So I talk a lot here about setting up an author booth in my Author Vending series. But I also get experience being a helper at shows too. My sister is an artist, and her work is actually the reason we started going to festivals and shows to begin with.
Much of the practice we’ve had with display, booth traffic flow, air flow, etc. we’ve gotten through the art shows because usually they’re outdoors and you get full control of the look and feel of your area. It’s great to have that freedom, even though it does mean a lot of physical work at times.
I wanted to share a video from one of her recent setup videos at the Grant Park Summer Shade Festival, located beside Zoo Atlanta. We both watched a ton of setup videos for authors and artists before we started attending our own festivals, so I always recommend that to people getting started. The good part is that once you get materials, you can use them again and again, though the first year is usually your biggest investment.
Check out the video below, and make sure you check out her website at MorbidSmile.com and her Youtube channel. You get to see how much we struggled with the tent this time too haha! Though the end result is definitely worth it!
Dang the last four weeks have been rough. Between three back-to-back shows, a week-long vacation, and getting sick (twice now!), it’s been a difficult time lately. However I knew I wanted to get a new post up for my second time participating in the Author Toolbox Blog Hop.
If you want posts from authors dedicated to helping other authors, then be sure to check out this series! Posts go up each month (though November and December get skipped). As an author, I love being able to give back, and having a deadline to keep me motivated!
One of the first decisions I had to make when I started vending as an author was finding where to sell books and where to do signings. Once I had that figured out, I had the difficult decision of figuring out what to bring. That was a lot harder than I expected it to be, but I knew that signage was important.
Signage Can Be Small
It doesn’t matter if it’s as simple as a chalkboard sign, or as elaborate as a self-sending vertical banner. Having signage with you instantly signals to a visitor that an event is going on, and they’re likely going to read it to learn more.
When I had my first author signing event, it lasted two hours at an independent bookstore, and it poured down rain through half of it. I didn’t have a huge turnout, but I did have family and friends that showed up, and that was a big inspiration for me. The only signage I had was a sign we had made out of a dollar store plate and chalkboard paint that my sister drew out for me. It was super cute, but didn’t draw in people like I wanted.
Larger Signage Gets Attention
Flash forward to our first outdoor festival, where we didn’t know how to have proper airflow with our tent and it was super hot. What brought people in was a giant vertical sign we secured onto the outside of the tent. People saw horror author and were super excited to check it out.
Fast forward again to the Next Chapter Con a couple weeks back. People walked up to the table and read my author sign behind me. “YA Fantasy and Horror”, they would mumble to themselves. Then they’d look down at me and smile before asking, “Where’s the horror?” I could point them in the direction and let them read the back copy to decide if they were interested, talking about the book as they checked it out.
Banners Help Regardless of Genre
It’s important to know how to describe your work, and while at first I was reluctant to have an author banner that would represent both the fantasy and the horror that I write, in the long run it’s been very helpful in drawing in people. I found a way to make my author representation capture both aspects of my work, which I talk more about when I revamped my business cards.
When the banner is posted outside of our tent, folks will stop to read it, talking about the blurbs and the covers. When I walk up and introduce myself as the author, they get so excited!
The banner allows people to stop and talk about your work without you having to be part of the conversation. Let them decide if your work is interesting or not. And let your banner do the talking so you don’t have to do all the work.
When you’re vending as an author, use all the help you can get to portray your words without relying on solely your books. I think of signage as a menu for your books. You want to portray taste and composition before eating the meal itself.
Today’s post is part of the Author Toolbox Blog Hop, basically it’s a bunch of authors putting together helpful information for other authors. I was approached by Raimey a couple of weeks back because she noticed my tutorial videos, and thought I would want to join. This is obviously something I really enjoy doing, so I was happy to be part of their blog hop! You can find all the other posts for this month showing up over the next couple of days here.
When you first started out in the author business, if you’re anything like me, you had highly unrealistic expectations of what the book business was like. You assumed that author tours were these magical series of events where a publicist setup the locations and all the author had to do was show up, sign copies, and talk about books. That’s so far from the truth, it’s no wonder people get overwhelmed when they learn that much of this lands on the author’s shoulders to organize, stock, and attend.
As part of my ongoing Author Vending series, I’m talking about tips and tricks that up and coming authors can use as they attend festivals and shows to promote their books. There are a lot of steps that an author might find themselves struggling to figure out. I want this series to be a guidebook to those authors just getting their feet wet.
