Thursday, November 21, 2013

What to Bring to a Book Signing Event by Terry Ervin, Fantasy Author

What to Bring to a Book Signing Event

Since my debut novel Flank Hawk was released back in November 2009 and the release of several three more titles since, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to participate in over forty book signing events. The signings have included single author bookstore events, at various types of festivals, fantasy/SF conventions, and more.

Through experience and observation I’ve determined what’s been useful for me to have on hand at a variety of signing venues. I’ll list the items below along with some commentary so that authors preparing for signing events can determine what might be useful for them as well:

Equipment/Materials for Signing:

Table: A table is a staple of every signing event. Often a venue will provide one. When this is the case the author is generally informed how much table space they’ll have to display their books. Crowded venues often provide ½ of a six foot table. Other venues charge for table space, normally for each (six foot) table. I’ve even seen festivals where an area (based on square feet) is provide and the author must provide the table or tables.

I have two folding tables (60”x28” and 48”x24”). The smaller table is adequate if you have only one or two books available, but more surface area is always better. The amount of space dictates the layout/display of books as well as other items discussed below.

I recommend tables that fold in the center and have a carrying strap to make transporting from a vehicle to the set up area far easier.

I’m an advocate of making only one trip without the need for a second set of hands. A folding table that can be carried in one hand is key to this (and it’s why I opted for the smaller and lighter 5’ table instead of the 6’).

Chair: Most venues provide chairs. If they don’t, I use a folding camping chair that fits into a sheath that can be slung over the shoulder. As a note, I bring a thick towel. While there are many uses for it, a metal folding chair (the type often provided by an event organizer) can get pretty uncomfortable over the course of a day. Sitting on a folded towel can make a noticeable difference.

Table Cloth: Sometimes covers are provided by event organizers. If not, having a table cloth that is large enough to reach the floor, at least to the front and most of the way down the sides is important. It hides the tubs and cart stored under the table, makes the set up more appealing and professional, and enables you to pin or tape signs, banners, etc. along the front.

Cart with Cords/Straps: This is a must. Having a cart is far better than toting boxes or tubs filled with books and everything else by hand. Folding carts with two wheels that can carry a decent load with a measure of stability are fairly inexpensive.

Having a variety of bungee cords to strap/hold the tubs/boxes, on the cart is a must. My cart came with two bungee cords attached. I use several more which guarantees the load won’t shift or fall off as I cross parking lots and streets, and traverse escalators, hallways and sometimes stairs.

Tubs: Having plastic tubs with lids is the way to go. They’re far superior to cardboard boxes. The tubs are more durable and they stand up to the weather. Books encountering moisture is never a good thing. Having stackable tubs is useful.

I store books in one large tub and in the second tub I store some books along with the table cloth, towel and most of the other listed below. Shoebox-sized tubs are useful to store the small items such as business cards, book marks, pens, etc.

Books: Some book signing venues will provide copies. Many will not. I always bring more than I think I’ll need, and I also bring extras for events where books are provided.

Keeping novels dry and in good condition is important, so my main book tub is lined with cardboard slots for neatly stacking the books. I store the other books in the shoebox sized tubs, protecting them from being damaged by the other items in the second large tub.

Bookstands: These are important to display books at your table. Sometimes it’s handy to have one if you speak at a panel and bring a novel or two along as a prop. Inexpensive, folding bookstands can easily be obtained.

Bookmarks: Book marks are pretty handy advertisements for browsers to pick up. For outdoor venues, I use clips (or in a pinch, rubber bands) to keep them from flying away when there’s a stiff breeze.

Business Cards: They’re good to give to browsing readers and to exchange with other authors or other persons at the event. Having a website address and email address available on a card is what most people are interested in finding on the card.

Pens: Having several pens to sign copies of your novel is a must. Good quality pens are preferable to inexpensive pens. Yes, in addition to authors having forgotten to bring books to an event, more than once I’ve seen authors going around asking to borrow an ink pen just before an event opens to the public.

