Do you wish to set up a book booth at your local fair?
A paperback or hardcover on display at a book store, library, or book booth is an aspiration for every author. However, if you have self-published a book, you will feel the pinch and understand the uphill struggle to achieve this goal.
What if you can make at least one of these happen with some entrepreneurial magic dust? I am talking about setting up a booth at a local fair or exhibition.
Daunting? Yes. Doable? Double yes.
Allow me to share what I learned when I organized an Indie Authors book booth at my resident welfare Diwali Mela (Diwali fair. For those unaware, Diwali is like Christmas in India)
First and foremost, set your goal for taking up this task. Mine were-
See physical copies of my books displayed
Reach out to a new audience/readers (beyond social media)
I saw this as an opportunity to know people in my locality whom I meet on the streets around my house and for them to learn about me.
Regarding book sales, my satisfaction target (not monetary) was selling 10% of the displayed copies. The key word here is 'satisfaction.'
You may keep a monetary target (profits or a certain amount of sales) as a goal, but that is a different ball game altogether.
Once you set your goal(s), search for the best possible event for you. 'Best possible is a relative term, but here are some pointers-
The location is within easy reach.
Prices are within your budget.
Caters to an audience to whom you do not have easy access.
Timing of the event. Always preferable to do events around the long holidays and gifting season.
After identifying the event, do your due diligence before investing your time and money.
Speak to people who may have attended such events.
Check for facilities provided by the organizers.
Will there be premium booths? (location/ size or facilities)
If you decide to leap, be clear on one thing. Apart from your books, it is better to have multiple authors and genres unless you are a multi-book/ multi-genre author. So reach out to fellow authors. Being part of an author group will help with the diversity of genres and topics to cover at the exhibit. The authors of 'The Creative Circle' made generous contributions to the booth.
You may start small and take only a table or collaborate with someone else. I got together with a friend who makes hand-painted stuff like bags, purses, and stoles. Such a joint venture lowers your costs. However, the real benefit is expanding your network for your social media campaign (see later) and getting more visitors to the booth. Many of the book patrons hung around to check her stuff. People drawn by her work did stop to flip through the pages of our books on display. Their strolling around allowed me to talk about the books.
If you ask your author friends to contribute their books, have sufficient time for the copies to reach you. Two to three weeks lead time is good enough for the courier and if someone wants to order fresh prints. Keep a cut-off date with a buffer of 2-3 days before the event. The time will allow you to put together any final touches for display and manage any last-minute delays.
A name for your booth is important. (ours was 'indie Book Wonders') A logo with the name is not a must-have but will be suitable for branding, adding value, and forming a recognition point for all your posts and exhibits. Use these for your banner, pamphlets, and branding of any materials. (e.g., carry bags)
Create a social media campaign for Insta, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok (if the app is available in your location). Like in our case, your event may be part of a local fair, and the posts may not convert to actual footfalls, but these will generate a buzz. In addition, the posts and videos allow you and other authors to interact and post about the books.
We created videos and posts using Canva. You can use the same videos on your local networks or groups on Whatsapp to invite friends, family, and acquaintances. They can forward these to their network and spread the word for you.
Think and plan about the display. How will you grab attention and provide a pleasant experience to your visitors? A pleasing, attractive aesthetic gives a positive vibe. A well-organized booth shows how much you value the books and your work. Of course, what you can do will depend on the budget, booth size, and amenities (e.g., lights, power sockets, tables, and chairs). Not everything needs to be fancy and pricey. You can cover many aspects with simple, low-cost ingenuity.
We used decorative items present in our home or created props from things with easy availability. For example, we made the category display cards and pricing tags at home with colored paper sheets. The emoji faces on the sticks representing emotions drew eyeballs.
We made simple flashcards out of colored sheets. The sheet had the book title, genre, a few words about the main characters (or central theme for poetry books), Amazon/Goodreads rating, a few lines from reader reviews, and SM handles of authors. These cards added value by providing additional information for the visitors.
Pricing is important. Check with the contributors if they would like to offer a special price for the event. A price below or equal to the Amazon rates at the time helps make some visitors decide to open their wallets. Ask the contributing authors to send you signed copies with a message for the potential reader and include any bookmarks or swag. One author sent a hand-painted bookmark plus a painting with her book. We sold her work as a collector's item.
While we are on the topic of pricing, here is a reminder for the financial logistics. First, keep currency/ change in different denominations (will depend on the book pricing), and don't forget a safe box or easy-to-carry purse to store the cash. Have your digital payment options ready. (make sure your mobile data is working for net connectivity).
It is best to place books according to genre at the booth. Create a display card to highlight the genre. Such categorization helps the visitors to browse according to their preferences, and for you to engage them on any books, you may have read in the same genre.
