Now that you’ve decided to participate in a book event, what should you know? If this isn’t your first rodeo, you likely have a box in the closet full of table toys and a poster rolled up in the garage somewhere.
The sky’s the limit for book table logistics, but first you need to know what the organizer’s limits are.
Know the Rules
- Booth size: You must adhere rigidly to this one. If you have a canopy (measured by where the legs land on the ground) larger than the booth size, you don’t get a canopy that day.
- Table size: Whether it’s yours or theirs, this is important. It means the difference between you being able to get to the other side of your table instead of going around a long line of unbroken tables or crawling under. In general, your table length should be smaller than the canopy width to allow this. Also, your tablecloth must fit it. More on this later.
- Chairs: How many? Comfy or not? Can you BYO? Bring a cushion? Do they extend beyond the limits of your canopy or booth size?
- Standing displays: Allowed? Where? Do you care whether a rowdy child pulls it over? Is an elderly person going to trip on it?
- Hanging displays: Allowed? Where? Does yours come with grommets (or not) and require something to attach them to? Do you have something to attach it with that won’t damage walls or other parts of the venue?
Clever table tops are as big on imagination and as low on your budget as you like. There are plenty of ideas on Pinterest and attending a book event will give you plenty more.
As T. S. Eliot once said, “Good authors borrow. Great authors steal.”
- Linens: Your base tablecloth should be a single color and completely cover the table, clear to the ground. Black is classy and a good base for anything you throw at it next, even if it’s only your book. A top cloth should compliment or contrast with the color of your cover so your book will visually pop from across the room. Some order cloths printed with their book covers or other busy marketing, perhaps to substitute for a poster, but the business detracts from your book.
- Stands: What can you use to display that lovely book at two or three eye levels? Boxes turned in different ways, wire or acrylic book stands, tabletop racks pulled straight out of bookstore or library displays, makeshift wooden shelving, or even good old-fashioned hold-it-in-your-hands-and-shove-it-in-their-face methods are acceptable so long as you aren’t creating a hazard. Don’t set up anything unstable or top-heavy or one bump will send your books crashing to the floor.
- Weather: If you are indoors and the A/C can’t keep up with the bodies in the room, will those chocolates on your table melt? If the room echoes like a football stadium, will your audio display be drowned out? Outdoors can surprise you with direct sun hitting your acrylic display and blinding everyone within five feet or raindrops that blow sideways and land on those paperback backs. Wind is going to knock over or blow off anything not weighted down. Your banners can flap into your neighbor’s face and your puzzle pages into the street. Pro Tip: giant safety pins can secure almost anything to your base tablecloth. Bungee cords are great for bigger bits, attached to the table legs if nothing better presents.
- Accessories: Just like fashion accessorizing, the rule of two goes here. You want to spark interest in the main event, not smother it. The more your decorations tie directly into your book, the better. Is your book set in a forest? Pinecone. A romance? Hearts. History? A pocket watch. Perhaps a pair of vintage shoes. What you do NOT want to consider are anything beyond G-rated items, weapons, paraphernalia that might imply gangs or Nazis and so forth, live animals, electricity-run items, and food or drink. I know. We’ll get to that.
- Costumes: Say what now? If your book is nonfiction and involves a diet, why not wear a chef’s hat or apron? Historical costumes imply historical novels. If you are wearing a toga and a laurel crown, I’m going to assume you have something to read involving ancient Greece. Or Rome. You get the idea. If you are wearing a tuxedo or a kilt, you are going to have some great conversations. I know an author who wears a full suit of chainmail. And it sells books! If the idea is a stretch, you could always make a T-shirt or earrings with your book on it.
- Freebies: The swag (“Stuff We All Get”) on your table is for handing out with reckless abandon. If you’ve done it right, the swag will not only remind shoppers of your book but give them a way to buy it AND it will hang around for a while to do so repeatedly. QR codes are your friend here, and they are free to make. Stick them on bookmarks, the bag you put your signed book into once it’s been purchased, or the magnets, stickers, buttons, or keychains you order for the event. Items with longevity might include coloring pages of your characters or printed eyeglass cloths. At the very least, set out business cards.
- Candy: Listed with great reluctance. So many authors (yours truly included) set out wrapped candy on their table. Maybe it’s a way to thank your shoppers or lure the kids over or something to snack on ourselves, but IMHO it takes up real estate but does not sell books. So it does not belong. Food and drink and books, in a perfect world, go together like a symphony but the reality of a book event means someone’s sticky fingers will thumb through your brand new book… and walk away. Or worse, spill on your table. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.