Whether you are an indie author or traditional, working with a small press or the big five, unless you’re a big name author, chances are you are going to be responsible for setting up your own book tour. The words book tour sound intense at first, but really you just have to think of it as a series of places where you’ll be doing readings and signings. It’s an opportunity for your friends and fans to see you and buy copies of your books. Even if you only do a couple a year, they can be huge promotional tool to get your name out there and to get people talking about your work.
The first major step is finding events to attend as a vendor. Ideally if you’re just starting out as an author, you’ll want to find a venue that has the following requirements:
Low cost – This may seem like a no-brainer, but this is essential for a first-time author vendor to choose their first events at places where they have the ability to break even. A $50 author booth, where you’re selling your books for $10-15 a piece is more likely to be successful rather than one with an initial cost of $100+.
Local – Try to find a venue that doesn’t require you to drive far. That not only makes it easier for you to get a return on investment, but means that if you get there and realize you forgot an essential piece of your setup, you can still run back without stressing out.
Not necessarily author focused – Sometimes if you’re the only author at an event, it helps you stand out. Your booth will attract the readers, and you’ll be surprised how often people will want to buy a copy for themselves but also one as a gift.
Support group – If you have a hard time talking about your books or your worlds or characters, don’t be ashamed to bring a friend or family member to help out. Ideally having someone in the booth who has also read your book and loved it will help to champion your work when you’re too nervous to do it yourself. The more you encounter these situations though, the easier it becomes to figure out how to describe your work.
So now that you have a good idea what to look for, how should you find events in your area?
Look for libraries and independent bookstores. Many indie bookstores will already be planning an author signing event, and libraries are always looking for more exciting events for readers of all ages.
Look for events you’ve attended before. Even if it’s a craft-focused show, you may be surprised at how well you do, especially if you’re familiar with the layout and guests.
If you’re struggling to find local events, or want to branch out, Facebook is a great place to start. Start an Author Business Page and make sure you list your hometown there. You may have festivals reach out to you to attend their show. Look around for events your friends are attending, or events a few months out. You’ll be surprised how quickly you find places looking for vendors.
If costs are still too high for you, see if you can find an author/artist/crafter who is willing to share a booth with you. You get less display space, but it’s much easier to break even with half the cost of the booth. This may help you get into some high traffic venues too like fan conventions.
When attending events, make sure you walk around and see what else is there. I’ve found a few author festivals that way. You’ll be surprised how often other authors will use those events to promote an author-specific event.
Join an authors group near you. I’m part of the Atlanta Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned in just the 1.5 years I’ve been part of the group. Some people have been doing this for decades longer than I have, and there is always more to learn.
I hope this helps you in finding that first event, and in getting the nuts and bolts down of what is required for it. Usually it’s just having the confidence the first time, and with each event afterwards it gets easier and easier.
Although online promotions can help really get your name out there, I’ve found that it still doesn’t beat a local event. You get the chance to talk about your work, to talk with fans, and to sign books in person. You ultimately are creating a unique experience for your fans, and even though at times they can be a lot of hot work, it’s totally worth it.
When I first got my business cards created, I didn’t know the first thing about how to make them. I was a short story author, but was just beginning to get into having full novellas and books published. I didn’t have any idea of where to go to get them printed, what made a good design for a creative person, or anything like that. The only design I was really familiar with were the ones I had from work. I work in IT in education during my day job, so you can imagine how plain those were.
So I researched and found out that Staples did business cards. Perfect, I thought, that’s where I’ll go! I designed them all online, expecting a variety of design options, but was dismayed with how quickly the price rose for just simple design elements. Want an icon? That’s extra. Want color? That’s extra too. Want to print on both sides? Yeah, you get the idea. It was difficult.
Another piece I didn’t understand at the time was that I needed an author brand. I needed a look and feel that described me as an author, and I wasn’t sure what that was yet. Should I define myself by my dark horror short stories? Or should it be my lighter fantasy pieces? It was a struggle, and so instead of making a big decision about it, I decided to go simple and dark to try and embrace my horror side. It… didn’t look nearly as good as I hoped it would.
The background of the card is supposed to be black, but came out as a dark, flat gray. I assumed that was as black as they would print it. The red lettering really looks bad against the color, and the words are almost illegible. The white font doesn’t pop and almost faded away as well.
