One of the exciting (and scary) things about being an author is promoting your book at signings and conventions. Some people thrive on it, while others find it quite daunting, depending on the size of the crowd. Whether you're eagerly awaiting your next convention or dreading it, there are a few things that you can do to make your table (and yourself) desirable to your customers and ways that you can also take care of your mental and physical health.
Table display: Take time when setting up your table display. You want it to be eye catching and connected with your book in some way. Don't just scatter things about. Have a method and direct customers' attention to your most important pieces, whether that be the book, swag, newsletter, etc.
Appearance: You want to be yourself, of course, but there are ways you can dress to help promote your work. Perhaps wear a shirt with your book's cover art or characters on it. Choose a saying from your book and proudly display that. Or just wear something that's comfortable but also appealing to the eye, something that welcomes people to your table. Whimsical can also attract attention!
Bookmarks/business cards: Make sure you have plenty of these with you whether you're at your table or walking around. This is a great way to make connections and also show off that you have all your ducks in a row. If they can't make it to your table, at least they have something to take with them to look at later.
Elevator Pitch: Have an elevator pitch prepared for your book when you present it. This should last maybe two sentences or 15 seconds, something to engage the customers but not bore them. You don't want to tell them your whole story over a five minute interval, otherwise what's the point of buying the book? Now, if they ask more questions about it, be sure to answer them and let your passion shine.
Greeting People: You can set up your own routine for greeting people, but make sure to be friendly, open, and honest with them. Even if you're having a down day, try to put on a smile and engage with your customers. You're more likely to attract their attention and get them interested in your book. Consider standing, too, when you greet people. You seem more engaged that way.
Dealing With Time Monopolizers: It happens. Someone stops at your table and starts chatting with you about your book but then goes off onto tangents or starts rattling off conspiracy theories while you're still trying to sell. Obviously you don't want to chase a potential customer away, but there are ways to halt the conversation. If another person walks up, politely say, "Excuse me" to the monopolizer and put your full attention to the other person. It might help them realize that you still have work to do. Try to disengage by saying, "It's been great talking to you. I've enjoyed talking to you, but," and indicate you need to get back to selling. And if they still won't step back, you have to remember that this is a job. Sometimes you have to be a bit blunt and more curtly excuse yourself from the conversation.
Bring Food: When you attend conventions, quite often food prices are jacked up so you're paying an arm and a leg for it. If the convention allows it, consider bringing your own food (sandwiches, power bars, chips, pita, etc). You'll save money eating your own stuff and have plenty of it available too. Likewise, bring plenty of water too, because water bottles cost a ridiculous amount of money (and kill the environment). I typically just fill mine up at the water fountain.
Set a Budget: Just like the rest of the convention goers, it's hard not to get swept up in all of the amazing books and items around you. If you plan to buy a few things, set a budget for yourself so you don't spend more than what you make.
Purchase a Cart: You're likely going to have a lot of items to drag around with you to conventions. Instead of straining yourself, and possibly risking medical bills by breaking your back, get a cart or dolly that you can easily move around with your merchandise. It'll make loading and unloading much easier as well.
Stay hydrated: It's easy to forget to drink something while you're busy greeting people and selling books. But it's vital to stay hydrated. You're going to be working the convention for several long hours, possibly in the heat. I've gotten sick from not drinking enough. So fill up that water bottle!
Eat: Same with drinking, make sure you eat something. You might want to wait until there's a lull in people walking around, but you can take 10 minutes to eat a power bar or a sandwich. It'll keep you energized and fight off the dreaded "hanger."
Take a Break: If at all possible, try to take a break if you feel like you're getting too overwhelmed. Maybe have a friend come with you who can cover the table while you go sit in quiet for a few minutes. Or, befriend your neighbors who can keep an eye on your things while you run to the bathroom or take a walk. It's hard to be "on" for so long. Give yourself chance a turn off.
Wet wipes: This was actually a great suggestion from my friend Brian K Morris. It's easy to start feeling sweaty, dirty, and just uncomfortable when you've been working your table. Have some wipes with you to clean your face, neck, and hands to help refresh you.
Wear comfortable shoes/clothing: I know this can be hard if you're cosplaying, but try to wear something comfortable, especially when it comes to shoes. You don't want to be hating your feet an hour into the convention.
Know the Ins and Outs of the Convention Place: You can save yourself a lot of stress if you know 1. where you're supposed to set up, 2. where the entrances and exits are, 3. where the bathrooms and water are located, etc before you actually attend the convention. I've gotten so busy setting up before that I just blanked out on some of these basic things.
What about you folks? What kind of tips can you offer when attending conventions or signings?