Taking a booth to show off your books is a major undertaking–rather like going on a first date. You want to make sure everything is perfect and to look your best. You hope that you’ll have a good time. And you dream of unparalleled success from the experience.
However, as the Boy Scouts recommend, be prepared. I’ve spent hours at booths around the country and talked to many veteran exhibitors. Here are the 10 Top Tips of booth-tested advice by those who have stood, smiled, exhibited, and survived to do it again.
How your booth looks is most important, so plan carefully. What do you want to hang up on the curtains at the back? Do you have posters and book jackets, flyers and info pages? How much are you planning to put on the table? Try brightly colored ribbon there to tie different books together visually, or sprinkle glitter on the table top. Have signs printed. Some people recommend book holders so the books stand up. Others swear that people only pick up books that are lying flat on the table. Try both. Bring plenty of business cards, media kits, flyers, and only a few books. Most people won’t want to carry them around, so you’ll end up sending them later.
Shower & Shave
How you look is also important. Be as professional and businesslike as you can. Pretend you’re a top executive at a major publishing house. Dress well so you will feel confident above the ankles, but always choose really really really comfortable shoes. I wear a pair of wonderfully soft black sneakers for BEA. Some authors like to wear something unusual–a chef’s hat for a cookbook, or a flower “lei” for a book on Hawaii. Remember that you are at BEA as a publisher; if your books are about scuba diving, perhaps hire a friend to stand around in a wetsuit and a mask while you talk business.
No matter what, SMILE. Even if you’ve spent an hour finding a parking place, have a headache and allergies, can’t find a cup of coffee, and just spilt tuna salad down your pants, just SMILE. A booth is no place to start moaning about your problems; you’ll miss the one passing visitor who came all the way to find your booth to talk about your books.
Finally, try to stay alert. (One booth exhibitor arrived late after a wild party the night before and went to sleep under the table!)
Always say “Yes” to homemade cookies. I once shared a booth with two cookbook authors. They prepared four trays of chocolate chip cookies, and people crowded round the booth like starved wasps every time we put out a fresh plate. Even if you don’t cook, bring something for passersby to eat–pretzels, peppermints, candy, chocolate kisses, muffins–enough to last the whole event. And always bring a bottle of water, a sandwich, and healthy nibbles for yourself to consume during the day.
What to Say
You have only a few seconds to connect with people as they go by. One long-time booth expert recommends you smile (of course) and say, “What are you looking for?” At a recent BEA where I shared a booth with the Travel Publishers Association, the easiest thing to ask was: “Are you interested in travel?” If people responded they were, we were happy to show them our dozens of travel books. If not, they could say “No” and walk on.
At BEA, it’s also important to recognize that different people have different interests. Read the name tags of people as they come by and even though it says “Barnes & Noble,” don’t flip and over-react. This may not be a buyer at all, but the booth computer expert or someone’s mother who’s a guest. Be as cool and professional as you can. Quite unexpectedly, I sold the Chinese rights to one of my books two years ago at BEA. A young Chinese woman stopped at the booth, we started talking about how few books there were for women travelers, and she turned out to be from a feminist press in Taiwan.
Who Needs Chairs?
One school of thought asserts that nobody ever sits at a booth. Since you’re working, you’re standing, so who needs a chair? On the other hand, you need chairs because, like candy, they tempt weary passersby to sit down gratefully and look at your books. I like having one chair so that you can sit down if you’re about to fall over with exhaustion, or you can offer it to cute visitors you like.
Plan the Time
Pick an exact time to set up the booth. Leave enough time for things to go wrong–like boxes not arriving or forgetting a pair of scissors. Plan for the times you’ll need to be away from the booth for meetings, wanderings, or lunches. Think about how you’ll close up the booth.
Be ready to adjust and go with the flow. At one event, I was so busy, there was hardly time to take a bathroom break on the first day. The next day, I made a deal with the guy at the next booth to cover for me for half-hour breaks, and I did the same for him. Another event was deserted, and I didn’t even go back for the second day.
Have a Competition
It’s fun to offer something free–bookmarks, pens, postcards. I’ve raffled off a Blue Panda (that being the name of my company), a fluffy soft toy in a delicate shade of turquoise. One year, I had a raffle for a giant jar of chocolate penguins–people had to guess how many were in the jar and the answer closest won. The only thing I won’t ever do again is raffle a vacation–surprisingly, there are always complications with the dates, the airfare, what’s included, and who can go.
Plan events during the day. Have a special book-signing at your booth. Give demonstrations for books on karate, juggling, or yoga. For cookbooks, prepare a dish. For books on music and dance, have authors perform. Historical biographers can dress up as their subjects. Artists and illustrators can create paintings and sketches. The options are endless.
To Share or Not to Share?
Like marriage, sharing a booth has advantages and disadvantages. First, the cost of the booth is cut in half. Second, there’s someone there to help you. Third, if your books are in the same genre, there’s spillover for both of you when people stop. However, you have to plan a little more carefully about how it’s going to work, and you hope you like your sharer.
Find out as much as you can about your sharer’s books and materials and explain yours. Ideally, they’re in the same genre so you can quickly learn about each other’s products. Are there any special points you should mention when you talk about your sharer’s books? What do you want the sharer to say about yours? You should be able to cover for each other on a break, and it’s great to know when to say, “I don’t know the answer to that” or “S/he’ll be back soon.” I’ve tried booths on my own and I’ve shared, and I’d recommend sharing. Other exhibitors agree. One sharer told me, “There’s so much going on, especially at big events like BEA, that you need to take some time to walk around and meet people. You can’t do that if you have to stay at your booth.” Another added: “And if no one comes by, it’s good to have someone to talk to.”
Evelyn Kaye will be at BEA this year at the Travel Publishers Association booth. She has exhibited with PMA and on her own in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, and Boulder, Colorado. Kaye is the President of Blue Panda Publications which publishes travel guides for women, families, and people looking for off-beat vacations. The press also publishes travel biographies.