Consider this a mini survival guide. BookCon was friggin' incredible, and I hope to go back next year. I met so many awesome people and made some great contacts. Plus book shows give you an opportunity to meet up with fellow authors. I attended last year as an attendee (read bout that experience here), and I decided to take the plunge and be a vendor this year*.
*You may note from reading the aforementioned attendee post that I also attended BookExpo last year. I decided against doing that one this year because it's less about the readers and more about the big publishing industry players, and they weren't my target this year.
Regarding being a vendor at BookCon, let me tell you up front, in addition to being two days of pure awesome, it's also a heck of a lot of work. Please, hear me: it is stressful and difficult, physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you're not willing to work your tail off for what might seem like slow or even no progress in your career, then I don't recommend live shows. I don't say this to deter anyone; I'm just trying to be real. I wrote another guide on doing live shows here, which I also highly recommend you read. This one is going to get more specifically into BookCon and other "big" shows** like it.
**Never underestimate the potential to make important contacts at any show, no matter how big or small. I met a now-dear friend at a two-hour McKay's signing, by far the smallest type of event I do. Not only is she one of my closest writer friends now, but she's also introduced me to people she knows and vice versa.
Get Ready to Spend a Bunch of Money ~ The bigger the show, the more expensive the space. Seeing as BookCon is one of the largest in the country, you've gotta drop some serious cash to be a vendor there. I paid almost $2k just for my booth, and that doesn't include travel costs, the hotel, food, and upfront costs to buy books and other merchandise.
Practice ~ I cannot stress this enough. I talked a lot about it in my other post about doing live shows, but it bears repeating for this situation. I'm also about to give you all an inside glimpse to the process for anyone who's considering being a future vendor at BookCon. First tip: a 10'x10' booth is a lot of space and full of potential. Don't squander your opportunity! You paid all that money for a booth; use it well. And practicing will help you do that and can save you a ton of stress too.
See, the unloading situation at BookCon was... well, it wasn't great. The hubs dropped me off at the Javits Center because we came in from the wrong direction, and NYC streets are terrible for driving - one way roads, congested, people being crazy, etc. - so I did reconnaissance inside and found our space while he went around a couple of blocks to come in the right way. Because we had to pull up to the front of the Javits Center and unload, and because the BookCon handbook said we weren't allowed to be parked there for more than half an hour, we tag-teamed unloading. We brought two hand carts (one of which we bought specifically to enact this plan), so while he took everything inside and dumped it in the booth space, I loaded up the next cart. Then he had to go park the car, which took a while and left me to set up the booth. Good thing we set up a practice booth and took pictures (always take pictures!) in our basement the week before we left (see below).
Doing the practice showed us some stuff that didn't work, and we added to it, bought some extra stuff to fix the problems, and tweaked it until we were satisfied in the comfort of our home. Armed with my pictures from our practice setup, I knew exactly what needed to go where while the hubs was off fighting NYC rush hour traffic - I honestly think I got the better end of that deal. Together, we probably could have gotten everything set up in about three hours, including unloading time. Since it was just me for a bit, and because I am way slower at assembling shelves than the hubs, it took us closer to four or four and a half. We popped into one of our favorite places for dinner a half hour before they closed. If we hadn't practiced, I guarantee there would have been tears and fighting and probably no dinner that night.
And look how nice it all looked! Remember, this was all just the hubs and me. There is often no crew to help you out, so be aware that these shows are very physically demanding.
Location, Location, Location ~ Your hotel being in the right place can be a lifesaver. The one we booked both last year (when I went as an attendee) and this year is a block from the Javits Center and right across the street from one of our favorite NY restaurants. That's food and work sorted in one easy location. The parking garage (yet another crazy expense) was right there too, so do your research and save yourself a headache or five. I did an event by myself in Cleveland a few weeks back and failed to follow my own advice, and the unloading and parking situation there was such a mess. I probably should have just stayed in the hotel where the event was taking place, but I fell down on the job and paid the price in stress and sweat.
Read the Instructions ~ This one sticks in my craw a little bit. I mentioned a BookCon manual above. In the manual, it mentioned that we were required to have a rug in our space. Nowhere else was this mentioned. I messaged a fellow vendor who I knew was going and asked her about it. She wasn't aware of such a rule and said she hadn't heard anything about having a rug in previous years she'd been. Now, you could rent a rug from the company running facilities for a cool $750.
$750?! For 100 square feet of rug? The hubs legitimately didn't believe me when I told him; I had to send him a screenshot, after which he said, "I can't believe they quote that price with a straight face." So we bought our own rug from Home Depot (the cheap type on the big rolls in the back that a team member has to cut for you) and brought that insead. Some people had a couple of runners, and I even considered astroturf because the manual didn't specify what was and wasn't allowed. The point is, I wouldn't have known unless I'd read the manual. Likewise, we wouldn't have known where to pull up or about the unloading time limit rule unless we'd read the manual. So do your homework!
Other Stuff ~ There's no one right way to do any live show, BookCon included. Everyone has their thing that makes them stand out, but I'm going to share with you some other random stuff that helped me.
Firstly, bring food. BookCon is busy. Super busy. Even if you don't have to contend with a food allergy like the hubs has to, it's hard to find time to eat, so bring water, jerky, dried edamame, crackers, dried fruit, more water, hard boiled eggs, cheese, nuts, whatever and make sure to eat. Snack the day away. Take it from the girl who faints when she doesn't get enough to eat, you don't want to find yourself at 3pm with the shakes. And by all means get a proper meal in as soon as you can. You'll be glad you did.
Secondly, people like free stuff. This one might cause some debate because, let's be honest, as indie authors, we're not really making a lot of money to start with. Though if you're first priority is to make money, I don't think you should be a writer, or any type of creative for that matter. Creative endeavors almost never make people rich; that's just a fact. You really should be in it for the art. Anyway, so why are we throwing a bunch of money away on free stuff? The point of free stuff is to gather email addresses for your newsletter (the importance of having a newsletter is a future blog entry). I had a prize wheel at my table, which was positioned right in front so people would see it. And people really went for it. In exchange for signing up for my newsletter, they won either a sticker, a coaster, a pen, a magnet (made by yours truly), etc. It doesn't have to be anything big, but it is really nice if you offer people something for signing up, and that can really bring traffic to your booth.
Don't have space or money or whatever for a prize wheel? Get a pair of dice, put up a sign, and assign prizes based on the probability of the results. Statistically speaking, sevens are the most likely roll, so give away a sticker or something for that. Twelves and twos are the least likely, so give away a bigger prize for those rolls. Or do something else. Draw cards. Whatever. Get really creative with it.
Third, make friends. After being rolled up and tied to the top of our car for two days (sixteen hours from Nashville to NYC, FYI), our rug didn't lay nicely on the booth floor. Our neighbors, the sweet ladies at Chick Lit Designs, were good enough to lend us some packing tape to tape it down. And we lent them our tools when they needed an extra screwdriver for their booth assembly. Help one another out. Nicoline Evans (pictured) and KN Salsutro (whose book Chasing Shadows is killing me right now!) were both a huge support to me when I was first looking at attending, so I don't hesitate to talk those ladies up. A lot of vendors know the power of working together, so do that thing! Likewise, people will remember with a sour taste in their mouths if you're a jerk, so don't do that thing.
And finally, read the other live show post if you haven't yet. It has loads more information and tips on selling, setup, etc. If you've got questions or comments, be sure to leave them in the comments section below. 👇 You can also find out what other live shows I'm attending in the future by visiting my main page. Just scroll down a little to find it.
Thanks for reading!