Post-it Notes: I find these handy for notes, but I sometimes also ask customers to write down the name they would like included in their signed copy. Sometimes events are noisy and/or people do not speak clearly. No reader wants their name or the name of the person they’re gifting the novel to misspelled, and no author wants a stack of improperly signed books.

Sign: A sign, at least 11”x17” stating Author Signing Today. This is important, especially at festivals where visitors may not realize it’s the author and not a bookseller sitting at the table. Some writers have banners that they affix to the front of their table, which works just as well, if not better.

Bags: Having a bag to place purchased novels in is a polite service that can make a potential reader more inclined to pick up a novel or two. It’s easier for them to carry purchased novels around, especially if they plan to continue shopping. Shoppers who are interested in your novels and intend to come back later often don’t. In addition, a bag protects the books, especially if the weather is questionable.

Some writers provide plastic bags they saved from grocery shopping. Others offer more expensive handled bags. I use small wastebasket bags. They come in a roll, making them easy to store, tear off, and make toting books about easier for the customer.

Lock Box: Some authors keep money to make change in a pocket, a purse, or an envelope. I prefer a small lock box. I keep one key on my key ring and the second on a lanyard around my neck. Having a box makes it easier if you have a partner who takes care of sales while you’re at a panel or even getting lunch.

Towel: Already mentioned—see Chair.

Paper for Notes/Writing: Ideas, notes to self, contact information, dates for upcoming events down, often requires more than a post-it note. I use a spiral notebook for this and also to write a chapter or two when things get slow.

A laptop or iPad could be used for this, but I’m not a fan of an author sitting with an iPad or laptop open, reading, playing games, surfing the web, writing, editing, etc. I’ve witnessed browsers bypass a table when the author is slow to recognize a potential reader. Eye contact is an important thing, which active laptops tend to inhibit.

I’ve found that I’m able to respond more quickly and remain alert as to what’s going on when I am writing in a spiral notebook, when things appear slow. In truth, what are you there for? To entertain yourself or to market yourself? Again, browsers passing by note this, and seem more open to someone writing notes than working on a computer device.

Drink/Food: Some signing events, especially festivals, will have food available to purchase. Some events offer their authors a lunch. I always bring a little something to eat and a small bottle of water to drink.

Duct or Masking Tape/Safety Pins: Pinning up signs or taping them up, or taping down the end of a table cloth, or whatever. These two items small but can be pretty darn useful.

Plastic Garbage Bag: one or two of these take up virtually no space, but are very handy to have to cover up books and materials, or stuff whatever into them, especially when the venue is outdoors. Yes, you may be in a tent or under a canopy, but even a little bit of wind can direct rain seemingly right at your novels.


Posters of Covers: I have 11”x17” posters of my book covers that I place on my table (using book stands), giving greater exposure from a distance. Some authors have full-size (2’x3’ or larger) posters made to display. Some even have banners. I think something other than the book is helpful, venue and space permitting.

Clip Stand: Handy for setting up little notes or signs printed on card stock—things like give-aways or deals.

Information on where books are available (ebook, audio, etc.): Having a listing indicating where ebooks/audiobooks, etc. are available can be useful, especially for avid ebook readers.

Pricing information, for the print books on the table, sometimes is beneficial and sometimes detrimental. It’s something that can be brought along in any case. Normally my novels are equal to or lower in price when set against comparable novels at multiple author signing events, so listing the price is often beneficial for me.

On the list above, the pricing for ebooks and such can be informative and encourage readers to look them up. This is a situation where a book mark or business card is especially beneficial to have on hand.

Special Attraction Item: Having something that draws readers to your table is important. Some authors believe a bowl of candy is just the thing. In my experience it’s not very effective, possibly because it’s been overused and almost expected.

The theory is that by drawing the reader over you have the opportunity to give your spiel. That they’re getting something from the author (candy) will make the potential customer more apt to pay a bit of attention in ‘exchange’ for the piece of candy. Many folks have no intention of even listening while availing themselves of the free candy. That doesn’t preclude me from putting wrapped mints or other candy out, especially for kids, but I don’t count on it to draw in potential readers.

