First time in the author booth

Last Saturday (4.16.2016), Lily and I had a booth at the Longview Library's annual Chautauqua Festival 2016. This was something I'd been wanting to do for some time but hadn't quite known how to go about it. I applied last year to exhibit at the east Texas Book Fest 2015, but wasn't accepted. I did go as an attendee (mostly to see my favorite Texas-based author D. Marie Prokop. It was worth it as well, because I observed and learned a lot about booth setup and display.

After some minor fixes to the novels, we shot-in-the-dark ordered enough so we'd have 25 copies of each novel. This seemed like a reasonable, not-too-extreme investment. One of us came close to selling out. More about that shortly.

There's some initial investment involved in presenting. We wanted it to look attractive without requiring a huge investment from us. We'd like to do more of these events, but each one has its cost associated with it, and those can get out of control quickly.

How it went down

Even for a booth setup as basic as ours, the numbers add up quickly:

  • Booth fee: $20 (very reasonable)
  • Business cards: $21 (Qty. 200--didn't want to many the first time out)
  • 18x24 posters: $17 (Qty. 2)
  • 6' folding table: $40
  • Photo frames: $3 (Qty. 2)
  • Table cloth: $1
  • Easels: $21 (Qty 2)
  • Poster frame: $15
  • Sticky notes: $3
  • Square credit card reader: Free (yay!)
  • 9x9 Canopy: Free (borrowed...probably need one of our own eventually)

So, yeah $141 just to present that first time. Now most of that we don't have to buy again, but still, when you're not putting a heavy emphasis on running around to events, you have to decide how much you want to invest. if you can sell 100 books at an event that's one thing, but we're not quite there. Yet...

I had requested a space with electrical because I wanted to show our book trailers (WHOMSV, The Journey). We got there around 9:20am, and I picked a space on the north side of the plaza. Never underestimate the importance of location. (Keeping that in mind, I have some other ideas of where to get set up next year). We were prepared for sun and rain with the canopy, but the biggest challenge ended up being the wind. One of the more important things I did was bring tape. Various kinds since i didn't know what I might have to use it for. We ended up taking the table cloth down, taping the poster to their easels, and taping the easels to the canopy (which was held down with cinder blocks). Even with all that, the wind occasionally blew our books off their stands. So, if your event is outside, bring items that can be used to hold down your stuff, bring shelter, and bring tape! And, if you can, bring some for the booths around you so you can share some goodwill toward your neighbors.

As expect, Lily and her novel were a big hit. The novelty of having a book published by a 10-year-old is not to be underestimated. That is a huge accomplishment, and people were very interested to hear about her experience. It's pretty intimidating to talk to strangers like that, but Lily rose to the challenge. Both of us learned a lot in this area.

Lessons learned:

  • Business cards were a definite must. If you can't afford any other promotional stuff, you must have these.
  • The advertising posters were also extremely important. We placed them outside the booth so they were the first things people saw. People often passed by my poster, noting it, but then they'd stop dead in their tracks when they say Lily's. Then Lily would go out and talk to them or their kids. We intentionally did these posters up to be movie-style, and I'm very happy with their effect.
  • Selling kids books? Offer something free to the kids. We bought a small, multi-colored sticky notes and Lily would ask them if they wanted a custom cat drawing. They usually said "yes," then their parents would look at Lily's novel while she was drawing pictures. It's something small, didn't cost a lot of money, and it was personal. Lily would have them name their cat, and they she'd have the cat saying something. Even if they didn't buy a book, the kids were happy.


  • Eating! This is important because you absolutely must keep up your strength. We had a decently steady stream of traffic, and it's pretty much impossible to not look completely unprofessional if you have a hamburger in your hand while you're trying to talk to people about your novel.
  • Bathroom breaks. If you're not at your booth, you're not selling.
  • Being witty. Signing a novel is easy, but coming up with something witty to say on the spot...gotta work on that. Maybe have some good stuff already prepared.
I noticed some vendors packing up and leaving up to an hour before the event was over. I don't know if they had other things to do, or if they just weren't having success. As for us, were going to be there every second telling anybody who wanted to listen about our novels. We sold one in the very last minutes, so it was very much worth it to stay to the end (for us).

Final tally:

As expected, Lily outsold me 3-to-1. That's because she's awesome.
  • Lily: 21
  • Ethan: 7
While writing itself may be a solitary thing, we rarely do things like this alone. There's usually somebody else helping you. Don't forget to thank those that make it possible for you to go to your event. Without my wife's advice and support, this just wouldn't have worked out. It's really not difficult to see where Lily gets her beauty and her brains. Just saying.

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