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Beyond the Books: Tips for Successful Author Vendor Events

Me at my vendor event table selling books and merchandise.
One of my first vendor events at a local school.

There is a lot more to being an author than writing books. Sure, writing is the fun part, but it's even more fun when people actually read your books. Vendor Events can be an effective way to get your name out into your community, tell people who you are and what you do, and sign a few books while you're at it.

As a self-published author of three children's books, I love doing vendor events! I love the social aspect and pride that comes with telling people I am an author. But vendor events can be scary if you have never done one and a waste of time and money if you don't do your homework first. I am here to share the best tips that I have learned along the way that have helped me make vendor events a successful part of my book marketing strategy.

Tip 1: Plan Ahead - The best vendor events in your community will have lots of foot traffic. The organizers have either done an excellent job of marketing to the public, or the event has been around long enough that it is highly anticipated every year by the community. Veteran vendors know that these are the best of the best and will likely have a table reserved year after year. As a result, table spaces fill up fast, so you'll need to reserve yours far in advance. Events with openings at the last minute indicate their lack of popularity (though this is not always true). Start looking for fall and holiday events as early as spring or early summer. Don't wait until the busiest seasons have started to start booking your vendor events. Mark your calendar so you know when table spots for these events will open, and then be one of the first to submit your registration. 

me and an author friend sharing a table at a vendor event
Me and artist/author, Darcy Saxton, sharing a table at a local vendor event.

Tip 2: Know Your Budget - Reserving a table at a vendor event can be pricey. When looking at the cost of the table, think about how many books you would need to sell to break even. Consider how many books you would want to sell after that to make it worth your time and effort. Can you expect to sell that many books? If the answer is yes, then book the event. Talk to others who have attended the event to see what you can expect. Local events and school fundraisers are a great place to start if your budget is smaller. Conventions and weekend-long events have a heftier price tag, so think carefully before you commit. Find another author or two, split the cost of a table, and share the space if it's more than your budget allows. '

Tip 3: Think Outside the Box - There are many vendor events out there; you may need to get creative and think outside the box to find the best ones for you and your books. While holiday events are a no-brainer, what about the rest of the year? Who will want to come to your table throughout the rest of the year? Consider your target audience. Who is your book for, and where do they shop? Books about pets or other animals might do well at a Pet-a-palooza Fair. My book, Our Best Friend Karma, has had success at fairs and festivals with a Yoga theme in mind. An ABC book would sell well at new mother fairs or toddler events. So, while holiday fairs and local book signings are great ideas, there are times when you should think more deeply about who you want to showcase your book to. 

a stack of offset printed hardcover books
Beautiful, high quality offset hardcovers.

Tip 4: Stock Up on Inventory - If vendor events are going to be a regular occurrence, consider stocking up on book inventory. Ordering author copies on KDP won't bring you much profit. The cost of printing books on-demand in bulk is very high. You will either need to increase the price of your book at the event or settle for a very low profit margin. Ordering author copies through IngramSpark yields an even lower profit margin. It would take a lot of book sales just to break even for the cost of your table. For the amount of work you'll be putting in, you will likely be disappointed if you expect to make a significant profit this way. 

After researching book printing options for over a year, everything has led me to one very clear determination: offset printing is the only way to profit in publishing. While the initial out-of-pocket cost is much higher than printing on-demand, the cost per book is significantly lower when you print offset. And surprisingly, the quality is so much better! You'll have a beautiful, high-quality hardcover book to sell, autograph, and show off. You'll have wiggle room to offer special event pricing and even be able to donate books to the community raffle or as your own table drawing without worrying about a significant profit loss. When you sit down and map out your numbers, printing offset is the only path that makes sense to yield a profit on your books.  

a bookmark with a quote and tortoise from "The Jamboree Journey"
Bookmarks (with my information on the back)

Tip 5: Offer Something for Free - Try not to overthink this one. You don't need expensive custom stickers or trinkets for everyone visiting your table. When I started, I saw other authors doing this, and I felt overwhelmed by the costs of these kinds of things and the time it took to create them. Instead, I went simpler. Stickers don't have to be customized for your book. Kids love stickers, so any kind will do! I found an inexpensive pack of reading stickers on Amazon, and let me tell you–kids love them! I still do custom bookmarks, but only because it doubles as a business card with all my information–website, email address, book titles, etc. Even something as simple as a bowl of candy works to attract people to your set-up! I have seen authors set up a small table with coloring sheets and crayons for kids who visit your table. It allows families to approach your table without feeling pressure to buy anything, which allows you an opportunity to talk about your books. It's a win-win for everyone! 

