Book signings are a strange animal. While they are a lot of fun, they're also about as predictable as the weather, and one challenge I've frequently encountered is getting passers-by to even notice that I'm there in the first place.
My static display skills aren't bad, and I learned a lot about how to make attractive displays and signage when I was leasing a booth at an antique mall. However, there is more to a successful display than just a pretty arrangement. The trick is to make your display stand out against the competition. Competition isn't necessarily other authors signing their books at the same venue. Grouping authors together is usually a benefit as the multiple book displays tend to stand out more. The competition is the usually rest of the "neighborhood" where the venue is being held. This would be the non-book vendors, brick and mortar shops, restaurants, and, at the Old West venues where I often have my book signings, gun fight shows, musicians and costume competitions. A good display is a must if you want to successfully sell your books.
If you're just starting out, or, if you're like many of us and have a limited budget, getting everything you need to put together a successful display may seem daunting. However, you'll find many of your basic display items are inexpensive, and can be found at Wal-Mart, Target, or Micheal's.
First, you need a nice tablecloth. Solid colors work best. If you prefer a tablecloth with a pattern, find a simple one. Think of your tablecloth as the backwash in a painting. Loud, busy fabrics are out. You want the public looking at your books, not at the intricate printed patterns on your tablecloth. I also like to use a small table runner. For most signings I use a simple, ivory lace runner, and I also have a festive Christmas table runner that I use during holiday book signings. If you don't have a lot of money you can find used tablecloths, or even used draperies, at thrift stores or yard sales.
Next, you need some small display easels for propping up your books. I've found some really nice ones at Micheal's. Try to avoid using the three-legged plate holders. They are unstable and your books will keep being knocked over. If you have the funds, a large book rack is a really nice display tool. They can be pricey, but they're a darn good attention grabber and well worth the investment.
You would think that a good book display would be enough for people to understand you're selling books, but, as someone once told me, some mothers have them. That's why you also need good signage. If you don't have a lot of money, you can start out by printing something off your printer and putting it in an attractive photo frame. If you have the tools and the skills, have a have a poster or banner printed at Kinko's and attach it to a piece of foam core board. You should be able to do this for a very reasonable cost. If your funds will allow it, I highly recommend investing in a good quality retractable banner, but keep in mind that retractable banners are not suitable for outdoor use.
I found a sign shop here in Tucson that got me a good deal on a sandwich board. These boards are suitable for outdoor use and they can really take a beating. The signs themselves are easy to remove, so I can swap out different signs for different venues.
And finally, not all venues will provide a table a chair. I found a lightweight, aluminum folding table in the camping department at Wal-Mart for a very reasonable price, along with a couple of cloth folding chairs that are comfortable as well as easy to carry. That, along with a small dolly or wheeled cart to easily move everything around with, should cover about just about everything that you will need. These items may also be found at thrift stores, yard sales, or craigslist.
Book signings can be fun, and they are one of the best tools out there for promoting and marketing your books. However, as the old adage goes, you will have to spend money to make money, and you should be able do it without going broke in the process.
My tip for the day.