Yep this is my table. (And my sign is on the left end, which
 faced the venue crowd walking by)

I posted last week about being at an outdoor venue to sell my books, and it was a lot of fun, I really enjoyed it.

I encourage any author to give it a try. Sometimes they can be very lucrative–not only do you sell some of your stock, but you’re able to have some face-time with new readers. That can always push you toward a potential new fan.

Anyway, after the fact, I had discussed with several of the other authors that we needed a list of what to bring. So I put one together.

And, because I’m me, I elaborated on each little item, explaining why I felt they were important.

So I thought I would share it on my blog. I’m sure it can be modified for any outdoor venue sale, and used as a guide for anyone who’s never had to set up their own table and retail display.

So here we go:

What To Bring To Sell Books at an Outdoor Venue
1.      Your books. (Obviously) But how many? Depends… If your book’s subject matter goes along with the theme of the event, bring plenty. If it’s not quite in line (say a historical romance, and you’re going to be at a sci-fi comic book convention), still bring 5-10 copies. You never know.

2.      Pens. This goes without saying, but believe it or not, I’ve gone to them, and forgotten these! I recommend bringing 2-3 ball point pens, plus a silver and/or gold Sharpie, in case someone wants you to sign something dark (like a case/bookmark etc) or if you need to mark your red solo cup so you and your table mate don’t mix your drinks up.

3.      A Bio sheet and a price sheet. A bio to brag about yourself, put reviews, and tell people a little bit about who you are. A price sheet is good, especially if you have more than one book. Also, a great promo at a venue is to “bundle” your books. Buy two and get them both at a discount, kind of thing. Also, if you are selling a book series, it’s a great way to hook people into the series. (Reg price — $12.00 each, get two for $20)

4.      Swag. This would be your bookmarks, book list (if you have more than one book available, or some on ebook that aren’t available in print), any little giveaway item (key ring, anything like that you have), and business cards with your website and email on them. This I cannot stress enough. Everything should have at the very least your website on it. You give out the swag so people will find you. It helps if as much information is on the cards as possible, so they can find you.

5.      Change. Because most people when they come to events usually bring large bills with them. IMHO, $40-$50 in change is good, but at least $20, split in fives and ones is the minimum needed.

6. A Square Card Reader (or whatever brand that’s compatible for your phone) to take plastic for your transactions. Trust me. These things are very handy, and the nominal charge (Square charges 2.75% a transaction — so $20 = $19.45) is a business expense you can write off later.

7.      Inventory Sheet. This is more optional, for the OCD/Organized in the crowd.  (Like me). I make a list of my book counts when I start, prices and my “bank” on one sheet and mark it as the day goes, so when I get home, I know what I have left, as well as how much money is in my “bank” at the end of the night. Also, it makes a great “paper trail” for taxes, already totaled out for next year’s taxes.
That’s what you need, the basics.

Now, for the “other stuff” you need to make your table look nice

1.      Table cloth. You have no idea what the condition of the tables will be when you get there. You don’t want to put your books on dirty tables. It looks horrible. And what your table looks like makes a hugedifference. Also have two, in case your table is extra large, or one rips. They don’t have to be fancy, and really, don’t need to be horribly busy, either, that detracts from your books. A large piece of fabric also works to cover the table (can we say bed sheet?).

2.      Table and Chair. Because if there’s not enough tables, it’s always good to at least have a backup in the trunk of the car. You may not need it, but it’s good to have just in case.

3.      Cart or dolly. Something to haul your stuff in on. This is almost a necessity. Expect to have 2-3 boxes at least, and they save you multiple trips to the car, because you never know if you can park close. (If you have one/can buy one, great, but don’t hesitate to see if someone can loan you one for the weekend, too.)

