How can I set up an author table book display for book signings, conventions, and other events? What can I expect? What should I bring? This blog covers some design elements on how to make an attractive display and attract readers.
In 2020, I do plan on attending some book signings and events at conventions to promote my books. You may have seen some of my posts on Instagram – I thought I would go into more details here on the blog.
What can you expect at events?
For a simple event, most likely, I will have just one table. For example, a 6- or 8-foot tables, supplied by the host, seem most common at author book signings at bookstores or libraries. If a one-table event, you don’t have to worry about a backdrop or curtains, just what your table display. The down side is, visually, it might be harder to capture someone’s attention due to the distractions around you.
For an indoor convention such as an SFF con, I would most likely have a booth set up. These are usually, but not always, a square layout. 8×8 feet or 10×10 feet are common. These are the events I’m planning for now since being inside without dealing with weather makes my books and merchandise more secure.
I did see one large and very popular convention offer authors a 2-hour stint at a table. This shows how varied your choices are going to be, which means you need to plan for small and large events.
Outdoor events will be the last option to pursue, as they will take more preparation. This is beyond me at this point in terms of time and resources. Maybe in 2021, if I decide to go that direction.
Author table book display basics
Books. If self-published, you can buy these wholesale from your supplier (i.e., Amazon or Ingram Spark are the two biggies). It varies how much you should buy depending on your event. Since I had no idea, and did plan on attending several events throughout the year, I bought 100 copies of book #1 in a series and 50 copies of book #2.
The reason is the higher number of copies you buy, the cheaper per unit price you will get from your publishing company. Also, the shipping will be cheaper. So if you can invest and do plan on attending a lot of in-person events, try to buy enough to have a healthy supply but not so many you deplete your bank account!
Table. Not all venues will provide one. At Big Box stores, you can get a 2 x 4 or a 29″ x 6′ that folds in half. I’m finding the table that folds in half is a great purchase for me – fits easily into a hatchback car.
Signage. At the minimum, place a sign about how much your book costs. Probably my biggest investment has been in signage since I ended up buying four of the mini-banners (one for Wicked Wolves, one for College Fae, one for my Byrd Nash social media links, and one for Queen’s Favorite). I also had a large floor banner designed and made.
Money and a way to accept cards, receipt book. I decided to go with a Square reader. You can find a great price for one at Amazon! Others have reported Sam’s Warehouse as a place to find a good deal on a Square reader.
A hand-out such as a card or a bookmark that has your social media and website on it. I’ve gone into designing bookmarks in another post so won’t cover it here.
Make your author table stand out
Dress your table with a tablecloth that reaches to the floor.
This was actually a huge pain for us to figure out because we wanted tablecloths that could be used for tables set at different heights with different lengths. We eventually bought 2 each of black tablecloths in the following sizes: 90:” x 132″ and 90″ x 156″. By using clips we could wrap the excess around to the back of the table and keep it off the floor while still hiding the legs.
Optional: Tablecloth drape banner sign. A lot of authors seem to prefer the table apron sign. For me, I prefer the standing sign. The simple reason is that if people are standing in front of your table, your pretty (and expensive) sign is hidden if it drapes across the front of your table.
Use signage to entice questions and provide information. These signs ask questions with the solution on the back. The purpose was to get visitors to my booth to engage in learning about my characters.
Put interesting (but related) pieces on the table beside your book (i.e., if your book is about horses, you can have a horse statue next to your book)
Remember, scarcity drives desire to buy. Don’t put all your books out, just a handful and replenish the stack as they sell.
Have giveaways (merch or swag). At the bare minimum, a small bowl of candy (which you can replenish) seems to be what most people do. Other ideas include magnets, keychains, pens, pads, and bookmarks.
Use a method to best display your books. Don’t just stack them in a pile! Not appealing to buyers. The next section gives some ideas on how to do this.
Bookstand displays. I posted about how I made these in the blog. If you are not inclined to woodwork, stands that are similar (but not as nice as mine) can be found on Etsy and other websites offering crafts for sale. Some websites that provide store fixtures also have some options.