At the time, I also didn’t see the value of having a back side to the cards. I could barely figure out what to put on the front of them, and I didn’t want to incur the extra cost. I saw it as an expense instead of an investment, as a simple way for people to remember my name rather than a way to advertise for myself. At the time I had no plans of being an author vendor or anything like that, and it really shows. Staples is more for basic business cards, not for more creative cards, and their color choices show that.
Now, these cards aren’t bad exactly, they’re just boring. I’ll probably still pull them out when I need just some basic cards. They’re great for a basic exchange of info and they have space to write on the back. However, I’m really proud of the recent redesign I made for them. I’m bringing these to the 4th of July event tomorrow, and I think they really pop, especially compared to the old design.
Look at how vibrant the colors are on these! Look at how just looking at the card you can see the style of my work. You see fantasy, but you also see the hint of darkness with the tendrils reaching out on the sides. The butterfly and the tendrils are from some free clipart I found online, but everything else was built in Canva and printed from Vistaprint. Not only do I get a beautiful glossy front, but I also get that true black that I wanted. Pictures don’t really do these justice because you miss that glossy effect and the brilliant colors, but I’m so very proud of how these turned out compared to their predecessors. I feel like people will want to pick these up.
Take a look at them side by side. The differences are dramatic. One looks like a plain business card, while the other looks like it belongs to a creative person.
Now as far as branding goes, I wanted to add that the theme of the new business card designs go along quite well with my vertical sign. Are they the same colors? No, but the butterfly theme links them together.
My vertical sign also implies with the gradient from black to purple in the background that there is a darkness to my stories as well. This is a shot from our setup from the Geranium Festival earlier this year, and I think this was the first time my vertical sign was pulled out. These signs have been so very helpful in bringing people into the booths at our events.
I hope you enjoyed this little dive into designing and author branding! I hope it not only helps you figure out your author brand, but also how to reflect it in various mediums. I’ve only been doing this for a year and I still have a lot of learning to go, but hopefully I can share some experiences and resources to help others get started.
I’m hoping to do more posts like this one on vending as an author! Let me know if you have any topics you would like me to cover in the comments below.
So going to BookCon was a heck of an ordeal, as I mentioned previously. I have never been a vendor at an event where I had to fly in, and it of course meant paring down all of my vending essentials down to the bare minimum. What can I fit in a carry-on? How do I get my books there? What do I absolutely need, and what do I not need? Check out my video below for some of the packing decisions I had to make.)
Now it’s been a month, and in the meantime we’ve traveled out of town again for a completely unrelated event. Two trips in one month mean laundry is a thing. I’m still working on book deadlines, and the kitties are very needy. I’m also left with the daunting task of finding all the things I used for BookCon, restocking them, and then reorganizing them for a new event. A kind author friend shipped my remaining books back for me from New York (thank you, Amber!) I was completely out of all my book goodies: magnets, postcards — even bookmarks! So I had to do a refresh order from VistaPrint (fortunately taking advantage of one of their big sales!) and get it all in before our next event on the 4th of July.
The 4th of July Family Fest had its first year last year, and it was the first event where I actually did really well. I was unexpectedly interviewed on the radio by a book lover, and I had a number of readers come out just to see what I had available. I was over the moon, as you can expect, and so I’m making sure I’ve got plenty of stock this year and plenty of copies of Stolen too. I met some of my biggest fans last year at this event, and I’m curious to find out who I’ll meet this time around. It’s always a great experience going to local festivals, and this one isn’t the smallest we’ve gone to, but it’s not BookCon size either. Regardless of what size it is though, I always try to be prepared!
In a couple of months I’ll be prepping for another big book festival of BookCon size, the Decatur Book Festival, which is the largest indie book festival in the country. There I’ll be stocking for not just one, but two booths! Oh boy. Some lessons I’ve learned from BookCon is to always bring an extra stamp pad (mine dried out, but it lasted me all last year!), and bring plenty of extra pens for all colors of paper. I have silver sharpies for The She-Wolf of Kanta and I have my fine-liners for Stolen. I also learned to bring plenty of swag beforehand. I failed to do a refresh before BookCon and was wiped out almost completely.
I’ve learned a lot since year one of vending as an author, but I’m still learning in year two, and I expect to be learning for many years to come! I feel far more comfortable and more experienced in how to do these things now, but I still probably stress out way more than I need to (hence this blog post haha).
I’m hoping to do more posts like this one, talking about what I’ve learned vending as an author, discussing what I could have done differently, and figuring out how to always improve my methods. Would you be interested in hearing more about this process? What topics would you like to learn about? Leave your comments below!