Aside from being a novelist, I have spent quite a lot of time working tables at fairs and farmers' markets. I'm also familiar with the work that goes into administering vendor tables and organizing festivals. On other days, I worked at an independent bookstore where I could sell my books directly to the public on my days in the store. With all that in mind, let me give you my ten tricks:
1. Be there. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you will do a better job selling your books in person than anyone else can in your absence. At the independent bookstore, my books always sold better when I was there than when someone else was. I also lose out on sales if I leave someone else in charge of my table at a fair.
2. Get a wrinkle-free tablecloth. When styling your table, you begin with the tablecloth. It should be wrinkle-free, which is a much taller order than seems theoretically possible. Iron it. Starch it. Get one that doesn't wrinkle. Whatever. Getting this single thing right will go a long way in making you look credible. Make an effort.
3. Wear red. Okay, you don't have to wear red, but if you are standing in front of your closet and you don't know what to wear - wear red. If you don't have any red, wear black. If you don't have black - go shopping and buy red. This may sound ridiculous, but I dress up to sell books. I need to look like I'm a person a little outside the ordinary and slightly glamorous, so I also like to wear something that shines. There are many ways of catching someone's eye: checks, stripes, sparkles, sequins, and bold colors. Use one. You want attention when you're selling.
4. Have a pen that makes you look good. Since you're the author and you're going to be signing books, have a good pen. You can have a good pen in two different ways. One way is to have a pen that looks beautiful when you're using it. Depending on your style, you might want a pen with a feather on the end of it imitating a quill or perhaps you'd rather have a stainless steel fountain pen. The other way is to leave an appealing mark on the page when you sign your autograph. The one I use doesn't look like much, but it's a blue metallic marker that is a thousand times prettier than a ballpoint. It leaves a beautiful mark. If you're really lucky, you'll land on a pen that does both.
5. Have a beautiful signature. For obvious reasons, do not use the same signature you use for your bank as your autograph on your books. Please tell me you weren't dumb enough to do that. My signature and my autograph are barely friends with each other. For my autograph, my S looks like a swan. My V looks like an extension of the swan's beak. My O looks like the moon and the other scratchy parts of my name look like clouds passing the moon. It is an artistic achievement. Look through fonts until you land on something you like. Make your name something so beautiful it makes the book more valuable even if no one has ever heard of you.
6. Have a professional banner. I ran out of money. Artists of all kinds run out of capital. If you aren't out of money, get in touch with a print-on-demand place and get them to make you a banner that can stretch across the front of your table. If that's not your style, get them to make you a free-standing poster that makes you look like you're the keynote speaker at a convention. As I said, I ran out of money, so I use a $4 canvas I bought at the dollar store. I wrote my beautiful autograph on it and put silver glitter poke-a-dots on the lower half of it. It's worked out for me because I haven't been placed beside an author with a better banner at a fair. If I ever am, I'll be finding the money for a proper banner.
7. Square it. You're going to need a cash box but you'll also need a way to take credit cards and Interac cards. Seriously, the ads for Square as a solution to this problem are not a joke. Getting a Square card reader is really the only way to go. The machine is smaller than your phone and the rates charged for transactions are minimal. Get it.
8. Be patient. When I sell books, I usually sell the most in the last half hour I'm at the venue. Before that, people are milling around. Sometimes they're not sure what to spend their money on. During that time, I don't sell a lot and it can be discouraging. The nicest way to pass the time is just to find someone cool and chat with them until business picks up. Getting pouty is not an option. Be cool. If possible, network with the other vendors. You can get tons of sweet tips from them.
9. Style your damn table. Sometimes I set up a TV on my table on a stand a little above my books and play a loop of all my book trailers. That's fun, but seriously, if books are the only things on your table, that's not cool. You don't have to go as far as me with a multimedia production, but get some feathers and put them in vases behind your books. Get some fake candles and let the fake firelight lick your books. Get fairy lights. Make a few fun bottles of fake blood. Do something that matches the type of books you're selling. It's only a table, but you do want to make your reader feel like they had a memorable time and a boring display will not accomplish that.
10. Avoid snobbery. A lot of the people who approach me at my table are people who want to write books and they want to ask questions about how to make that career goal happen. I used to be that person too, standing on the other side of the table stepping on my own toes. A lot of authors are a little high on themselves and what they have been able to accomplish. You need to dismiss that attitude. If you can manage it, you need to talk to aspiring writers like they are already novelists and they are your people. How charming you are in person could make a huge difference to how people view you as they read your book, whether or not they're willing to buy another book, whether or not they're willing to share your book with their friends, or their book club, and what if they are a bloody book blogger and you treated them like your artistry is simply above them? No. No. No. This is not what you're doing. You are putting your pants on one leg at a time like everyone else and welcoming literary lovers into your arms.
To cap it all off, I have to tell you that it is fairly ambitious to try to sell your books in person. A lot of writers want a few degrees of separation between themselves and their readers. However, to live a life as an author where you never speak to your readers would be a shame indeed. Good luck, little ink peddlers!
About the Creator
I write novels like I am part-printer, part book factory, and a little girl running away with a balloon. I'm here as an experiment and I'm unsure if this is a place where I can fit in. We'll see.