by Lee French
What’s the minimum amount of money needed to work a table at a convention?
The bare minimum expenses:
- Books. It’s challenging to sell books that you don’t have on hand.
- The table fee.
- Transportation costs–gas, parking, airfare, etc.
- At least one pen–for signing your books.
- Something to hold cash and some bills to make change with.
To really succeed, you’ll need to invest a bit more:
- Some sort of promotional handout–bookmarks and business cards are always winners. An informal poll of other authors reveals these two are the best bang for the buck in promotion. This type of thing is cheaper per piece when you buy in bulk, so get as many as you can afford at once.
- A way to accept credit cards. Square and Paypal are both solid options.
- A reseller permit, which requires a business license in your state. This allows you to buy copies of your own books without having to pay sales tax for that transaction. (Obviously, if your state doesn’t assess sales tax, you don’t need this, but you’ll still need the business license).
- Some sort of large promotional graphic thing with your name and/or your series name. Many authors and artists get a retractable banner to put behind their chair and a second banner for the front of the table. Other options include a table banner of 1.5-3 feet in height, a backdrop with a frame, a custom printed table cloth, and a banner with a stand. You can find a wide variety of sizes and shapes on the internet.
- A tablecloth in the color of your choice. This isn’t necessary, but it makes your display look more professional. Most shows offer a 6x3 table.
- Book stands of some sort. Whether they're fancy or cheap, make sure you know how to use them properly and choose wisely for your storage capacity.
- Some method of transporting your stuff between the table and your vehicle, such as a wheeled bin or fold-up handcart. Luggage carts are a great, lightweight option when you only have a few books.
- A plastic bin or similar container to hold pens, bookmarks/cards, book stands, and other whatnot.
Many shows offer plenty of time, but some require you to be in or out in two hours or less.
In total, aside from the table fee and transportation, a good, solid start needs about $400 for books, banners, bookmarks, and odds & ends. If you can catch sales for banners and similar items, you can keep the costs lower. The good news is that many of these items won’t need to be repurchased for every show, so your costs come down to books, table fees, bookmark/card replacement, and transportation for subsequent shows.
For more information about this subject, check out Working the Table: An Indie Author's Guide to Conventions by NIWA members and convention veterans Lee French and Jeffrey Cook.
Good luck, and don’t forget to order your books well in advance!
Lee French lives in Olympia, WA with two kids, two bicycles, and too much stuff. She has
published over a dozen fantasy and science fiction titles, including the bestselling SPIRIT
KNIGHTS young adult urban fantasy series. She is an active member of the Northwest
Independent Writers Association (niwawriters.com), the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of
America (sfwa.org), and the Olympia Area Writers Coop, as well as being one of two Municipal
Liaisons for the NaNoWriMo Olympia region and a founding member of Clockwork Dragon
Books. Find out more about her work at authorleefrench.com.