A few weeks ago, I promoted and signed my memoir at my first festival. I spent the weekend with 140,000 book lovers on the beautiful UCLA campus for the L.A. Times Festival of Books.
It was a great experience to find out what you do and don't need for a successful book fair event.
Here is my list of recommended items:
Collapsible luggage dolly
You're going to need something to transport your books, sometimes quite a distance from where your car will be parked.
Box of books
I was overly optimistic for a debut author. I took a case of 32 and left two more cases in the trunk of my car. Lesson of the day: Some people will buy on-site, most will wait to buy on Amazon to get the discount and free shipping.
Tote bag (large enough to hold your supplies)
I found a great 20 x 12 x 10 zippered rolling bag at the L.A. garment district for $20. It's best to get a bag with wheels, so if you need to take it separately from your dolly of books, you can drag it instead of lug it.
I had two 18 x 27 vinyl banners printed. They were very reasonably priced ($23 each) and well made. The banners roll up and transport easily, and also have grommets for hanging. You want to make sure you choose a banner size that is large enough to be seen from a distance. Have one printed of your book cover, and one of you with your name.
You'll need an easel to hold your banners unless they will be attached to the booth. Place them as close to the front of the booth and near the walkway as possible, so they can be seen by people passing by.
Tabletop display stands
I chose wrought iron to avoid the displays being knocked over by the afternoon breeze. I found a great set in the picture frame section of my local craft store for $5 each. I used one to hold my book and the other to hold a 14 x 16 "Meet the Author" foam-core poster printed at Kinko's (the same image used for the vinyl banner). It's important to have a tabletop "Meet the Author" image because otherwise passersby assume you are just selling the books and don't realize you are actually the author.
I use a cute recipe box on my table to hold the bookmarks for my memoir: The Break-Up Diet. You can use any object, functional or decorative, to draw visual interest to your table.
Promotional bookmarks or postcards
You definitely want something with your book cover image, the ISBN, and your book website address on it. Not everyone will buy your book at the fair and if they have something to take home, it raises your chances of making a sale later. If you include something funny or informative on the back of the bookmark or postcard, something that ties in with your book, you'll have a better chance of people keeping it. I included a humorous recipe on the back of mine.
Material table drapes
It looks nice when you decorate your signing table. I went to my local fabric store and chose a couple yards of two contrasting colors (the same blue and black as my book). But I'm not exactly Betty Homemaker, so I also picked up some double-sided, iron-on hem tape to finish the edges.
Go to Amazon.com and pull your best reader reviews. Print them onto a single sheet of colored paper with enough reviews to fill both sides. Laminate the page at Kinko's, so it stays neat from the handling it will receive. It's a great sales tool because it gives your potential reader the opportunity to see how much other readers have enjoyed your book.
I chose a cash box that was small, but also had the features I wanted. I didn't want to mess with a credit card machine, so the cash box worked out well. Don't forget to bring your reseller’s permit, a sales tax table for your selling area, a calculator, and money for making change.
This is the best way to keep track of your sales and inventory. Trust me, you'll be talking to so many people that by the end of the fair, you won't remember how many books you've sold until you go through your receipts.
Ask the visitors who come to your booth to sign your guest book and include their email address for the chance to win a drawing for a free book. This will help you build your opt-in email database, and your lucky winner will be excited to receive a copy of your book!
Bring a fine point Sharpie; I had several teens come around wanting their book fair posters autographed. I use a comfortable grip gel pen for signing my books; it doesn't bleed through and the gel doesn't hang up on the page like a ballpoint pen. The cushioned grip and slightly thicker base helps if you have carpal tunnel like I do.
This works very well to bring people to the table. Who can pass up a Hershey's Kiss or Jolly Rancher hard candy? Most people won't grab and go, so while they are unwrapping their candy, you can tell them about your book.
Now for the personal stuff:
Don't forget your sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat (especially if your table is uncovered). One of my girlfriends dropped by with a little spray bottle of water--it was great for a facial spritz to help with evaporative cooling.
Water & Snacks
Like most fairs, the food and drinks were astronomical ($5 for a cup of lemonade), so do yourself a favor and freeze some bottles of water the night before, as they thaw, they'll provide the hydration you'll definitely need. Pack a lunch and/or some granola bars to get you through the day. On a side note, bring a travel bottle of anti-bacterial gel for your hands to help clean up before you eat.
If you think it might get cool in the late afternoon or evening, it's better to have a light cover-up than not.
Of course you'll want pictures to post on your blog!
The best thing to take to a book festival is your smile. Have fun with the day. Enjoy meeting people and telling them about your book. It's the best PR there is.