Bookmark display. I use bookmarks instead of business cards. I feel people will keep them longer. I have several different bookmarks to showcase individual books. I’m also developing a strategy about how I will use them for marketing my audiobooks (more on that later).
If you like my version, I give plans on how to make the bookmark display stand in the blog. I also have a blog that goes into more details on designing bookmarks. If you look on my Pinterest board, there are some simpler ways to display your bookmarks.
Book display stackers for your author table
Having everything at the same height on your table is boring. When you have items at different heights, it causes the eye to travel, and it helps you move the visitor visually through your booth.
We made these simple hollow wooden blocks that I could stack to give different heights. Choose a light wood like thin mdf, birch plywood, or hardboard. Run a bead of wood glue at each joining piece. Pre-drill the holes and use small finishing nails to finish the project.
The banner stands decided the sizes I work with, so these ended up 6 x 9 inches (length and width), with two different heights: 2-inch and 4-inch.
They are open on one end to make them easier to grab. When I painted them black and put them on a black table, they faded away!
Raise tables for more attention at your booth event
I’ve gone with a mix of sizes: I have 2: 2 x 4 tables that can be put end to end for one eight length; I have 2: 29″ x 6′ folding tables, which really work well in a booth with an 8 foot long wall or with a 10′ foot long wall where I want to add some additional floor decor. I decided not to go for 8 foot tables as I have limited space in my car and these are harder for one person to move.
If you want to raise your table height (which I like to do as it puts the display closer to my visitors), this is simple.
In bathrooms now being constructed, the new standard of base cabinet height (formerly 32) is “comfort height” which is about 36″ in height (give or take a few inches). Why? Because people are taller. In the video above, Miles is 6′ 2″, and I’m 5′ 5″ – and this new height of 35″ is more comfortable for us both.
How to do this: Cut a piece of PVC pipe the length of leg up to the hinge support + the additional height you want your table to be at. The actual length of the PVC is 22 inches long, but because the pipe stops at the hinge it acts as a longer leg. Adding this raises the table 6 more inches from its original height of 29 to 35.
The diameter of this thin wall pipe is 1 3/8 inch, but check your table legs to decide what will work for your situation. Heavier table? Use a thicker walled pipe.
Be aware of the rules! Some events will not let you raise your table as they want all tables to remain at the same height. Just be aware before you go.
Also, if your audience will be children or the disabled, you might not want to raise the table. Or leave one table at normal height and raise another for interest.
The reason I’ve put so much emphasis on signage is that I know how these events work. It will be feast (lots of people at my table and not enough of me to go around) or famine.
Signage provides something for people to read, experience, and get information when I can’t verbally have contact with the visitor. They also provide talking points between you and the visitor.
Mini-Tabletop banners: I love these things! I love how compact they are, but I also love how they can push my message. These I bought from Half Price Banners for about $68 each (that includes shipping). The artwork was done by my book cover designer and fits with the theme of my books.
Note: The fonts for my name, website, and text remain the same even though colors change. I also went with a woman on each sign. This gives continuity and emphasizes that my books are about women.
BTW these signs did not come with a light. However, I found a very lightweight, booklight at Target that worked perfectly! That bit of spotlight really helps bring attention to the sign’s title.
I’ve designed four of these. One is a general sign I would bring anywhere as it has my social media contact info on it. The other three are specific to a book. I will mix and match these depending on the event I’m attending.
For example, this sign promotes my book The Wicked Wolves of Windsor and specifically my Red Riding Hood retelling. The sign gives a brief description, review highlights, an arresting image, a QR code that takes them to my website, and the url of my website.
BTW the art and design for these were put together by Natalie at Original Book Cover Designs. She’s great to work with!
Retractable Banner or a standing floor sign. This is still in development, so I will talk about this when I can show you the details. At about $200-$400, this is a bigger investment. It will be more about me as the author, not individual books, so I can use it for a long time at many different events.
I have a lot more to discuss about this, so future posts are coming! For now, visit my Pinterest planning board for more ideas and articles about booth planning!