Today we’re doing something a little different here on the blog! We’re going to talk about conventions and in-person signings. This could be a super long post, and so, I’m going to break it down into a few parts. The first part is going to be just the basics. Specifically, what do you bring and what do you do?
HOW DO I EVEN find THESE THINGS?
I’m sure you’re wondering how the heck you’re even supposed to find conventions and arrange in-person signings. I’m only going to touch on this briefly because there are honestly so many ways.
That said, here’s the main ones:
- Join Facebook groups like Author Events Around the World and browse their postings and spreadsheet of events.
- Follow similar authors to you, and see what conventions they are attending. Then, go to the convention website to see about sign up forms, waitlists, and their invite process.
- For in-person signings, you can also start local with small indie bookstores (if available) and work up to bigger multi-author events.
In a later post, I’ll talk more about how to pitch yourself to bookstores to increase your likelihood of getting that in-person signing. Hint: you need a sell sheet.
Now, let’s get into the bulk of this post, and talk about how to prepare, what to bring, and what you’ll actually be doing at your first conventions!
PREPARING FOR AUTHOR CONS
Ideally, when you sign up for the convention and get officially invited, the convention organizers will give you at least some information about the event so you can prepare.
Some of this information might not be available right away, but they should have a general idea and be able to tell you some stuff now, and tell you what will come later.
But in case they don’t, here’s some of the main things you need to consider:
- How much is the table fee?
- Is the fee refundable if you have to cancel? Non-refundable after a certain time period?
- How big is the table? Do you get your own table or do you have to share with someone?
- Do they provide tablecloths? What color are they?
- Can you bring an assistant with you? Are they free or do you have to pay for them?
- Are they arranging discounted hotel blocks for authors? If not, do they have recommendations for nearby hotels?
- How will you get there? Fly or drive? If you drive, what’s the parking situation?
- How will you get your books there? Do they offer shipping to the venue, or do you have to bring it all with you? How will you get your items from your hotel/car to the venue?
- Where will you order your books from? Amazon? IngramSpark? Bookvault? Somewhere else? Plan in advance!
- Will there be Wi-Fi available? Does it cost a fee to use for vendors? For attendees?
- What payment methods will you use?
- About how many attendees do they anticipate? How many tickets have they sold?
These questions are just the main ones to consider starting out. Again, keep in mind that some conventions may not know the answers to these (like Wi-Fi) until closer to the event.
JESSICA’S Bonus TIP:
I highly recommend you offer more than one payment method for attendees, and doubly so if there are going to be a lot of attendees.
Wi-Fi and cell service get hinky the more people in one space.
You want a payment method that doesn’t rely on Wi-Fi, just in case it craps out.
Questions are important for you to move on to the next section of this blog post, what to bring. Without understanding the setup of the event, you will be blindly guessing at what and how much to bring.
So, ask all the questions you need of the organizers! If they are a well-run convention, they will be able to answer these, or at least tell you that they are working to get the answers.
PACKING YOUR BAGS (& BOXES & TOTES & CARS)
There is a lot of information and experience stories out there about what authors should bring to conventions, and specifically what authors should bring to their first convention. When I was first figuring this out, I got very overwhelmed, very quickly.
I’m going to list out what I think are the most important things to bring, and then what items would be nice to have if you can swing it, and what items you can more than likely leave behind.
Then, I’ll explain some more of my reasoning.
MOST IMPORTANT ITEMS TO BRING:
- BOOKS – a good rule of thumb for conventions is to bring 10-15% of the attendee number in books OR if you’re doing preorders, 3x the number of preorders you got.
- Payment processor – people gonna have to pay you. Either get a card reader (Square or Stripe are good options), or get a cash box and bring change.
- Business cards – this can take a variety of formats (actual business cards, bookmarks, postcards, etc.) but you need something people can take with them to look you up later. It should have your name, your book titles, your website, and your social media handles.
NICE TO HAVE ITEMS:
- Branded large retractable banner – these conventions are usually packed, and more established authors ALL have a standing banner. If you want to stand out and let people find you, you’ll need a banner. Check out this one, or this one. I’ll talk more about banners later, specifically about the designs.
- Table decor – do you have an aesthetic? Play it up here! The goal at conventions is to attract new readers, and the best way to do that is with a visually interesting table that people want to come over and look at.