Consider and plan for ways to attract visitors to your booth. The location of your booth plays an important role here. Ask the organizers for the booth map and identify areas with clear pathways and views from the entrance. Another set of good locations is next to eating points or at the corner. We were lucky to get a corner booth with a direct view from the fair's entrance.
I say lucky because the organizers allotted the booths only on the day of the fair. But we had prepared ourselves. We made name badges with our logos and a placeholder for the booth number. If the budget allows, go for lanyards. We printed the badges at home to keep the costs low. We also roped in six friends and family members to be at the fair for the entire duration and walk around with these badges pinned to their chests.
We did a raffle for any purchases from our exhibit. Since this was a joint venture with my painter friend, we each contributed one gift as a prize. You can also make a selfie point with a fancy board with your branding as a backdrop where your customers or people at the fair can pose with books they like. Request them to tag you on any posts on their social media handles. Unfortunately, our booth size did not offer enough space, so we dropped this idea.
Is this fun, or are all the logistics making you dizzy? Keep your chin up, tighten your belt and tackle those nerves. Make lists and more lists. If you are a control freak like me, you should have the checklists below to prevent you from going mad at the event. They may also save you last-minute headaches and panic attacks.
An xl sheet with author name, book title, price, number of copies, amazon rating, and age category. Keep two sets of this printed sheet for ready reference at the booth.
List of items to carry. The items may become exhaustive. Things like stationery, scissors, cellotape, pens, markers, rope/string, props you will use, labels, placards/displays, clips, pins, cover for the table at the booth, banner, and any other items for display.
List for sustenance- water, disposable glasses, snacks
Pack everything a day before—sort by what you need and when. Try to rest and not overthink at this stage. The operative word is 'try.'
D-day has arrived:
Do not panic. Yes, even if you are the coolest cucumber on this planet. A good night's rest and a few deep breaths every few hours are a must-have. (Saves lives - yours and the people around you- eye roll)
Before leaving home, check your lists and match them with your packed items. (some more eye-rolls and huffs)
Reach well before your time. Setting up the booth is not easy. Tiny details like how to tie the banner or pin the sheet on the table will throw you off your schedule. There will be last-minute glitches or things you forgot (you must rush home to collect or ask someone to deliver). When you finish setting up the display, you will be a messy, sweating, human-repelling self. So, factor in time to make yourself presentable.
Take photos and videos of the display. Do share with your contributing authors so they get the feel and buzz of what is happing. After all, this is what we are all here for. Go live on social media platforms (assuming you have the time before the fair starts and are presentable. Sniff. Sniff)
Let the show begin. Hold on. What do I say if a visitor walks up to the booth?
If you are like me- shy, reluctant to talk to new people, avoider of any social contact, an absolute must is a partner/friend who smiles and talks the pants off people. These god gifts to us introverts will provide an opening, but it is our foot in the door. So here are a few talking ignition points to start your tongue rolling.
What type of books/genres/topics do you read?
Any author's work you can't resist?
What are your currently reading?
What did you read last?
What do you do? (work/ college)
The visitor may not be a reader, but they will know someone who is a bookaholic. Would they like to gift a book to the avid reader friend/family?
Once you make the first sale, squeal in your heart. In between, visitors take a few deep breaths, move around and smile. Yes, as much as the books, you are also on display as the booth owner. (Huh! Scary stuff)
And pray, some or all of your goals are met. Mine were—all four. We sold 50% of the copies on display. (Yipee!)
However, things were not all rose petals and lavender fragrances. Some key learnings-
Children's picture books, middle grade, and young adults are an absolute must-have. There was a lot of demand for fantasy reads from young visitors. (12-year-olds to their early twenties) The booth attracted children and young adults. While this gave hope that reading is still alive, having to turn them away broke my heart.
Most adults enquired about Self-help, biographies, and leadership books.
Please make an effort to discuss with the author their book. Reading blurbs is not enough. Knowledge about the storyline and the protagonists is necessary. The visitor at the booth wants your words. Why should they buy the book? Or Why is this a good book for them?
The lack of interest in poetry books surprised me. The books we kept were light delights, so I am still at sea on this one.
Overall, the experience was tiring to the bone, but the heart was drunk on exhilaration. The booth at the Diwali Mela allowed me and my supportive author friends to reach an audience who may otherwise not have glanced our way. Even if we did not sell some books, the mere act of a person running their fingers on the cover, flipping to read the blurb, asking questions, or reading a few passages was a positive step.
I thank all the authors who took the chance on me to set up this booth and helped me present a variety of books for the visitors. I hope this experience encourages others to take this leap. I will be on the lookout for such events, whether to send my book or set up a booth.
If you have reached this far, check out the books we displayed.
Children's Picture Books: