Author Vending: Finding Events [#AuthorToolboxBlogHop]

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.

My very first author signing at Story On The Square in April 2018.

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.
A book signing from earlier this year, April 2019, at Book Warehouse.
I had so much more confidence (and book swag!)

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.

Author Vending: Business Cards and Branding

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.

From our Geranium Festival setup, featuring Kelley M. Frank from Morbid Smile with the hat, and
Jordan Dixon from Heartfelt Knots Knitting.

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.

Author Vending Lessons After One Year

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!