It's Conference Season!
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
How to get readers to stop at your table:
You’ve got your conference tickets to your favorite writing conference, your flight, or maybe you’re driving. Maybe this is your first conference and your stomach is flipping in absolute excitement. Maybe you’re a pro. I’ve been to about 6 writing conferences and know there are always things people forget, so I’m compiling a list for authors so you don’t forget that one vital thing, or (in my case) pack too much of what you don’t.
(If you're a reader, I'll post your "to bring" list in a different post.)
I’m going to preface this with a picture:
I keep this thing packed all year, so I can just grab it and go. I'm also going to add one HUGE piece of advice: When you are at your table, don't be on your phone. People will pass right on by if you don't pay attention to them, even if you have amazing books! I learned that if I stand in front of my table, I can make a boatload of more sales than sitting behind my table, because I can direct people to look at what I've got.
Now for the moment you've been waiting for! Here’s a list of what you should bring. Some authors choose to go with simple, and there’s nothing wrong with that, so some of these aren’t required for you.
Author banner—some authors choose to have a table runner, some opt for a standing banner. You need something with your author logo. I prefer standing banners, personally.
These can be purchased several different places. I prefer Vistaprint because their customer services is AMAZING. They have a 100% guarantee. When I received my banner the first time, the logo was pixilated and looked horrible. Vistaprint replaced it 100% free.
Business cards—I purchased about 500 and have used them for about 3 years now
I also purchase mine through Vistaprint because they have sales all the time on business cards
Bookmarks—readers love to collect bookmarks. I’m also particularly proud of mine because I always do bookmarks to match my books (i.e., there’s a bookmark for my circus series, and for my fairytale series)
I use UPrinting for bookmarks because you can get a lot more for your money
Price tags for your books—you can buy cute little clothespin tags at Hobby Lobby, Michaels, etc. and it really helps your readers to have a quick look to see the pricing of each of your books. If they’re all the same price, then just have a sign that says what the price is.
Pens—both for writing and for signing. My author signature requires two colors
Backup pens—but seriously. I bought a package of sharpies to sign with and they all exploded as I used each one, buy luckily I had gel pens to use.
Black sharpie—you never know when you’ll use this! I found myself needing it all the time! (Writing price tags, labeling boxes, letting someone else use it, etc.)
Masking tape—inevitably you’ll need it or someone else will. I use it to keep the fairy lights on my table, and you might need it to hang signs on the front of the table.
Newsletter signup—a clipboard with a slip of paper is sufficient. You really only need a person’s first name and their email. I also have a section on the right with phone numbers, and I’m very clear it’s only to text them if they are a winner.
Swag—this is not a requirement. Some authors don’t like spending the money on swag, and I get that. If that’s the case though, you need something on your table to make readers remember you. I keep two stuffed dragons on my table because I love dragons, I’m known for dragons (branding), and they match my author logo.
I make dragon scale bookmarks, candy, keychains, etc. This year I’m trying magnets of my covers for the first time.
Book stands—this can be a shelf or it can be small wire stands.
Books—don’t forget to give yourself plenty of time to have your books shipped! I’ve met enough people that I can ask if anyone is driving and is willing to let me ship to their house. I’ve been very blessed that so many have been willing to drive my books for me. Some conferences have the option of shipping to the hotel too.
Branding/Something eye-catching—as you see in the background of picture below, author Jolene Buchheit has life-size cutouts of Sam and Dean Winchester and Castiel (from Supernatural). She is known for bringing them to every conference. My table the past few years has been circus-themed, because my books are circus themed. I also use dragons (even my t-shirt).
Prize giveaways—this is a fantastic way to get people to sign up for your newsletter, but it isn’t a requirement. “Sign up form my newsletter and enter to win a prize!” This is the prize I gave away at Penned Con in 2018 (calendar, book, my author pen, cucumber mask, dragon head bath bomb):
Here’s my table so you have a visual of everything I’ve mentioned:
Below are some other author tables. All of these photos are shared with their permission. Take a look at their tables and try to see if you can pinpoint what I meant about branding. Another thing I forgot to mention is to make sure you know what the genre of the conference is. Author Tara Benham knew Penned Con had a lot of kids attend, so she made sure her children’s books were in view for parents to pick up. Some conference are themed to romance. My table would likely fail at a romance conference. So be aware of your target audience going in.
Zach Chopchinski’s got new covers now, but look at how strong his branding is. He’s known as “The Bowtie Author,” and wears bowties to every convention. His books are steampunk or futuristic, so you can see that in the way his side is set up.
Take a look at Martina McAtee now. See how her side is a little more creepy? Cool black tree, lace, spider web bowl. Can you tell what she writes? “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things” is one of her books, and it’s absolutely amazing.
As I mentioned above, Tara Benham knew parents come to this conference, so she has a poster of her children’s book front and center. But look at all of the other decorations and her book covers. You can tell she has some creepy books just by the way she’s set up. (She also has some that aren’t creepy, but you can tell right from first glance what she writes.)
Nina Walker’s “Color Alchemist” series is well-branded with the colorful tablecloth and bright banner. Hers is far more simplistic than mine, but you look at it and know she’s a YA author without seeing it on her banner.
K.S. Hall (her mom, which is so freaking cool by the way) also has a very clear banner, she’s also gone with simplistic, but she’s got business cards, swag, her books, and price tags.
Hopefully this has helped give you some ideas to standing out at a conference. Good luck! I can’t wait to see you around!