10 Things You Should Know About Your First Author Expo and Book Fair
1. Check for Local Events at Libraries and Bookstores
If you have a self-published book or are in the process of writing a book, it’s never too early to think about how you are going to market your book. This includes in-person venues like author expos and book fairs.
Many bookstores and libraries have physical or virtual bulletin boards where you may find information about local author events.
Ask a bookstore owner or library manager about local events for authors in your area. Remember to always carry a few copies of your book to have handy just in case you need to show someone a copy. Bookstores and libraries may want to see your book to check if the content is appropriate for an upcoming event, or even for a book signing!
Whether you sell your books online or in person, it’s important to know what readers are interested in, and what types of books your local bookstores and libraries are interested in stocking on their shelves. Each time you visit a library, bookstore, or any store that sells books, make a point to check out what types of books they are selling. Know what’s popular and what’s not!
If you are visiting a library, consider donating a copy and ask them if they would be willing to carry it in their library.
2. Other Ways to Find Local Author Expos and Book Fairs
When trying to find author expos, book fairs, and other events, remember not to limit yourself to bookstores and libraries.
Where else can you find author expos and book fairs?
- Radio Stations: I accidentally heard the tail end of a message about a local author expo on the radio one day while I was driving. I had visited several libraries recently but had yet to find one where a book event was being held. I'm not sure if it was the law of attraction or what, but I had been thinking a lot about libraries and then heard about a local author expo at a nearby library. I called as soon as I got home and signed up!
- Local Facebook Groups: A lot of us belong to author groups, writing groups, marketing groups, and self-publishing groups, but what about local Facebook groups? Consider joining a Facebook group for your city or township. Share your book news and ask about local author events.
- Local Newspapers: Do you receive free local newspapers in your city or township? Instead of tossing them in the trash, check them out to find local events like school or church book fairs, or local business networking. I read an article about other local authors in my township's newspaper, and I ended up networking with them online and meeting them at my first author expo!
- Your Neighbors, Family, and Friends: Once you have a book or books to sell, it's time to get the word out. Don't just post your news on social media—tell everyone you see every day about your book or books! I like to use Vistaprint to create flyers, business cards, and bookmarks to hand out to everyone I see. This includes neighbors, friends, family, teachers, and other people you may come into contact with. Word of mouth works too. Be a squeaky wheel—tell the world! And don't forget to ask if anyone knows of any local author events, author expos, or book fairs in the area.
- Google and the Internet: Search online for "author events" or "author expo" but add your zip code (or type "near me") in the search criteria to find local events.
- Other Places: Check out other places that sell books too, including gift shops, airports, supermarkets, travel agencies, and drug stores. You can get ideas about book displays, popular books and how to advertise. Also, these places might offer you "author connections." In other words, even if you don't find out about any local author events, if your book matches what they sell, ask the manager if he or she may be interested in selling your book in their store. Remember to ask if there are any special events coming up where you might offer a free copy of your book in their store. For example, if you wrote a travel book, visit or call travel agencies and ask them about local events where you may display your travel book for potential customers. Networking is the key!
3. How to Attend an Author Expo—Snag Your Spot!
Just ask! If you see an advertisement or hear about an author expo or book fair, call and inquire as soon as you can.
You may be asked to fill out an online application form (see example image below). In my case, the author expo I was interested in (which I heard about on the radio) asked me to go to their website when I called them and instructed me to download the application to complete and submit. I had to wait a day or two for someone to let me know if my application was approved and if they had a spot open.
Be prepared to provide your contact information, a description of your book(s), what you have published, how long you have been writing, and links to your book listings and/or website.
There may be multiple shifts available. The author expo I attended was at a library and had a morning and afternoon session. Authors could sign up for the morning or afternoon session, or both. I opted to stay all day. I waited for confirmation and instructions to attend the whole day.
If you have questions about anything, be sure to ask ahead of time.
Sign up early because spots fill up fast! I signed up about two months ahead of time. If you find an author expo or book fair event at a large venue, you may need to sign up months ahead.
4. Follow Instructions
Here’s an example of the rules and instructions you may receive at an author expo:
- The time is split into two shifts: Shift 1: 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and Shift 2: 1:30–4:30 p.m.
- Shift 1 authors arrive at 9:00 a.m. to set up and display until 12:30, then they should start clean-up.
- Shift 2 authors should be able to get to the table by 1:00 p.m. to set up and display until 4:30 p.m.
- The event will end at 4:30 p.m., giving you a half-hour to clean up. Closing time is 5:00 p.m.
