This weekend was my first ever official live event as an Author! With a last-minute table at Lake Worths Finnish Midnight Sun Festival we brought games, toys, and, of course, copies of the latest TNN original – ‘Sisu’. In between a live performance by the winner of ‘The Voice – Finland’, classic car shows, and the traditional Wife Carrying contest, patrons perused the tables. Being there, with my books, representing myself as an author for the first time ever was amazing, awe-inspiring and a wonderful opportunity….
Real talk now? It was also stressful, frustrating, confusing, and, at times, disheartening. There would be hours, literal hours, where not a single soul would pass by my tent and I would begin to wonder why I was even there in the first place.
By the end of the first day, I was almost ready to pack it all in and not bother coming back for the rest of the weekend.
Early in the morning, a little 5-year-old had been checking out my table and books, I overheard the adults referring to my booth as ‘educational’. The girl liked my ‘Puppy Treats’ game and absolutely adored the stuffed animal prizes, but the adults decided they should see what else was at the fair after learning of the $2 price to play. I won’t lie, it was a kick in the gut. The toy prizes had been expensive, and I knew that $2 was going to be significantly less than anything else at the festival. But still, they walked away.
Many frustrating hours later… she came back. The girl bounded up to me, an excited grin on her face. Apparently she had talked about nothing else but ‘The Puppy Game’ the entire time they circled the festival and, after seeing everything else, her parents allowed her to play. The five tosses originally allowed were quickly discarded as I let her toss ball after ball at the board, aiming for the foods that puppies could have. We laughed when she kept getting ‘Cinnamon’ over and over again. After emptying the box, she finally got 3 right and I helped her pick out a really cute little ‘kitty’ (it was a chihuahua, but don’t tell her that). Even if I hadn’t sold a single book that day, I would still have called it a win, just to see the smile on her face.
The Business of Books – Tips for Live Events and Markets
Through the highs and lows of the weekend, I learned a lot. Even just from day one to day two, the experiences changed how I looked at things, tweaked how I set up my table, and the manner in which I presented myself. To seasoned eventers, this is probably all going to sound trite if not a bit naive. But to those looking at setting up their first event, their second event, or even their hundred and thirty-fifth event but who are still looking for all the resources they can get, this is what I have learned so far;
Live Event Tips
Mastering the Basics
Scope the Venue Before
Whenever possible, try and check out the area far enough in advance to adjust if needed. Knowing where you are going to be can help you prepare to deal with environmental factors like lighting, shading, wind, visibility, noise, or any other weird obstacles that might affect your ability to operate.
My table was at the very far end of the park in the corner of the kids’ section and a little bit hidden. Being next to a stage didn’t help either as the crowd of onlookers blocked others from seeing me and rarely led to anyone wandering over after the show. Adding a sign a little way in front of the booth helped, but we’ll talk about that later.
Being in the corner also meant I was by the water because the park backs up to the Intracoastal. Great view, terrible wind. The wind was a problem for a lot of people that day, but those of us in the corner did not have the protection of trees or other obstructions to help act as a buffer.
Consider the Event Climate
Part of this goes with checking out the venue ahead of time. If you are inside, know how cold the room is going to be, if you have direct or indirect light, and if there’s a vent blowing on your table. If you are outside, pay special attention to the weather forecasts. You can’t stop the rain, but you can bring an extra tarp or an umbrella. You can’t make the day warmer or cooler, but you can bring sunscreen or an extra sweater. Depending on the event in question, you will probably be on-site for anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, that is a long time to be uncomfortable if you do not dress or plan appropriately.
Always Bring the Essentials
Inside, outside, two states, or two minutes from home, there are just certain things you should ALWAYS have on site. This includes; garbage bags, duct tape, zip ties, paper towels, water bottles, scissors, business cards, snacks, pens, sharpies, spare boxes, a chair, a table, and a dolly. It does not matter if you do not think you need any of these things, you will feel incredibly foolish not having them if you do.
Defining Your Event Market
Focus Your Message
When I first set up my table, I had everything and the kitchen sink going on, so it was no wonder people were initially confused. Some parents thought I was an educational resource, a few older ladies thought I was a jeweler (I had earrings for sale for some reason), and the kids only saw the bubbles. The only thing that no one saw – was the books.
