event, its the table you use to display and sell your books. Now, if you are doing a book signing at say, B&N or your local indie bookstore, you might not want to do an entire vendor display. BUT if you are at a reader convention or something similar where you are direct selling your books, an eye-catching table display is going to be your best friend.
Before I get into the design of a table, let’s review what sort of things your table should have.
1) Books. Duh. And how many? Ah, the eternal struggle. That depends on the size of the event and your individual popularity. If it’s your first release and you don’t have much of a fan base yet (hey, that’s cool, we all start somewhere!) then you don’t need as many as a seasoned, well-known author. My friend and book guru Jo Michaels suggests between 0.5 and 1% of the total number of people expected to attend. She explains the math on her post here, and I think that’s a very good rule of thumb. Unless you are in a city where you know you have a ton of friends/family/fans coming, go with 1%. (also keep in mind that the turn out for your first book in your home town will almost always be high, so plan accordingly)
2) A cash drawer and a credit card slider for your smart phone. People need to pay for the books they buy. Be sure you have change (I suggest charging a nice round number for books rather than having to fumble with nickles and dimes) and a Square or other CC reader. People expect to be able to pay with cards. BE SURE you are charging and reporting any state sales taxes as needed. If you’re not sure, call up your local Small Business office and they will help you out. (You can also go here for tips and advice.)
3) Business cards. Sometimes the people you meet at events aren’t just book lovers. Agents, producers, and other industry professionals also browse them, so be ready.
4) A sign up sheet for your newsletter. This is a HUGE deal. You can offer a raffle prize to people who sign up, or special swag items. But get people to sign up. This is going to be extremely beneficial in the long run. If you prefer, you can also use a tablet and have people sign up online right at your booth.
5) SWAG. Not everyone buys paper books anymore. Swag serves dual purposes. It gives them a reminder later of a book they may have wanted to buy and where to get it, and it acts as a walking billboard to other potential book buyers. I have a whole post on SWAG here.
6) Author brand/display items. This includes any knick knacks that tie your brand into the decor, as well as instructions on how to find you online and a price list for anything you are selling.
*7) Depending on the event, you may also want to sell branded merch (mugs, shirts, etc) or handmade items. I have a friend who sells crochet dragons (her books are dragon theme) and she often makes as much on those sales as she does her actual books, especially at events like Comic Cons.This it totally optional!
Ok, that’s not terrible, right? Now, depending on the venue you may also need chairs, table cloth, heck, sometimes you even have to bring your own table. I suggest asking beforehand so you know what to expect. It also helps to know what size your table will be and to do a practice run through of what your setup will be.
One thing that I’v discovered is that the more books I publish, the harder the table setup becomes. When I began, I had only a few books and used decorative plate stands to display them. Then, I had to move to a three tiered display box. (If you are interested in getting one like mine, you can buy them here) Now I’m overflowing even that and need to buy a second, probably before next year’s events begin. I’ve also discovered that the display I do may vary slightly depending on the type of event, if I have a full table or half, and I often change up the table decor to represent any new releases. What I maintain is my color scheme (which matches my website and logo branding), fonts, and similar items. (FYI I keep my newsletter sign up list behind my display stand, to help protect people’s privacy. But I keep in the frame on the left a note about signing up, so people can ask for it)
So what makes a booth/table great?
You should be eye catching. Now, if say you write steampunk, then you can decorate your whole table with steampunk goodies, trunks, goggles, etc. For romance, go with red satin and flowers. You get the idea. I will say that bright, colorful, eye catching booths do better than dark, bland ones. Clean and uncluttered is best, but not so perfectly symmetrical that people are afraid to approach it.
Think of the theme of your books and see if anything strikes you. For those of you like me who write in multiple genres, our job is a bit trickier. This is where a really good, flexible author brand comes in real handy. I, personally, am mostly known for historical stuff, and my preferred aesthetic is a sort of mellow, laid back vibe with hints of classic romance. I like distressed things and vintage items. So these are the small things we incorporated into my branding and display.
My friend Elizabeth Sharp does an AMAZING table display. She, like her table, has a bright, vibrant personality, and it really comes through in her display. *Note this was from 2015 so she may have changed it up by now.
Her table has many things going for it. It’s bright, it’s trendy, its NEAT, organized, and visually inviting. Her name and author logo are prominent, as is her newsletter sign up sheet. Also notice how her books are stacked below the display stands? This creates lift, raising the books like this gives the table height and dimension–much more attractive than a flat, one story display.
Also very useful are vinyl banners with your author name/logo.book covers. It can be horizontal and attached to the front of the table like a skirt or it can be vertical and sitting beside or behind your table. This is a pic from UtopYA 2015. The attending authors always do an amazing job with their displays:
Here’s my banner. The colors are a little off here, but I’ve pulled the robin’s egg blue and deep purple for my primary table colors, along with a simple black tablecloth.
Or you can go with a combination of table banners like author Casey Bond. Notice she uses shelves to elevate her books:
Do you only have one book? That’s no problem! Put two or three on stands in varying heights and scatter them on the table. To add more height you can use balloons, flowers, and tall decor. Another thing I’ve seen used is battery operated strings of mini lights strewn about a table.
So think about your theme, your genre, and your personality. Your table display doesn’t have to ‘match’ your covers, but it should be in line with your overall author brand. The idea is to make your table look fun and welcoming, to invite people over to have a look and stay for a while. The best way to do that is to make it a place where YOU feel comfortable and look professional.
Here’s the final table you can expect to see at my 2017 events, and you can find a list of places you will be able to stalk me IRL this year in the menu bar above under the FOR READERS tab. Hope to see you!