Tank the tortoise, a character plush
Tank the Tortoise, a character plush

Tip 6: Sell Book Merchandise - While your books should be your primary selling focus, it's nice to make a little extra income and have some variety at your table. Character plushies are almost always a hit! However, don't feel you need to invest much money in merchandise before knowing if it will sell. Try something simple first. Look at what is trending or popular with kids now and think of a way to bring that to your table (with your own spin). A few years ago, fidgets and pop-its were popular. Many authors added book-themed fidgets and pop-its to their tables and made a small profit selling those in addition to their books. I have seen authors find items that matched the theme of their book and created small gift baskets.

Last holiday season, I found book and animal-themed shoe charms in bulk to sell alongside my Journey Book Series, and they sold out like crazy! I have also printed physical copies of my teacher's guide to sell, as well as little paperback journals with a quote from my Karma book (created right on KDP for free!). The ideas out there are endless. It doesn't have to be anything big or fancy, but find something that complements your book without overshadowing it.    

Tip 7: Stand, Don't Sit - I promise no matter how phenomenal your book is, it will not sell

itself. At every event I have been to, I never fail to surprise passersby when I tell them, "Hi! I'm the author!". I have table signs and banners, and I have even worn a t-shirt that says "author," all to tell everyone that I am indeed the author. That's because, at events, you aren't just selling your books; you're selling yourself!

As cliche as that sounds, it's also very accurate. I can't count the number of times I have seen people slowly walk by my table at an event. They want to know what you're selling without committing. Once I speak up and tell them, "Hi, I'm an author, and I've written three children's books!" there's a REALLY good chance they aren't going to keep walking. They will stop, ask questions, and open my book because they're impressed! Or because they, too, have wanted to write a book. Or because they realize how cool it is that they can purchase a signed copy of a book for their niece, who turns six next week, and tell her that she met the author. Don't sell yourself short; people will be impressed with you. So stand up, speak to everyone who walks by your table, and let them know you are the author.  

Tip 8: Invest in Some Extras - If vendor events are becoming your jam, consider investing in a few extras to improve your experience. Here are a few extras that I have found to be well worth the investment:

  1. A utility cart - Books are heavy, so having a cart with wheels can be a lifesaver, especially at the end of an event when your feet are tired from all that standing. Check the cart's weight limit to ensure it can withstand the weight of your books. This foldable utility wagon has saved my back at many events where the parking lot was further away than expected. I also bring it to author events at schools to haul in books for the kids. It's been worth its weight in gold to me.

  2. A book display rack - When starting out, it's more cost-effective to display your books on a table as-is. However, when you are ready to up your game, add a book display rack to your table to showcase your books more professionally. This one here is perfect because it allows me to display all three titles easily for customers to see when they walk by.  

  3. A custom table runner - Adding a custom table runner to your table is simple, cost-effective, and great for marketing. It's an easy way to tell others what you are about. Best of Signs is an excellent company I have often used for custom table runners. 

  4. Weather protection - Outdoor fairs are common in the summer and fall months. A pop-up canopy tent is a great way to stay out of the hot sun. When rain showers strike, you'll want to ensure extra protection, especially where your books are involved. Tent walls can be inexpensive and easy to pack (I think they even give my tent a cozy feel) and protect your table from rain and heavy wind. Protecting your table from harsh weather can be the difference between having a successful vendor event and canceling and forfeiting your registration fee. 

A rainy outdoor vendor event, in my cozy tent with side walls!

Tip 9: Grow your Contact List - Community vendor events are the perfect opportunity to meet new people and grow your network locally. I always bring along two forms to collect contact information at every event. One is for growing my email list. My email list is made up of people who express interest in my books. Collecting emails is essential for spreading the word about new releases or any big news about your author business. The other form is for author visits. Author visits are another big part of my author business, and there are ALWAYS teachers, principals, PTO parents, etc, stopping by tables with books. I keep a special form handy to collect extra information from anyone interested in an author visit. 

Signing Books at a Vendor Event

Tip 10: Sell That Signature! - You may not consider yourself a celebrity, but know that your signature is priceless for many people. Own it! When you're telling people about your books, remind them that they get a signature on the inside cover when they purchase your book! A signed book is a coveted gift many people hold in high esteem. It reminds them years later that they got to meet the author of that book. It also makes for a more thoughtful gift than any old book purchased at the store. So add that tidbit in as a selling point when you are talking about your books. Offer to personalize it to someone special (95% of people take me up on that offer), and if possible, think of a clever or catchy phrase to add–something that complements your book! For my Karma book, I usually jot down something like: "To Mikey, I hope good Karma always finds its way to you!" and end with my signature. It's unique, memorable, and well worth the cover price.

So, there you have it—my best tips for rocking vendor events! Remember, it's about more than just selling books; it's about connecting, having fun, and selling yourself. So, go out there, be your awesome author self, and know that every event you do will get better with practice. Whether you're signing books, chatting with readers, or swapping stories with fellow vendors, make it a memorable chapter in your author journey. Cheers to your success, and may your books fly off those tables at all of your vendor events! 📚🎉 #AuthorLife #VendorEventSuccess


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