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Benefits of an Author Booth at a Booksellers Tradeshow

How does a one-book novelist gain entry to bookstores for signing events? One approach is by getting to know bookstore owners. There are lots of ways to do that, but Bill could think of none loopier than going to a bookseller tradeshow and renting a booth. And so Bill and Jill found themselves at the glitzy new Borgata casino hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) annual tradeshow.

The opulent, cacophonous Borgata has 2002 rooms and 3,650 slot machines, and during its first month of operation took in $47 million. To offset the hotel's $1.1 billion cost, Bill and Jill generously donated $40 to the idiot machines, which no longer have levers or disgorge tokens, because those artifacts slow the betting process. Instead, suckers punch buttons and are sucker-punched by lopsided odds. On the other hand, casino people-watching proved a great spectator sport. But that's not what this story is about.


Borgata hotel and casino

Borgata hotel and casino

Some gold mines are golden

Bill at booth

Bill at booth

Okay, practice that confident smile

A booksellers tradeshow is where publishers go to advertise their new offerings to bookstores, in hopes the stores will stock the books. This objective is mainly achieved by the publishers giving booksellers free books. Also, publishers entice many of their authors to come and sign the books. A booksellers tradeshow is not the place where a new author sets up a booth and sells his book at a wonderful discount. Bill and Jill figured this out as time went on, but adopted the technique of smiling a lot and acting extremely successful. That technique might actually have worked to some degree. A week later, Bill received an email note from the co-owner of a small publishing company:

“We met at the tradeshow, talked briefly, you allowed us to take your picture, and we bought your book. [We] thought you had a strong book and a strong presentation.”

Amazing. So, really, how did it go? Bill and Jill wound up giving away nine books, including five to booksellers who responded favorably to the idea of Bill doing an event at their stores. Other copies went to the NAIBA president, the president of the Romance Writers of America (who shared a wealth of ideas on book promotion), a library, and the tradeshow raffle. Those investments actually made sense. Most incredibly, Bill sold four books, one to the publisher who wrote the above note, and three to people who just wanted the book, including a university professor (one of the book-signing authors) who offered to host Bill for a speech.

But how do those justify maybe $1,000 for the show, booth, hotel, fancy author dinner, and NAIBA membership? That’s harder. It comes down to intangibles:

Bill and Jill learned a great deal about the bookselling business and made connections with some booksellers, including the NAIBA president, who it turns out has a childrens bookstore in Alexandria. Bill and Jill plan to visit and chat.

The connections with booksellers for potential store events were, after all, the purpose of the trip. It remains to be seen whether any events materialize.

Bill spoke with a number of authors and learned useful tips.

Author and bookseller presentations were informative, with speakers such as Joyce Carol Oates talking about her childrens book, which by the rules of the genre could not end tragically as do so many of her adult books.

Because the tradeshow drew them to the area, Bill and Jill chose to spend a vacation day in nearby Ocean City, where Jill vacationed as a child. The visit evoked fond memories.

Whoa, your mental cash register is thinking, this does not add up to $1,000. Maybe, but it’s also true that some of the tradeshow benefits were of the more tangible sort. After all, booksellers were not the only ones authorized freebies. Bill and Jill returned with over $1,000 worth of free books, all signed by authors, several of whom Bill and Jill got to know. Those books will give rise to many hours of reading pleasure, after which they will be donated to schools or libraries and, for tax purposes, logged as a charitable donation.

Ideas for Author Booths and Book-Signing Events

The tradeshow booth also gave an opportunity to test-run a range of bookstore signing and marketing ideas. Because Bill and Jill had so little to sell (basically one book and three models of a T-shirt), their booth was uncluttered and visually appealing, whereas most booths were jammed with books. On the other hand, the things Bill and Jill had for sale were not the things people had come to buy.

The TaleCatcher™ Booth

The TaleCatcher™  Booth

What’s that author booth doing here?

Lessons learned from the booth

Free saltwater taffy proved popular. A few dozen people perused the booth for an extra five to ten seconds because of the candy. Bill and Jill had brought a three-pound box of Shriver’s taffies (made in Ocean City since 1898) and kept restocking their candy dish as passers-by gobbled up about half of the stash.

The Naked in Cyberspace T-shirts drew attention, with guys taking note of the Naked Gal and gals taking note of the Naked Guy, but neither human could compete for attention with the Naked Cat. Bill and Jill realized they need a Naked Dog.

TaleCatcher™ chocolate dollars spilling from a cloth pouch pulled visitors to the booth. A dozen people showed particular interest, lifting the golden coins and turning them over to admire the handiwork of Jill’s labels.

Bill awarded TaleCatcher™ chocolate cigars to several folks such as Betsy from Otto Bookstore in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. All gift-cigar recipients were impressed and pleased. These cigars are great as rewards or bribes.  :-)

No media people paid heed to the sign that read, “Media, We Have A Story For You.” Bill and Jill gave copies of the related press release to several folks, but nothing came of it. Maybe there were no media people in attendance.

Posters had no apparent effect. Bill’s greatest disappointment was a sign he’d placed as his main hook, which read, “Blackouts, Worms, the Novel.” Hardly anyone noticed the thing.

Ideas from other booths

The Mid-Atlantic chapter of the Romance Writers of America offered a candy dish of chocolates that were more popular than saltwater taffies.

The same booth had shiny metallic confetti scattered about the table to give it a festive mood.

A romance writer wove a thread of yarn through one end of her bookmarks to make them more distinctive. A mug jammed full of the bookmarks looked to be holding a flower.

A person dressed in a Jazz the DreamDog outfit danced by the booth of Jazz the DreamDog stories and advertised itself for service at events.

Other booth tactics Bill and Jill are developing

Bill's Life-sized Cutout

Bill's Life-sized Cutout

Here Today Only!
Author Bill Neugent

A life-sized cutout of Bill. The cutout can be accompanied with a sign: Here Today Only, Author Bill Neugent. The goal is to delude people into believing that Bill's celebrity presence is a huge event. When the cutout poster is finished in a few weeks, details of its cost and production will be posted to Bill's Frequently Asked Questions web page.

A game at Bill’s store events that would entertain adults and children and stimulate discussion about a question at the heart of Bill’s novel (i.e., in cyberattacks, who are the real villains?):

Game for Store Events

A board with pictures of five different cyberterrorist villains.

Each villain's image includes a round Velcro patch.

Players throw a Velcro ball targeting the Velcro patches.

Players get three throws.

Winners receive a coveted TaleCatcher™ Naked in Cyberspace T-shirt

Was the tradeshow worth it? There are quiet weekends at home and there are weekends filled with experiences, sights, and stories. Life is in the pacing.


Updated: 04-Mar-2003