I’m doing a book stall at a Craft and Gift Fair on September 18th. It’s been several years since I last did one, which was in my (then) Village Hall. So I knew everyone, and a reasonable number of people knew me. This time I’m going with a commercial fair organiser, and I know nobody.
This is my Insecure Writers Support Group post, in which we share our successes and failures as writers, our insecurities, in fact. Anyone can join in, just sign up at the IWSG Sign-up page, write a blog post on the first Wednesday of the month, and go back to that sign up page to link with everyone else–or a goodly sample. Our host is Alex J Cavanaugh, and his co-hosts for the month are:
And I’d already prepared this post when the notification came through that Diane Wolfe had written about this on the IWSG blog. There’s better guidance there, so do look it up!
My first book stall since 2015
Regular readers know I moved from Norfolk to Hampshire (UK) just before we went into lockdown in 2020. Naturally, it’s been hard getting to know the area, and joining any events or clubs has been impossible. Partly spurred on by my cover illustrator, Dani English, doing virtual cons to make up for lack of physical ones, I decided to see if there were any gift fairs that I might be able to get into. I was mainly thinking of Christmas fairs, but I found this company Mynt Image, who do monthly fairs in a number of larger towns in South-Central England.
Two of the venues are within five miles of me–Romsey and Winchester (which is a big fair, as you’d expect, what with the cathedral, where Jane Austen is buried). But Winchester hasn’t yet opened up to post-covid events. So I’m doing Romsey Town Hall on Saturday 18th September.
You’ll notice they had one in August, so I went along to case the joint, as it were. I’m glad I did, as parking, wifi and a few other things were worth checking out in advance. I helped a lady on her glove stall with her Zettle, and she pointed me to the public wifi log in, so that’s set for this month. More on Zettle below. It’s only a small room, but it had a good flow of visitors, and some were buying, too.
Checklist for a stall
This got longer of course, as time went on. If you want to ask about anything on it, leave a note in the comments.
- Book stock (including some proofs for people to get their grubby hands on)
- Book display
- Giveaways e.g. bookmarks
- Banner display
- Public Liability Insurance (required by the organiser)
- Credit card / paypal readers
- Price list
Most of late July and August were taken up by this, plus putting together the winter short story collection (launches 4th October), and the beta version of Zanzibar’s Rings. I think I got a bit carried away.
Banners and other printing
I already have banners for the Princelings series and for my dad’s memoirs, White Water Landings. I decided I was ready for a Viridian System banner (which meant I needed the final cover for Zanzibar’s Rings).
Then I read some discussion online about ‘meet the author’ badges and tee-shirts, which seems to be the big thing when having a book stall. People aren’t interested in books, except when they’re meeting the author. Well, I have a tee-shirt, which actually still fits, with my main covers on it. And I was thinking about a banner for the short story collections. So the banner for the short story collections has ‘Meet the author’ in the middle of it!
If you shop around, banners aren’t expensive, provided you can do your own design on Photoshop or similar. I use Solopress in the UK, and banners are about £30 each. Like these ones. They also did 500 bookmarks from my design for about £40. Next time I get some, I’ll do a design with a different series on it.
And of course, I had to check how many copies I had of each of my titles, and order more. How many?
- Princelings of the East (first in series) 18
- Other Princelings titles, 6 of books 2 &3, 4 of the rest
- Viridian System, 6 each of 2
- Flash collection, 10 each of 4 titles
- White Water Landings, 21 in stock (potentially a good seller in this area)
- Dylan, Deirdre & Dougall, 5 colour, 10 B&W
- BookElves vol 2, 3 (last three paperbacks)
- Notebooks, 5 each of 2
- Gift cards for the ebook box sets (about ten of each)
It’s scary how these books add up!
What about credit card sales?
There seem to be two ‘entry level’ systems (for occasional users like you and me), SumUp and Zettle. Zettle links with your PayPal account. This seemed to me to be the best way forward, but I asked both Dani and the icecream man on the beach what they did! Dani uses Zettle for her cons–and so does the ice cream man, who commented on the need to link it either to your phone or rely on local wifi, which can be iffy.
I got Zettle. It’s easy to use if you work on the main website as well as the App, which you need with you to tot up the sale and show the price on the card reader. I don’t see how to set up stock other than on the site in a browser. But setting it up is easy then, and it’s just a question of deciding on your prices. I hope it works on the day. A back-up is to have your Paypal app ready, and your Paypal QR code on your pricelist. Then people with the Paypal App on their phones can pay you that way, or with iPay, I think, too. Yes, you have to trust they’ll pay, but hey, we sell books, not works of art or jewellery.
So, I think I’m set up and ready to go. Fingers crossed. I’ll tell you how my first Hampshire book stall went next time.
I’ll tell you how much all this added up to, as well. But most of it will be ready for the next fair… I’m waitlisted for December in Romsey, and now I’ve signed up for 19th November in Salisbury too. That’ll be a big one!
And now… the Question of the Month
How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?
I’m sure we’ve discussed this before, but I searched back to 2016 and couldn’t find it. There’s no right answer, or possibly even constant answer. I was at a con where Elly Griffiths, Val McDermid, and someone else were asked this question. I think we’d class them as highly successful. They’re not only top selling writers, they’re on tv too. Elly still wonders what it means. But to them, success is only about the next book.
So I don’t even think about ‘success’. It’s an achievement to get a book out there–I could stop there–that people enjoy, however small my audience. And setting ourselves a target for ‘success’ is probably going to bring disappointment. Have some achievable goals, instead.