I’ve offered a free tote bag (which advertised my novel, website, etc. on the sides) with the purchase of one of my novels. That had moderate success. It was better at festivals where people could use it for additional shopping.

I’ve also had a “Name a Character in the next First Civilization’s Legacy novel.” People put their name and email down for a drawing. It gives them a chance at something that sounds interesting to most readers, and a way for me to engage them. If they appear interested, I have the opportunity to talk a little bit about my novels. If they buy one, it doubles their chance in the drawing.

I’d encourage each author to find something that makes their table and works stand out a little bit and draw interest.

Something to do: I already mentioned a notebook for writing, especially when things do get slow at some events. If you have a Nook or Kindle, you can not only read (they’re less intrusive than a laptop), but also demonstrate for folks who’ve never seen or held one…and have your ebook on it, or audiobook if that’s something that you might have available.

Hand Sanitizer, Tissues/Napkins: The former is pretty self-explanatory. The latter, is useful for a runny nose, a small mess, or if the local facilities prove to be short on toilet paper.

Umbrella/Canopy: I’ve carried an umbrella out to an outdoor event—good for blocking the sun and a minor protection from rain. Some authors have a 10’x10’ canopy that folds down and is easy to carry (but would necessitate a 2nd trip—but some events might necessitate this). I haven’t been involved in outdoor events where I had to provide one.

I hope this list proves useful for those authors preparing for their first signing event, or even if you’re becoming a veteran at it.

One last thing is that I keep everything in the tubs, and restock shortly after I get home (what’s needed). This way I’m ready to just haul it all up from the basement, put it in the truck and I’m ready to go.

Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction. His First Civilization’s Legacy Series includes FLANK HAWK and BLOOD SWORD. He is focused on completing SOUL FORGE, the third novel in the fantasy series.

His newest release through Gryphonwood Press is RELIC TECH, a science fiction novel packed with action, adventure, a few aliens and even a bit of a mystery.

In addition to writing novels, Terry’s short stories have appeared in over a dozen anthologies, magazines and ezines. The genres range from science fiction and mystery to horror and inspirational. GENRE SHOTGUN is a collection containing all of his previously published short stories. 

To contact Terry or learn more about his writing endeavors, visit his website at and his blog, Up Around the Corner, at


Unknown said...

What a great and helpful post. I actually printed it and put it in my book signing folder. I always stress before a book signing, as every author must. Right? LOL. This post will help me keep it in check. Thanks!

Terry W. Ervin II said...

Having everything packed and ready from the previous signing just makes it less stressful for me. Glad the article proved useful to you!

Angie said...

Great list! Some of these I was already bringing, but you've given me lots more to bring which would definitely help. I love the free tote bag idea. Probably because I love tote bags. :)

Terry W. Ervin II said...

The tote bag was popular at some events and not so much so at others, Angie. It was more popular with events that were less singularly focused on readers.

Lots more to bring...just make sure you can haul it in one trip. ;)

Anonymous said...

this is very important for us .plastic business cards

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Terry. It's so great to have you back to Murderby4. Sorry I'm late to the party, it's been hectic in my house lately. Normally I go to one venue, a winery, where they provide my table, chairs, tablecloth, and, er... glass of Riesling. But I always bring a large bowl of mixed varieties of Dove Chocolate to entice readers to my table. It works sometimes, other times they just scoop up a handful, don't even meet my eyes, and keep walking. Ugg! I have to be prepared for that, so I just smile and catch them on the way back, ha. Thanks for this very comprehensive list!

Terry W. Ervin II said...

What works for one writer at signings may not for another. Also, the atmosphere and crowd/readers/customers from one venue to another are never exactly the same, even from on SF/Fantasy Convention to another. Thanks for stopping by, even if just a bit after this was published, and commenting.