Allow me to share my own experience, while also providing a few tips for what you might do when you attend an author event.
First, let me provide a little background for the event I attended.
Reading on the River
I attended a local reading-oriented event for children today called Reading on the River. There were a couple of hundred children and their parents. They had several reading-related activities sponsored by preschools and daycare centers, a magic show on stage, and even Smokey the Bear and a D.A.R.E. lion. Authors of children’s books were also invited (even little ole me).
They had given me information and forms to fill out a few weeks ago. They set up the tent, table, chairs, and even prepared the board shown above (it was placed in front of the pole, but after it blew over from the wind, I placed it between the poles; the aesthetic problem of the pole blocking part of the sign is totally my own fault).
What to bring?
First, do a little research to learn more about the event. What will be going on? What have other authors done in the past? Who will be attending? What is attracting these people to the event? Will your target audience be in attendance? This will help you decide what to bring. Past-year average attendance numbers will also help you decide how many books to bring; too many is better than too few.
Order copies of your books well in advance. It may take a couple of weeks to print a large order. It takes more time to deliver it. Order more than you need. Plan for the possibility of needing to replace defective copies. When the order arrives, take time to go through every book. Allow for time to replace defective copies, and defective copies of those replacements. Plan for the worst-case scenario, then you won’t be in the frustrating situation of not having enough books.
In addition to books, print out nice looking informational sheets. These should include your name, your books, pictures of your covers, blurbs for your books, quotes from any editorial reviews that you have permission to use this way, where to find your books (give simple, easy-to-type url’s), the url for your author page, your blog, your website, and your Facebook and Twitter pages, for example. The sheet should visually look impressive and the text and imagery should get your target audience interested in your book.
Tip: On the profile page at AuthorCentral, use the feature to create a simple url for your author page (probably, just your name at the end of it). It will take about half an hour for this to go live. Visit the link to ensure that it works, then copy and paste this into your promotional materials. This will be much easier for people to type than the url you see at Amazon. Note that you can only create one special url like this, so choose wisely. For example, mine is http://amazon.com/author/chrismcmullen (but yours won’t be this way by default; you must create this url from your profile tab).
If you have a promotion going on they day of the event and the day after, highlight this on your informational sheet; or you can include a CreateSpace or Smashwords discount code, for example (but note that some people will prefer to buy from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, for example; if you restrict yourself to one option, you’ll lose some sales).
A bookmark that looks appealing is a great promotional tool. If it looks like a bookmark you’d pay money for, but mentions your name and book and any other pertinent information, it will likely get used, which means your name and book will be seen frequently. If it looks like an advertisement in the shape of a bookmark, it’s less likely to be used. This may be more valuable than a business card, although you should have these, too, since they easily fit inside a wallet or pocket.
Prepare a portfolio. Do you have handwritten notes or hand-drawn sketches from when you were developing characters, working out elements of your plot, or choosing names, for example? These would be cool to include in your portfolio. How about a printed page showing several editing notes? Include your final cover, and perhaps a draft or two of your cover showing how it evolved. Your portfolio will be a handy conversation piece to get people interested in talking to you about your book. It will also help convey how much hard work went into preparing your book.
Think about how to decorate your table or booth with objects that relate to your book. Browse images of book fairs, readings, and signings online and you may get some good ideas to help inspire your own creative design. Small household objects that inspire your writing may be relevant; or souvenirs that relate to your genre (but be sure you don’t mind it getting handled, and there is the possibility of items wandering off). If you know someone who is into arts and crafts, they may be willing to help you decorate your booth or table.
If the venue is outdoors, prepare for possible weather issues. Remember, wind can be very important, too, not just rain or snow. Bring a water bottle and multiple writing utensils.
It may help to prepare a related activity. Since the event I attended was promoting literacy to children, I brought a large stack of Halloween word scrambles from one page of my latest word scramble book and passed these out. A few of the kids asked me for a pencil (I’m glad that I brought several, just in case) and worked on these at my table. They really got into it. A few of the younger kids needed a couple of hints. They really seemed to enjoy receiving a hint so they could still figure it out on their own.
In addition to interacting with people, passing out materials to your target audience, and perhaps selling some books (ask for their names and then sign the books), there are a few other things you should do. Interact with your fellow authors and exchange business cards with them. It’s important to build local connections and support groups. Meeting other authors in person is a cool experience, too. Also, get photos of the event to display on your blog and author page, especially a photo of you interacting with people in your booth at a busy event.
The most popular person in the author section at Reading at the River was an illustrator, Annabel Jones (check out the illustrations and fine art on her website). She had a portfolio of illustrations that she’d made for books. Annabel is an art instructor and artist. She’s made illustrations for authors who are submitting to publishers and she has an e-book. She had her artist tools with her and was creating watercolor caricatures of children for many parents (I got one, too).
One little girl fell in love with one of my books so I let her keep it. I gave a couple of more books away at the end of the event. I passed out several word scramble sheets. I didn’t sell anything (the spirit of this event was to promote reading and literacy), but several children and parents did browse through my books. If I attend in future years, I plan to bring several more books for younger children and give them away, too. There was a book zone where every child could receive a free book or two. Kids received stickers for engaging in activities, then traded the stickers in for books at the book zone.
Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)
I have some more images of the event below, including a bookmobile (I think it looks cool with the rays of sunshine radiating just before it). 🙂