The Traveling Writer: Ten Things You Should Own for Promotional Events
by Kristi Petersen Schoonover
I’ve been doing events for ages, and my first few weren’t easy. No one had a must-have list, and I had to learn by doing. Today I’m sparing you all of that. So, here are the ten things every writer should have in his “Traveling Promotional Toolkit” (other than, obviously, your books/product). If you’re with the NEHW, there’s a good chance you won’t have to worry about some things on this list, like the table and tablecloths. But you should own them anyway, because at some point, you will probably be going solo. Interestingly enough, these ten items won’t break your bank—in fact, if you buy everything at once, your investment is going to be well under $100 and most of that you’ll never have to replace—but they’re absolutely essential if you’re going to take your show on the road.
Table/Chair: Card tables aren’t that expensive. Pick one up and keep it in your basement. If you don’t use it for going on the road, believe me, you’ll find some other use for it the next time you throw a party. A decent card table can run you anywhere from $20 and up. Some come with four or five chairs and start at about $50—but as far as chairs go, anything from home will do. Even those fold-up lawn chairs are fine. But you should have one in case the venue doesn’t.
Tablecloth: You can bring a cloth one from home that you already own, but since I’m a horror writer I like to get funky and use something appropriate. Plastic tablecloths, which you can get at any party store and start at, like, a buck, are the best choice, because you can customize them to the event (you might not want to bring your blood-spatter design to a hospital benefit, for example), and you can toss them when they get worn out. I have a few different ones with different designs on hand especially during October when I’m doing four or five events in a row and want to change it up. I usually get several uses out of them before having to discard them. You’ll find you also won’t mind loaning out the plastic ones, either. These are the most frequent things you’ll replace other than your handouts (see below).
Plastic Tubs: A must. All your books and materials stay dry and in mint shape. The tubs are also easy to carry, and make for a great “table” to put your drinks and food so they don’t go on your signing table, putting your product at risk.
Photo by Jason Harris.
Book Stands: Sure, you can lay your books down on the table, but if they’re standing up, they’re easier to spot, plus they instantly look serious. You don’t have to spend a fortune to own an industrial book stand: these are the poor man’s POP (point-of-purchase) displays. All you have to do is visit Michael’s Crafts and head down the framing/photo aisles; they’re referred to as easels, they’re portable, and they’re cheap. The ones pictured above fold easily. At Michaels, they are about $3.99 each, and if you get the store’s coupons in the weekly paper, then they’re even less. If you wanna go nuts, they have some pretty cool wrought-iron ones. Those are on my Christmas list. Book stands are also available through Amazon.
Handouts/Flyers: The idea with a handout or flyer is to provide something of value: Content your readers will take home and possibly keep for awhile or use—this is the idea behind what today we refer to as “swag” (years ago when I worked for a firm we called them CM’s–“collateral materials”) such as magnets, bottle openers, and pens. The good news is, since you’re a writer, you don’t have to spend the bucks on promotional items if you can’t afford them. An easy, better, and less expensive way to market your work is to take a short story (preferably one that’s published) or a sample from one of your books and copy it. You can then staple your business card, postcard – or simply a flyer with your website and where people can purchase the book – to those copies and hand them out. You may not think it works, but it does result in at least a few residual sales (a residual sale is when a person purchases your work after the show is over).
Pens/Markers/Paper: Don’t laugh. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve been to book signings at big box retailers (Barnes & Noble, Costco, and the like) and the author didn’t have pens that worked. Invest in a box of Bics. And while you’re at it, pick up a few Sharpies, too. Also make sure you have a notepad or extra paper – it comes in handy if you need to make notes, keep sales records, or make a sign. Just keep them in your travel tub.
Sign Holders: These are those plastic one-offs that stand on their own into which you can insert your own flyer, sign, photo, or whatever and the beauty is you can prepare one and use it over and over; you can also change them out frequently but keep a file of different ones on hand and avoid having to print new sheets every time you need something different. They add to your professional appearance and come in a multitude of vertical and horizontal styles and sizes. The best place to get them is at Staples, and you can spend as little as $4.00 each.
Duct Tape: One word: MacGyver.
Plastic Shopping Bags: To offer to customers who purchase your product, and to use for just about anything else, including those empty Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cups and Tab cans. One box of 100 costs about $13 at Staples or Office Max, and it’ll take you awhile to go through them.
Decorations/Candy: Something festive to dress up your table is always helpful because it broadcasts I have passion for what I do, and a bowl of individually-wrapped candies is always pretty, especially around Halloween, because it shows you have a sense of fun. And after all, who doesn’t want to Trick or Treat?