First and foremost, I am an author. That is what I want people to know about me, so that is what people should see. Everything else is just a distraction and, for it to make its way onto my table, it has to earn the right to be there.
Know Your Target Audience
Again, I am a children’s author. As such, I entered this event thinking that my target audience was, obviously, children.
Pro Tip: Children don’t have wallets. Which I knew, of course, but somehow it hadn’t sunk in yet.]
Pro Tip #2: Parents are broke. Kids are expensive and parents can get overwhelmed by the costs.
The people who bought more books than any other were actually – the Grandparents. I spent time looking at ways to attract the kid’s attention but failed to account for grandparents. Going forward, I plan to adjust my colors and glitter levels to a more moderate level to keep the kids while not potentially turning off older shoppers.
Plan Your Display Space
When considering your venue or space always find out how big are the tables you are going to be working with if they are not your own. If you are using your own tables, then obviously you know how much space you have. Before the event, plan out your display, either by using your own tables or marking out the equivalent space on the floor or another table. Where you want things to go, how much room you have, etc.
Make sure to leave at least 4 inches on the edges so that items are less likely to get knocked off. Leave plenty of space in the front for people to be able to set things down as they peruse your table.
This is important. I have watched people walk away after pausing because they were holding onto things and had nowhere to set them down. We work so hard to draw people in it is important to eliminate any barriers that might prevent them from taking a closer look once you have them there.
Live Events – Getting Noticed
Signs Signs Signs
Your sign is one of the first impressions people will have of you. It is your first, and often only, chance to draw someone’s attention to your table.
It should be obvious, but it also seems to be one of the more common things to go wrong and the bane of event workers everywhere. Our table had a chalkboard with no chalk. The table next to us forgot their banner. Two tables down a sign was lost to the wind. Some people had signs so overloaded with information it was difficult to tell what they were really selling. Others had no sign at all, or the sign they did have was small and not immediately obvious.
If you are not sure what should be on your sign, go to a market yourself. See what tables you are drawn to and then make a note of their sign.
*Toasted Nut vendors don’t count, they rely on the mind-altering powers of the delicious smell of their products.
Crafts and Activities
Ah, the infamous question. To craft? Or not to craft? Depending on what it is you are promoting, this may be an obvious answer for you. If your target demographic is adults, seniors, or even kids middle grade and up, crafts are not going to add much of anything to your display and have therefore not earned a seat at the table. For those of us dealing directly with kids, there are two questions I have found to be extremely helpful to ask myself.
- Does this craft tie DIRECTLY into your book or product in a meaningful way? If your answer is no, there is no need to go any further. If your answer was yes, ask yourself the second question.
- Do I have the time/help to direct this craft while handling everything else that will be required for the event? Again, if the answer is no, then no matter how cute your craft was, or how excited you were about it, you should leave it behind. It is better to be able to do one thing well rather than two things half-way.
If you do decide to craft, separate your craft space from your sale or display space. Separate tables entirely would be best but aren’t always possible. You should also be able to monitor the craft and your main table simultaneously, unless you have help or spare hands available to work the two separately. And, while coverage is good, if the weather is fair having your craft a little bit out in front of your main table is another great way to draw people in.
No matter what goes on, or how the day progresses, the most important thing about doing live events is to have fun.
These events can be long, difficult, and stressful. The prep work ahead of time, the setup, being on your feet for hours, and then facing packing up at the end of the day are all frankly exhausting. Going into these events with anything else but having a good time as your goal is a good way to set yourself up for disappointment. If you manage to sell books or get exposure, that is awesome! But setting that as the expectation can be a problem.
No one wants to approach a table or a display of someone who looks like they would rather be anywhere else. Vendors on their phones, starring blankly into the distance, or just otherwise being miserable turns people off faster than you can ever hope to draw them in.
Each and every event we go to is a new experience, a new learning opportunity, and a chance to reach more people with the projects and products that we pour so much of our time and energy into creating and bringing to the world at large.
As more events begin to dot my calendar and line up in my future, I am excited for each and every opportunity to come. And this time, I won’t forget the sunscreen.