- The Friends of the Library will also be hosting their annual flea market/book/plant sale. We hope the two crowds will benefit both groups.
- We are providing half a table and a chair per author. The space is 30” x 42”. You are responsible for everything else.
- Posters/signage/scotch tape/pens and pencils, etc. Everything.
- Very important: you must bring your own change. Be prepared with lots of singles, etc. We will NOT make change.
- Please park on the south side of the building (the side with the flagpole).
5. Questions to Ask Before You Attend
Here are things to ask:
- What are the hours for the event?
- How early can authors arrive to set up their booth or table?
- Are tables provided, and if so, what are the dimensions of the table for my display?
- Is the event free for me (the author), or is there a fee to sign-up? (If it’s free, sign up right away! If it’s not free, consider the cost. If the event will offer you a lot of exposure and the opportunity to network with other authors, go for it!)
- Is the event indoors or outdoors?
- How many people are expected? (This will help you determine how many books and supplies to bring. If 200 people are expected, this doesn’t mean you should bring 200 books. In my case, the library held previous author expos, and they were able to estimate how many people may attend. They recommended that I bring about 10 books for each title. Note: Some authors brought a lot more books. The number of books you bring may also depend on the size of the table or booth.)
- Are laptops or iPads allowed to play promo or other videos? (In my case, I was told I could bring my laptop to play a video, but I had to mute the sound.)
- Is there free WiFi available?
- Is food allowed? (I brought a few snacks, some cold drinks, and some candy for the table.)
6. Preparing for Your First Author Expo
As soon as you sign up for an author expo, start preparing right away. Make a list of what you need to bring, buy supplies (including extra copies of your books), and start planning and prepping.
Do you have business cards? I needed to update my business cards, so I created and ordered new business cards from vistaprint.com.
Do you have enough books to display and sell? I printed prices and cut out little circles, and then I adhered them just to the book in the front on my book stands. I had some color books and a few B&W versions of my books to sell, and that made it easy for me to identify which was which if someone was interested in buying one.
Advertise! Once you know you will be at an author expo, it’s time to tell friends, family, neighbors, teachers, students, and co-workers. I posted my news on Facebook a month before the event and a couple of days before the event. I also posted a picture of myself when I arrived with my table setup. It was exciting to be there but even more exciting when family and friends stopped by to visit. If you have a publicist or know a photographer, invite them for additional media coverage.
Do you have flyers? Consider making flyers, posters, or handouts to give out to visitors. I created a flyer and a crossword puzzle, and I attached them with a clip to my business card to give out. I printed a few flyers in color but then made black and white copies. Color flyers can be very expensive.
Do you have a book trailer video? It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It’s easy to create one, or you can just create a slide show with pictures of your book cover. Display your slideshow or video of an iPad, laptop, or phone.
Do a table dress rehearsal! The day before the event, I laid out everything on my dining table (according to my allotted table space) and took some pictures. The next day at the event, all I had to do was look at my picture, and setup was a snap! See the image below for how I set up my table. The only thing I didn't do on my dining room table dress-rehearsal was sprinkle confetti . . . I waited for the live event to toss the confetti!
7. Supplies to Bring for Your Author Expo Table
Tablecloth: Many authors brought table clothes; some brought colored tablecloths, but several brought black, cloth tablecloths, which looked very nice. I brought a plastic green color tablecloth because I wanted something bright to stand out. For my next author event, I will bring a cloth one instead, which looks a lot nicer.
Your Books: Check with the company or organization holding your event to see how man people are expected. It's better to have more than less, so bring at least a couple dozen copies.
Book Stands: I found book stands at the dollar store, and they were really nice. They had black ones or gold ones. I bought the gold ones.
Pens, Pen Holder, and Business Card Holder/Display: I bought these all from the dollar store. I almost bought the same exact business card holder on the Vistaprint website for $7.99!
Business Cards: Bring lots of these and pass them out to everyone! Make sure your full name is on the card and include "Author" in your title.
Free Gifts: I designed a bookmark (including my name and website) on vistaprint.com (using graphics I created on canva.com), and then I ordered copies of the bookmarks and ordered them along with my business cards.
Confetti: Look for this in the party section of the dollar store. I selected the multi-colored balloon-shaped confetti to sprinkle on the table. This adds color and fun to your author table!
iPad or Laptop: If there's room on your author table, bring your iPad or laptop and loop your book trailer video or other promo video.
Flyers/Posters: Consider creating a flyer and/or a poster promoting your book/book titles. I created a flyer with images of my book covers and listed a few book reviews/testimonials for my books. Many authors had oversized posters on their tables or on the floor in front of their tables. One author had a huge pull-up screen that was over 6 feet tall with their logo and book cover.
