French-based British indie author shares her top tips on how to set up and run a successful exhibition stand to promote your self-published books, at book fairs, local markets, literary festivals and other events.
Each year I set set up my stall and sell my books at the Marché de Noël (Christmas Market) at Terves. Not only do happy customers go away clutching copies of one or several Roma Nova books, but I’ve had the pleasure of chatting about writing, books, feminism, adventures, history, Rome, publishing, the holidays, travel – you name it! I’m sort of ‘famous’ locally as I write the monthly column about writing and publishing in the local English language magazine, The Deux-Sèvres Monthly, and spoke at the Charroux Litfest in August.
So it’s easy, isn’t it this book-selling lark, isn’t it? You roll up with a box of your fantastic books and a smile and off you go.
Now, I’m not bigging myself up, but I do get some compliments about my stand, ‘professional’ being the most frequent one. So do I have years of publishing PR/marketing behind me? No. Was I a marketing manager in a previous career? No. Or an event manager? No. But I have years of experience in small business where you have to do it all yourself.
I love talking with people; it’s a natural nosiness and a desire to discuss ideas, to connect, to enjoy things in common. Throughout my working life I’ve been on courses, attended workshops and listened hard at conferences to sessions on interfacing with the public and communicating the message: information-giving, presentation, marketing materials, displays, public speaking and networking skills. I’ve listened to talks about sales funnels, customer expectations, phased marketing, market segmentation, closing the sale, customer relations, and I’ve watched experts. Closely.
But there’s a second, equally important factor – preparation. It’s not only physical things like a nice tablecloth, but thinking about how the potential customer will see you and your books, as well as working out the most effective way of getting your message across without being terminally annoying.
So here’s what I did for the Terves Christmas market last December.
Book in advance
I booked it from the previous year. The best fayres and fêtes get booked up months or even years ahead, but sometimes you can be lucky if somebody drops out at the last minute. Scrutinise past event reports, photos/videos on the event website/Facebook/magazine articles and advance information about the event. Contact the organiser to say hello and to find out specifics like table size (and if it’s provided), wall spots, electric sockets, access, timings, etc.
The first time I booked a stand three years ago, I posted about it on Facebook and Twitter and mentioned it in my November column in The Deux-Sèvres Monthly. This year, I added a small paid advertisement in the DSM and posted further afield online about the event using an attractive graphic sent to me by the organiser. I posted initially in mid-November, then once a week until the beginning of December when it was twice a week plus the day before.
- Design: work out what it’s going to look like in advance. I printed out a photo of last year’s stand to save having to re-think it all, but the first year I sketched out a plan. I like height, colour and ease of navigation for the customer. The idea is to catch the customer’s eye; nothing is more dreary than a blank wall behind you.
- Pull-up banners: Mine include a graphic, book title, name, endorsement and website. Another option is to have a generic one relating to the theme, genre or period of all your books. Remember that the bottom half is likely to be hidden so get all the important info ‘above the fold’. Order pull-ups well in advance. You may have to shell out for some professional graphic design. Ask the banner manufacturer for the exact specification (size, resolution). Alternatively you may find a PR business or printer who will handle it all for you.
- Materials: postcards and bookmarks are essential. Not everybody will buy a book on the day – many download to an ereader. I encourage people to help themselves to the cards, but I reserve the double-sided bookmarks as an added extra when people buy a book. Again, order these in advance. Mine have a graphic on the front and book information on the back. I also have freebie pens in Roma Nova imperial purple and gold; these go down very well. Stack them in a glass so it gives height and stops them wandering all over the stand. If your book has won an award, make up and print some simple bookmarks (160 gsm card and use the Tables setting in Word) to place by that book. You can do the same for cards with details of how to sign up for your newsletter. It’s said that 63% of people who pick up print PR materials hand on to them.
- Placecards: You can buy an A4 size acrylic stand at stationery shops, especially those with business sections, or use glass fronted picture frames perched on a plate stand. You can then slot in a different printed sheet for each event. Decide on a headline and print it as BIG as you can. My favourite is BOOK SIGNING in the same font as the titles of my books. Add a photo and, if you have them, short endorsements and images of your book(s). And most importantly, the price!
- Covering: Invest in several metres of fabric (at least four) in a plain colour to make a table covering that will emphasise your book covers. Look for remnants at a fabric shop or market. Pre-manufactured tablecloths are fine for a small table, but most fair tables are 3 metres wide these days. Do NOT use a table cloth from home that has any kind of pattern – it looks naff. Oh, and wash and iron your cloth if you’re reusing it. Last time’s dried on tea/coffee stains and lunch food remnants are not attractive…
Pack all the smaller things like your own demo copies of books, materials, stationery kit (scissors, Sellotape, stapler, punch, rubber bands, paperclips foldback clips, notepad, string, Blutack) etc. in a robust plastic storage box with a lid. It will rain or drip from the trees on the day you unload from the car and you might well spill your cuppa into an open box. More than that, a lidded box can stack more easily and also serve as a mini table under your stand. Larger things like bookstands, table cloth(s) can be packed in a strong carrier bag.
I take 50 euros of change (Substitute pounds/dollars, etc. as you wish). It’s guaranteed that the first three customers will pay with a 20 note. Do not let them get away! I sold my books at 11 euros for the novels and my writing book for 5 euros, so my float had 10 single euro coins, four 5 euro notes and two 10 euro notes. Make up your float after each event so it’s ready and you don’t have to scrabble round on the morning of the next one.
Your clothes and shoes: clean, smart and casual, but comfortable. If your shoes pinch, it will show in your face; if you’re freezing, you will hunch and look unwelcoming. Most halls are heated, but not well – it’s too expensive – so if you’re a chilly mortal wear a warm top layer. You can look chic and French with an artfully arranged scarf (men and women).
WEAR A BADGE! Sorry about the capitals, but is so important. People always look at badges; they stop and talk to you, they ask you about your book, and you look more professional.
Stand. Yes, take little pauses, and stretch your legs if there’s a lull in the room, but stand 95% of the time. You don’t see shop assistants sitting. The only exception is when eating your lunch. If you have no helper, you will have to eat at your stand, but sit down, take small bites and have handwipes/tissues to hand. And take several small bottles/flasks of water – you’ll need them with all the talking you’ll be doing.
Interacting with the customers: I could write several posts on this, but essentially, ‘with’ is the word, not ‘at’. Selling is not unarmed combat, it’s a conversation. ‘Do you read?’, ‘What do you like reading?’, ‘What did you think of that?’ and so on. They will show interest or not, and you can go from there. Try and get one of your postcards into their hand at least. But be interested, engaged and listen. And smile.
Take a photo of your stand before the public gets in – a great aide-memoire for next time – and get several people to take several photos of you and your stand during the day. Every single event photo is a gold drop in the PR river. You can build up a good post on your blog/Facebook etc. from the quietest event. Take some of the event generally and send it/them to the organisers; it’s a nice way of saying thank you.
Oh, yes, and take as many books as you can manage. It’s always better to have a box of leftovers than running out halfway during the day.
OVER TO YOU If you have any top tips to add based on your own experience, we'd love to hear them!#authors - top tips on how to run an effective stand at a book fair or litfest by @alison_morton Click To Tweet