My best friend whisked me away for a glorious three days to her in-laws’ cabin in Sopchoppy, Fl, where I was inspired and wrote and felt incredibly relaxed and motivated afterward. Two things came out of that trip: I met CJ, who does not accept that writers should write and not pet him, and Brenda’s in-laws are now part of my chosen family. So CJ gets a place of honor in a blog post.
As we continue down the path of, “being an author is a lot more than just hiding out in the middle of the woods furiously tapping away at a keyboard (or writing by hand– whatever works for you)”, one of the things I struggle with the most is making public appearances.
I have mild aphasia, and I struggle with public speaking. A lot. I really need to be able to come prepared and make sure the questions do not deviate too far from the topic or I shut down and lose my nerve. So this is the list of everything I do before I make any kind of appearance, be it vending at a market or doing a reading or talk. I’ll cover markets first because they’re the most straightforward and easy:
What you want to buy/have beforehand:
Certificate of insurance
This is starting to crop up more and more. You absolutely should already have business insurance, and it’s not that expensive. I pay $20 a month for it through State Farm. The certificate of insurance is basically just proof of business liability insurance, much like what you have for a car. Most markets really only request them if you sell food or alcohol, but it never hurts to be prepared.
Most markets, cons, and shows charge vendor fees. What you have to do is figure out whether they’re worth it or not, especially once they get to be over $100. What are your end goals besides sales? Are you trying to build up your mailing list or social media followers? Make a sign that explains what they’ll get out of the mailing list– or tell them. Do you just want exposure? Make up postcards and bookmarks with links to your site. I put my books’ blurbs on the back of mine along with a coupon code that never expires. No matter what you do, you need to make sure that the return on investment for the vendor fees is worth it and that you know that you have a good chance to make it up.
An Event Buddy
Markets tend to be anywhere from 4-6 hours long. An event buddy could be someone who comes with you or a fellow vendor who can keep an eye on your booth when you need to run to the bathroom.
As an author, you have more of a chance to chat with your audience about your books, inspiration, writing process, and anything else they want to know about, but that means that you can’t make quick sales. If you can find someone willing to go to the markets or events with you, they can help you manage your time by handling transactions and restocking inventory as needed. Plus they can man the booth while you walk around and check out other vendors.
You need to be able to talk about your books and process and do it without getting bogged down in details, losing your audience, or missing out on a sale because you’ve talked so much to one person that you miss the opportunity to talk to another. Know your book blurbs and be able to expand on them rather than regurgitate them, be able to talk to the parts of the book that meant the most to you, and be prepared to give a Cliff Notes version of how you wrote, built your world, and published.
Something that served me well is going on Amazon, finding everything I could possibly need for my own table or booth, saving it for later, and then waiting for notifications that something was on sale or another cheaper version was available. I highly recommend it. You also need to think about how easy it will be to load and unload if you have to park far away and don’t have an event buddy to watch your stuff.
Here’s what I got for my set up, and you can see the picture to the right to get a better idea:
- A 2×4 folding table– trust me, you want to splurge on one that has a handle. My next one will definitely have one.
- A three tiered display stand for smaller items like candles, prints, and stickers
- An 8×8 tent with a sun wall and weights that can be filled with water for the legs
- Display stands for the books
- A really nice journal and pens for my mailing list
- A separate book to log inventory and sales done through Venmo or cash
- Double sided tape
- Duct tape
- Two fully charged battery packs and a power strip with USB ports
- A wheeled crate that holds everything I need for my set up and that doubles as a seat
- A comfortable, folding chair (preferably with cup holders)
- Snacks– high protein like jerky is smart– and bottled water along with Liquid IV, powdered Gatorade, or Emergen-C. You want the electrolytes in the summer, and the powder packs take up less space.
- Table decor
It was actually pretty easy for me to get in and out of the last market I did, but I want to invest in a second crate or large box that I can use to transport all of my stock at once. Books are heavy.
Set up your table before your first event
Granted, you may not be able to invest in everything you need for your first event, but after you are fully prepared to sell your books, go ahead and set up your table in your living room (or wherever you have space) as soon as you can. It really helps a lot to get a feel for how everything looks, if you need to tape anything down or get additional displays, props, or aids.
I’ll cover speaking appearances in my next post, but if you want to take a look at my table firsthand, come find me at one of my upcoming events and say hi!