Outdoor Author Events: Prepare and Prosper
Guest Post by Irene Watson
Authors can do well selling books at outdoor events such as art fairs and book festivals. However, before accepting an invitation to an outdoor event, be aware of what you’re up against so you’re prepared to protect your books from the elements.
At some point, an author truly interested in promoting his or her books will have the possibility to attend an outdoor event. While most of these events are art fairs and book festivals, so it’s obvious they are outdoors, now and then an author might show up at a book signing only to be surprised that the bookstore wants him and fellow authors to be seated outside. Don’t let that surprised author be you.
First and foremost before you attend an event, you need to ask the event planner some key questions:
Is the event indoors or outdoors? If indoors, proceed as normal, showing up with a pen and books to sign. If outdoors, proceed to the next question.
Will there be any form of shelter? A bookstore owner might tell you that if it rains, then he’ll put you inside, but that’s not enough to know. Continue to ask questions.
Where outdoors? Will it be a sunny or a shady location, and
Will there be a tent? You’d be surprised how many bookstores plan outdoor events but don’t think to get a tent, or they are just too cheap to arrange for one.
Will tables and chairs be provided? If it’s outdoors, probably not. Vendors usually bring their own tables and chairs to events, although sometimes you can purchase them from the event planner for a small fee. A bookstore probably doesn’t want its furniture outside getting dirty, and if it invited more than one author, it won’t have enough tables and chairs for everyone, so be prepared to bring your own. You can usually find yourself a good folding table at a department or home improvement store. Make sure it’s sturdy, and bring some small blocks of wood in case you end up trying to set it up on a slight incline outside.
Once you know the event is outside, and you know what you’ll need to bring, you might also consider bringing a tablecloth—vinyl tablecloths can often be found that are colorful, and if it rains, they will not be soaked like the sheets most people use for outdoor events. Vinyl tablecloths can also be placed over books so they don’t get wet, while a sheet won’t solve that issue.
Speaking of rain, be prepared for the various elements that will be a threat to you and your books. Always check the weather forecast the morning of the event so you are not caught by surprise. Here are some tips for the various elements that can ruin your day if you’re not prepared:
Rain: Nothing is worse than having an event be rained out. Customers won’t come in the rain, your books could get ruined, and you will feel downright soggy and miserable. Your best protection against rain is to have your own tent, preferably a canopy tent that is relatively easy to set up and has four removable walls. Canopy tents can usually be found online or in most major retail stores.
Plan ahead so you will arrive in time to set up your tent and have time to take it down after the event. You may not want to leave all the walls up—they are easily removable usually, but it’s good to invest extra money in purchasing the walls—usually sold separately—so when the rain starts, you are protected. Books will actually withstand some rain and quickly dry, but do your best to keep them dry regardless. Also bring a tarp or something rain resistant to place on the ground and put your boxes on. If the ground gets wet, your cardboard boxes will get soggy and the bottoms will break, making them impossible for carrying your books home. Another option is to put all your books in plastic bins rather than boxes, but you still might want a tarp so your bins don’t get covered with mud and dirt.
If it does start to rain, don’t be surprised as well if festival-goers caught in the rain try to seek shelter in your tent—let them—you can use the downpour time to have their undivided attention and sell them your book; they might even feel obligated to buy since you gave them shelter.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself; if it looks like rain, bring a raincoat. Leave the umbrella at home—it’s impractical when you’re carrying books and taking apart a tent—but you’ll be grateful for the raincoat when the event is over, it’s still pouring, and you’re trying to load your car.
Wind: Rain is not your worst enemy at an outdoor event—wind is. Wind can come from any direction. It can blow standing books on display over and onto the ground. It will send business cards and brochures flying across the park, and it can be downright cold. If you didn’t buy a quality tent and stake it in properly, wind can also pick up your tent and throw it several feet, which could destroy all your displays and send your books, table, and maybe even yourself onto the ground. Wind is the primary reason why you want a tent with four removable walls so you can put up walls whichever way the wind is blowing. Be prepared to hang and snap that wall within a minute if the wind gets bad. Once your tent is four-walled and secure, offer to help the other vendors—it will help you and your books be noticed by others, and everyone appreciates a helping hand, especially in a crisis. As for paper items like brochures and business cards, put them in a see-through box for people to take, or find some small rocks you can place on top to hold them.
Heat and the Sun: If an event is outdoors, it’s probably summer, and that means it will be hot. The sun is an enemy to books as well because it will fade your book covers if it pounds on them too long, so keep your table and books in a shady place, preferably inside your tent. The heat and humidity can also make your book covers curl, but this situation shouldn’t be a real issue. Simply rotate the books you have on display or on the top of a stack, placing them under other books so the weight will flatten back the covers. If you are in a tent and it’s hot, you will bake, so remove one or two of your walls to let in some air, or just lower the wall partway. Hopefully, you can let in a little breeze while still being prepared for the unexpected wind gust or thunderstorm.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. When it’s 90 degrees, it’s not the day to wear your character costume that weighs five pounds and will cause you to pass out from heat exhaustion. Be practical—shorts and a t-shirt are fine; no one will expect you to be formal at an outdoor event. Be sure to bring a hat to protect your head from sunburn, and put on sun lotion before you go. If it’s an all day event, bring sun lotion with you to reapply after a few hours. Be sure to bring some bottled water with you as well. Don’t allow yourself to become dehydrated.
Cold: The cold won’t really affect your books. And I doubt an outdoor event will be held in a season when it might snow, but be prepared to dress warmly. Check the forecast beforehand. You might wear shorts and a t-shirt, but bring along a pair of pants and a jacket in case you need them later. You might even want earmuffs or mittens if you fear the temperatures will get low enough. If you have a thermos, fill it with hot coffee, hot chocolate, or hot soup to help keep you warm.
Being outdoors can be fun, relaxing, and an overall feel-good experience. An outdoor event attracts the attention of passersby, and it allows people to shop while feeling more relaxed and enjoying the great outdoors. But as with any event, something could go wrong. Be prepared to protect yourself and your books from the elements and to be as comfortable as possible; you want to be in a good mood rather than worrying about the weather, so you can engage your customers and make a sale.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.