Scotch Tape and Clips: I used scotch tape to tape some flyers to the front of my table; I used clips to clip my business card to my flyer for visitors
Other Freebies: Consider giving something away, whether it is a treat, flyer, bookmark, toy (for kid's books), or other gift. I created a computer crossword puzzle to give away, plus I created a sign-up sheet for anyone who wanted a free chapter of any of my books.
Clipboard: I displayed my sign-up sheet on a red clipboard at the center-front of the table. The authors at the table next to me gave away a free stress ball to anyone with the purchase of their children's book.
Candy: Lure visitors to your table with candy! I can't tell you how many people stopped by just for the candy, and then they took a second look at my books. Some visitors stopped by several times for more free candy!
Water Bottles and Healthy Snacks (for you): Be sure to keep hydrated with water and eat some healthy snacks throughout. Bring fruit, protein bars, and pack a healthy, easy-to-eat lunch too. The event I attended was selling soft pretzels. That was a perfect mid-morning snack.
The amount of supplies is up to you. Other than copies of your book, you don't have to spend too much money on supplies. Except for my business cards and bookmarks, which I ordered from Vistaprint, I got most of my other supplies at the dollar store.
8. What to Do at an Author Expo
Arrive early! We were told that authors would be allowed to enter and set up at 9 a.m. I arrived between 8:30 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., and there were just a couple of us in line at that time. The line filled up quickly. They didn’t allow authors in until about 9:10 a.m. A few of us that were early were able to snag the first few tables in the front.
After setting up, some of us took some pictures together. Some authors walked around to the other tables to say hello.
It was exciting to meet other authors, sharing ideas for setting up our tables and hearing about their books.
Once the event began, as visitors arrived, I made a point to:
- Smile and say hello to everyone who walked by.
- Make eye contact (or try to), and once you do, I asked if they were interested in signing up for a free chapter.
- Stand up occasionally, not only to stretch but to greet customers. I found that standing up helped to increase the chances of starting a dialog with potential customers.
- Offer a flyer and business card.
If the crowd slowed down, I talked to other authors. Throughout the day, I visited every table, introduced myself, asked each of the other authors about their books, and we exchanged business cards.
Some visitors were genuinely interested in how and why we decided to write books. Many stopped for candy.
Some visitors didn’t stop at the tables because they were heading to the book sale that the library was offering the same day.
What not to do: I noticed some authors were on their phones and didn’t always look up at visitors. I would recommend getting involved and getting social. Do not sit there and check your email . . . that’s a no-no, and it won’t help you meet customers and promote your book.
Be sure to smile, be friendly, greet each visitor, and offer them a card, flyer, or, better yet, a freebie from your table!
Local Author Expo, Plant and Book Sale, and Flea Market
9. The Importance of Follow-up/What to Do After an Author Expo
After the event, there’s still some work to do. But first, and foremost, and especially if you attended an all-day event, be sure to eat a nice dinner, relax, and celebrate!
If you sold some books, celebrate! If you sold one book or no books, celebrate! The fact that you have come this far with a published book and attended your first author expo is a wonderful thing and something to be proud of.
These events can boost our sales, but it’s more about the experience of the event and meeting other authors.
I opted to relax that evening, and I waited until the next day for follow-up activities.
The next day, I did the following:
- Reviewed all business cards and flyers that I gathered from other authors.
- Made a list of people to contact.
- Sent emails to everyone who signed up for free chapters of my books. I include a thank-you note, a PDF version of the book chapters, and my contact information.
Follow-up is very important. The sooner you follow-up, the better. People may remember you the next day or the next week, but if you wait a month or two to follow-up, they may not remember you, or they may delete the email or ignore it. Be sure to follow-up with any authors and customers no longer than a day or two after the event. Also, send them a follow-up email in 2–4 weeks to see if they have any questions, or to let them know about one of your upcoming books.
10. Final Tips and Recommendations
If I have learned one thing over the past few years of being a self-published author, it’s that one of the most important things is networking. Many of us who love to write have embarked on a wonderful writing adventure: the world of self-publishing. To self-publish a book and hold one in your hand is a wonderful thing. It is a feat to be celebrated, and I commend anyone who accomplishes this task.
Think about author expos and book fairs often, and picture yourself attending an author event. Soon you will find one. When you do, start planning and spreading the word right away. And have fun with it!
Have you attended an author expo or book fair? I’d love to hear about your experience. Please share what worked or didn’t work for you.
Thank you, and happy writing!
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Amelia Griggs