- Freebies – readers love free swag, and they will likely come by your table if they see you have it out. Fan favorites are: bookmarks, stickers, pens, art prints. The more unique your items, the more likely people will be to stop and take them, so make sure they have your branding on them!
BUT WHAT swag ITEMS SHOULD I BRING?
OK TO SKIP FOR NOW ITEMS:
- Exclusive items – want to really play on people’s FOMO? Do an exclusive edition just for that convention, whether it be a book or a print, but make it ONLY available at the convention. Alternatively, you can do an exclusive giveaway to attendees only
- Paid merch – do you have t-shirts? Mugs? Other items? Bring them along and sell those too!
- Branded table runner – again, this is for visibility. Conventions usually put little, tiny paper name cards on your table, but make it easy for readers to know who you are. Check out this one or this one.
- Smaller table retractable banner – these will give your table depth and display more information that you’d consistently need people to know. Check out this one or this one.
So, what do you take away from that list? You need to bring books, payment processors, and business cards.
Everything else is just icing on the cake…but sometimes, the icing is the best part.
There is so much going on at conventions that, for a first time author with a smaller audience, if your table is plain and doesn’t stand out, people will walk right by it. You don’t want that! You want them to come stop by and ask about your books!
Decorative items can be expensive, I know, but they really do make a difference. Once you’re a bigger author and people are going to want to come see you if you’re sitting on a cardboard box, then you can have a plain table. But until then, dress that shit up. Vary visual interest, use levels and height, colors.
Play to your branding. Don’t have branding? Check out this post to get started there.
Now, let’s talk about banners for a minute. Most conventions have tables fairly spaced out and you can put your banner beside your table, meaning you can use the full real estate of the banner for important information.
But. And this is a big butt (teehee), some conventions are tighter quarters and your banner has to go behind your table. For this reason, I recommend (highly) having your name at the top, your logo and website in the middle, and keep all important information to the top 2/3 of the banner.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend leaving the bottom blank, just in case you do get one of those conventions where you can have it next to your table, so I recommend having a QR code to your website on the bottom, and if your banner goes behind your table, have a copy of the QR code to display on your table.
That way, no important information gets hidden behind the table, but you can use the same banner for all your events!
I know I personally work better with examples, so I took pictures of several tables at some recent conventions for you!
WHAT DO YOU EVEN Do THOUGH?
Now, let’s talk a bit about what you’ll actually be doing at your first convention. I know it may sound like “duh, I’m going to be signing books” but there’s so much more!
And, if you’re like most authors I know, crowds and talking to strangers is not quite your thing…
Before we get into what you’re doing at the event, let’s talk about one thing you need to do before the event. And that is practice your signature. God, I know it sounds ridiculous, but you really do need to establish how you’re going to sign books before hand so you don’t get the very first book and you just stare at it. Practice it!
Next, expect to have to talk to people and to be able to quickly answer the biggest question of all…
“What are your books about?”
You’ve gotta practice this answer.
Write down a quick 1-2 sentence pitch for your books and practice it in the mirror. Practice varying the wording. Practice until you’ve memorized it. Because I guarantee you, the first time someone asks you this, every single word you’ve ever written is going to leave your mind. It happens to everyone.
Another thing you’ll be doing is writing quotes or notes in your books when you sign it. People are going to ask you “add your favorite quote” or “add a cute little note” when you sign their book.
Practice this one too. Get a list together. Memorize them. You will forget every word you’ve ever written when this question comes up too.
Along the same vein, whether you believe me or not, people will want to take pictures with you! If you’re like me, you hate being in pictures because you don’t know what to do with your body. Practice posing with another person so you can feel what it looks like to like how you look in the picture. Then nail it every time.
Now, that gets you through most of the event itself, but there’s one more thing you’ll be doing… and that’s set up and break down. Hopefully, you’ll have some idea of exactly how long you have to do each of these things, and if you’ve never done your table before, doing a few dry runs is going to be helpful.
At Imaginarium, we only had an hour to setup, and then they were opening the doors if we were ready or not. So, if you’ve never set up your table before, tape off the size of the table on your floor and practice until it’s smooth. Same with tear down. The faster you can get out of there, the better. Know how you’re going to get your stuff home.
Well, that’s it for this post! But…maybe not.