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!

BookCon and Vending as an Author

BookCon was an incredible experience.

When I say that, I don’t mean just the convention. It’s a huge event and of all the festivals and conventions I’ve attended, I felt the most at-home there as a reader than I ever have before. There were reading nooks, book giveaways, inflatable bean bags, and of course, plenty of Starbucks to be found. But what made BookCon incredible for me wasn’t just the event, it was the people.

You see, we had a group of determined indie authors get together and decide that yes, we were going to pitch in to get a booth at BookCon. And yes, we were also going to find a way to get to New York City along with a bunch of books. You know, without going broke. So we did just that. It was really a tough decision, and we all had to budget and plan and coordinate. We had to figure out what we could bring, who could bring it, where we would stay. We had flight delays, panic attacks (have you seen the traffic in New York??), parking woes, and somehow found a way for seven women to share a single bathroom.

I think when most people see an author at a convention, they’re super excited, but they don’t always understand the work that goes on behind the scenes to get there. Writing a book is a truly difficult process. Stolen was a work of love that started back in 2013, but some authors work on a book for even longer.

At these events, I have to get in front of strangers and talk to them about the books available at the booth. Most seem interested, and that lifts me every time. Others give you a polite shake of the head, say “no thanks”, and move on. Some people might internalize that kind of reaction, but you have to learn to smile and nod, understanding that every reader has different tastes.

It’s still tough though. That’s your book baby that’s been incubating for eight years. It’s a piece of yourself in physical form, a world you’ve glued together, characters crafted out of thin air, and scenes that would possibly blow people’s minds… if they gave it a chance.

We live in strange times, where writing a book alone usually isn’t enough. You have to work to convince people that it’s good, then you have to continue writing. Wash and repeat. I personally love doing this. I love talking with fans about my work and seeing them light up when I describe the premise of Stolen. That’s the response that keeps me going. That excitement is what pushes me to keep grappling with manuscripts, whether it’s in the writing, editing, or proofing stage. That glimmer of curiosity is what motivates me when I can’t sleep and watch dawn come through the curtains of a New Jersey Airbnb on the last day of BookCon.

BookCon was an incredible experience, and I hope you’ll watch the video I’ve put together that shows what it was like. At the end, I list out all the amazing booth members and booth helpers we had, but I wanted to list them again because they were amazing. Go check out their work!

Here it is, our final day of BookCon!