by Pam Hillman
Fall festivals are just around the corner. I don’t know about you, but I love attending a couple of local festivals. I live in a small town…Well, actually, I live out in the country, and the closest small town is five miles away. The next is 10 miles away and is so small that when Andy Ogletree won the US Amateur Golf Championship this past weekend, Fox News said the town was so small that there wasn’t even a population count. Obviously, everyone in our community is proud of our new celebrity!
But back to small town festivals where everybody knows your name. Well, almost everybody!
I remember a festival from last fall. You know that weekend or cluster of days where you’re already booked 24/7 and then you get an additional 30-40 hours thrown in the mix? That weekend was mine. But everything was good… great, in fact.
|Me and Louis, one of my most loyal fans.|
I started at 6 am Saturday morning with a booth at our local really small-town festival in Sebastopol, MS. This was my 4-5th year and, hands-down, it’s my best venue. I sold/gifted 49 books, I think. Most of these people are already fans and they stop by every year to get my latest book. And, I always gain a few new fans. Some bring books they bought to get them signed.
|Me and my cousin, Geraldine.|
I do 2-4 MAX of these a year, mostly clustered in Oct/Nov. It’s for friends at local events because the closest bookstores are 50 miles away. And these people want signed books. One guy, Homer, has all my books on a designated shelf at his house and it sounded like “woe to the person who moves them!”
I’ve had some good days and really bad days at these events over the years. Selling a handful (or NONE!) of books is bad, but we know to expect that at some events. But I’d say the worst is hauling everything out, tent required outside, etc., and it either be raining, so miserably cold you can’t feel your feet, wind blowing tents away, or so hot you literally are on the verge of heat stroke. Yes, I have experienced all of these even here in MS, some on the same day.
Last year, Sebastopolooza was the PERFECT EVENT. The weather was gorgeous, which was great for set-up and take down at the end of the day, plus people came out for the festival due to the great weather. A cool 56 degrees so my Western-style boots and light corduroy jacket were great for the morning crowd. It climbed to 70 during the day, so I switched to a lighter knit pullover.
At this event, we’re allowed to set up from 4-6 pm the night before. Since Sebastopolooza is 4 miles down the road, my Cowboy and I took my tent, table, old doors and 2 bales of hay and set them up. I was in a different spot than I’d been in years past. Hubby wanted to know where I wanted the table, but I told him just put it under the tent and leave the tent at “half-mast” and I’d figure it out when I got there the next morning. My set-up would depend on how many open sides “entry points” I had.
|L-R: Me, my mother, her cousin Jeanette, and two of their friends from school|
I arrived before 7 am and unloaded my car. Boxes of books, burlap, camp chairs, money, pens, bookmarks and more. Cars had to be out of the area by 7:30, so I quickly unloaded, moved my car and started setting things up.
This is where it becomes tricky, and I’ve learned that I’d rather NOT have help. Each event is different, and I have to set up my space depending on what I have to work with. Hubby wants to just “do it”, but I can’t be rushed here. Do I have one, two, or three open sides to my tent (ie. are there tents set up next to me and behind me, or not)? What’s the weather like? Where’s the afternoon sun going to be?
This event, I ended up with two open sides, so decided that I would set up my area so that it would be a FLOW-THROUGH allowing people to walk through my tent from one side to the other. I have a burlap “curtain” that my son and I made at my first event (literally AT the event) to block the wind that year. It’s come in handy for wind, rain, and sun. This year, I hung it along the SW corner of my booth, knowing the afternoon sun would be brutal.
A booth has to be inviting, appropriate to what someone writes and catch people’s eye. I’ve used the same theme year after year, a rustic, Western-style with old doors, burlap, a couple of bales of hay if outdoors. I tone it down considerably for indoor events (churches, libraries, bookstores). There, I only take books, and an easel banner, and tablecloth and/or burlap for my table.
My list that I keep in the notes on my phone. We’ll start with the obvious essentials and what you need to sell books:
Books: I inventory my books by title on a notecard before the event. When packing up, I inventory them again. When I get home and rested, I figure up the difference and that tells me how many I sold/gifted. I write books sold and money taken in on the card and keep it for my permanent records.
Bank Bag/Cash: I know how much cash I have before leaving home. After arriving back home, I count the cash again and add in any credit card sales. The difference between beginning and end is profit. This figure goes on the permanent card mentioned above. Each event has a card with total sold and $$ taken in. If you’re concerned about messing up your $$ count, take an extra $20-$30 for incidentals like a soft drink, hamburger, chips. If you take money out of the bag for stuff like that, jot a note on a notecard and throw it in the bank bag.
Card Reader: Make sure to update phone/ipad and check that all is working before event. I learned this the hard way when my IOS needed an update.
More essentials: Pens, bookmarks and/or postcards, notecards or guestbook for newsletter signup, plastic bags (I offer to anyone who buys several books or looks like they might need it!), business cards.
Tent, table, and chairs: This is self-explanatory if you’re outside. Trust me.
Everything else is debatable, but you want your booth to draw readers in, and you have a 10’x10’ space to have some fun. Also, I have a few personal items that I like to take for my own comfort.
~ Tabletop Easels to display books. Also, you can use empty boxes under your tablecloth to give height to your books if needed. You can get these at Walmart, Hobby Lobby, etc.
~ Floor Easel and large poster(s) if you have them.
~ Clothespins, safety pins
~ Twine / string
~ Knife or scissors
~ Large Chalkboard (Hobby Lobby)
~ Small chalkboards (Walmart, Hobby Lobby, etc.)
~ Chalk pens
Miscellaneous comfort. Authors cannot leave their booth for long, and I like to have my own healthy (preferably COLD) snacks on hand. And it needs to be something you can take a bite of, swallow, then shove to the side and smile at a customer. I’ve been blessed to have a family member (husband/mom/niece) come through every few hours or so, giving me a quick necessary break.
~ Cold pack for frozen water bottles, frozen yogurt, iced coffee with protein, etc.
~ Nuts or other healthy snacks
~ Toilet paper
~ Paper towels
~ Extra shoes
~ Dress in layers
~ Comfortable shoes
~ Rechargeable fan and a USB charger
Now, for the fun part. Everything below has to do with making your booth inviting. It’s not necessary, I suppose, but I’ve always gone all out on my booth space from day one. I think it pays off. Just decorate it to fit your genre and you’ll be fine.
My props have evolved from some heavy items the first few years to much lighter fare. My husband is willing (sort of) to haul heavy hinged doors and bales of hay in his truck to trick out my booth, but I’m slowly figuring out ways to have an eye-catching display with stuff I can haul in my SUV in ONE TRIP, especially since one of my festivals only allows set-up the morning of the event. So, the hay bales and large, hinged doors are out.
Extras that I’ve used for display purposes at various times:
~ burlap or genre appropriate curtains, tablecloths
~ wooden wagon
~ old doors (two hinged together)
~ old metal suitcase
~ small rustic bookcase
~ square bales of hay
And, last, but not least, a collapsible wagon is a wonderful thing to have. It’s great for hauling stuff to and from your car if needed. It can do double duty as a display by stacking empty boxes inside and draping a tablecloth over it, then topping with books.
So, there you have it. My method to creating an eye-catching, welcoming booth at the small handful of festivals I attend each year. Seriously, if you live in a small town, renting a booth space is about the cheapest and coolest way you can see all your friends and family in one day without exhausting yourself.
And you might even sell a few books in the process!