4.      Banner/Signto promote your brand. (I say “brand” and not “books” because all your books should cover some matching element, say science fiction, horror, young adult, etc. If you put covers on them, they can look outdated in a very short period of time, and you’ll be making new ones every year.) I have a vinyl banner that I hang on my table with my name, genre and website info on it. I got mine at Vista Print (I just plugged in my info on a ready-made template), and it was very reasonable (less than $20).

5.      Acrylic Displays. One of the things about venues where you bring your own stock, everything can be beautifully laid out on the table, but if the display is flat, no one walking by will see anything but the bottom of your books. Acrylic displays are great, because you can get some to post your bio and stand it up, and one for your price list. (I have an 8×10 bio, and a 5×7 price list stands). Also, brochure stands are great for displaying bookmarks. There are also multi-tiered acrylic stands that can hold several books vertically. And also, you want business card holders. At least two. So Office Max is your friend. They have all kinds of stuff, and most of it is very reasonably priced.  Go, have fun.

6.      Bookends (optional). These are good, if you’re going to set all your books up vertically, also the simple, metal ones are great to stand a copy on (open the first few pages and set the upright side inside) for display purposes as well.

7.      Scissors. Because you will need to cut something. It always happens. Just bring a small pair.

8.      Weights. Paper weights, table cloth weights, anything to hold your table down. When you’re outside, you don’t know what the wind will do. So anything to anchor down the tablecloth and the swag sitting on the table is a must. Even decorative boxes on either end–they take up table space, yes, but they also will raise your display up vertically, and that will draw attention to your table. And they’re great for carrying in your things. (I personally use two decoupaged cardboard boxes to both carry everything, and to use as extra weight on the ends of the table.)

9.      Tape. Not duct tape, either. Clear, sturdy tape. The best I’ve found is packing tape. It will hold my banner on the front of my table, I can tape down my table cloth with it, and any other little thing that needs a touch of tape, and since it’s clear, it doesn’t disturb the look of your table. Nor does it tear anything up when you remove it, which is a plus.

10.  Candy. Yep, I said it, candy. Candy brings people to your table. They will stop for a piece, and usually stand there long enough to talk to you a bit, and talking can lead to a sale. A dish to put the candy in is optional. I have two, one for chocolate, one for mints, but that’s because I was given them. If you don’t, you don’t have to buy something, just dump the candy on the table. But you do need to get individually wrapped candy, (like Tootsie Rolls or Hershey’s Kisses), because people are funny about open food, like M&M’s. Especially if you’re in an outside venue.

11.  Breath mints. No one likes dragon breath. Trust me on this one.

12.  Food and Drink. You should always bring at the least a couple bottles of water/soda, and something to snack on. Or pack a lunch to bring.

13.  Hand Sanitizer. Because, especially at outdoor venues, the port-o-potties always run out of hand sanitizer. Enough said.

14.  Blanket. Especially in the spring and fall, because the weather could change in a second.

15.  Extra clothing layers. See above.

16.  Headache medicine and Band-Aids. Because you just don’t know what you’ll need.

17.  Sunscreen. See above.

18.  Bug spray. Again, because you don’t know what you’ll need.

19.  Camera.  This is great for two things. One, of course, the memories, for Facebook or your website. But also, I like to take a photo of my display after I get it set up, so the next time I do one, I can remember what I did before.

20.  Paper towels and/or baby wipes. Again, because you don’t know if the tables will be clean, and any accidental spills can be cleaned up.

21.  A little bag for trash.

22. A way for your customers to sign up for your newsletter — either an app on your phone or tablet (I use Mail Chimp for my newsletter, so I use Chimpadeedoo–their free app–to do “offline” signups), or even a piece of paper where they can leave their email address and a name. Newsletters are SUPER IMPORTANT for your marketing–see this post about newsletters

After you’ve set up your table, take a look at it from the front and the sides. Make sure it looks pleasing from all angles. Also, any little things you may have for your personal use need to be kept underneath the table, or out of general line-of-sight (Like coffee cups, etc).
Hope this helps you set up your own display table!

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