In my dayjob as a library event planner, I host at least four Local Author Festivals every year, featuring at least ten authors per event. I deal with a lot of authors who are doing their first signing ever and am frequently asked questions like, "What should I bring?" So I decided to write it up here instead of typing it out every time!
I've broken it down into five categories for you.
1) What you need to know before packing:Every venue is just a little bit different. Since I'm an author who does a lot of events, I try to answer all these questions right away, but I know A LOT of event organizers don't. So here's a list of questions you should ask if you don't have the answer provided:
- Is the venue providing a table and chair? If so, how many chairs?
- (i.e. don't bring your spouse/assistant/etc and expect there to be a chair for them without asking first)
- Is the venue providing a tablecloth?
- Does the venue have free wifi access available for authors?
- this is especially important if you're selling your own books; see below
- Is the venue handling book sales or is the author expected to?
- Who is providing the books? (some events may have a bookseller that will handle sales for a commission, but you provide the books)
- Are you expected to speak/read or is it table-only?
- If you are speaking at some point, is there going to be someone to watch your table while you're away?
- Where should you park?
- When should you arrive to setup?
- Where do you go once you arrive?
- How long is the event expected to last?
- What is the expected attendance?
- (Sometimes the organizer may not be able to answer that question, but they should be able to give you an order of magnitude (a handful? tens of people? hundreds? thousands? etc))
- Is there a facebook event or another website you should use in your promotions?
- Are there any particular images you should use to promote the event?
2) What you absolutely must bring:Whether or not you're selling your own books, there are a couple must-haves. (If you are selling your own books, there are more must-haves below)
- Pens/sharpies - signing utensils of some kind. Some venues supply them, but most don't and it's always best to be prepared.
- Bookmarks or some other "flat paper" handout like postcards or fliers. This is for readers who may not want to buy right away, but want to check your books out later.
- At minimum, this needs to have a book cover and some way for them to find more information, such as your website url.
- Tablecloth, if venue is not supplying. Many event tables are rough and you're going to want to cover that up. I've used a large scarf in a pinch.
- Table and chair(s), if venue isn't supplying. Most do, though.
3) What you might consider bringing:There are some things that work for some events/authors, and not others, so here's just a list of things to consider bringing:
- Additional swag/giveaways
- branded items such as pens, notepads, flashlights, keychains, etc
- business cards (better for networking with other authors)
- First-chapter teasers
- Newsletter signup sheet (and remember, readers must give their explicit permission to be added to your mail list)
- One-sheets for school visits or writing workshops if there may be attendees who can arrange such things. (Mine is downloadable here, for example)
- Extra battery packs for phones/tablets - many places do not provide access to an outlet
- Water/snacks - talking to a lot of people makes you thirsty! And if you don't know how accessible food/water will be at the venue, it's better to be prepared.
- mints/gum - I hate chatting with readers when I feel like my breath stinks
- A sweater - just in case
- Post-it notes - so the readers can write their name for you, so you don't spell it wrong
- An attention-getting giveaway, like a giftcard (that you can email to the winner) or a cool bookish item (ask for numbers so you can call the winner to pick it up before the end of the event)
- Depending on state laws, you may use this as a newsletter signup tactic
- Don't forget to develop a plan on how to distribute to the winner!
- Table decorations (for ex: I have a baby dragon figurine that sits on my table at events and people love him)
- A sign that says "Meet the Author" or something similarly simple.
- This is useful at events where it's not immediately apparent that you're an author, such as bookstore signings or multi-purpose events like craft fairs.
- Book stand w/display book.
- If you're selling your own books, consider getting a book stand to display the book(s) nicely.
- If a bookseller is selling your books at a separate table, bring one copy of each to display at your table.
- Signage about your book(s)
- signs that stand on your table or hook to the edge are cheaper and less likely to get in the way
- free-standing banners are eye-catching, but sometimes there isn't room for them.
- Never assume you can tape/pin anything to anything. All fasteners should be zero-damage.
4) What to bring if you're selling your own books:
- Your books (duh)
- How many? This is such a hard question to answer. Most non-headliners sell somewhere between zero and twenty books at most multi-author events. If you're a featured speaker or popular, you may sell more.
- Always bring more of the first in a series than the sequels.
- Some way to take credit card payments!
- I know it takes a little more effort, but you WILL lose out on sales if you don't have a way to do this. Square and Paypal are both easy to use (on a phone or tablet) and they take a small percentage of sales.
- Cash box with change - don't expect the venue to have change for you
- Some way to keep track of sales. Depending on the state, you may need to collect sales tax and distribute it to the state.
5) Also consider...
- Purchasing a rolling cart or collapsible handtruck in case you have to park far from the event venue. I use an older rolling suitcase for my events.
- Avoid being aggressively salesy. Americans don't like to be aggressively sold on anything - think about how much we mock used car salesmen.
- Make genuine, friendly conversation. Make readers feel comfortable with you.
- No one may come. It happens to us all and it is unavoidable. Mentally prepare yourself for the possibility to avoid disappointment. Bring something to do that also doesn't make you look antisocial.
- Never make comments about how few people are there. It will always sound like you don't appreciate the readers who did show up.
- Avoid negativity in general. The book/publishing community is small and interconnected. Even if the event is not up to your expectations, the connections you form and relationships you make can be invaluable.
- Practice your autograph! Your autograph should be different from your legal signature, for purposes of avoiding identity fraud, etc.
- Preparing a phrase for your signature that has to do with your book.
- For example, I will write "Loyalty and justice, always" in between the reader's name and my signature, which is a phrase from a note my main character's father leaves her.