Tag Archives: in-person book selling events

The Business Side of the Business: book signing events, income, and expense #amwriting

In my previous post, we discussed the logistics and costs of in-person sales events, so today we are revisiting managing our expenses. I did cover this a few months ago, so if you already have seen this, thank you for stopping by!

If you intend to make personal appearances at local bookstores, fairs, or conventions, you should have an inventory of books to manage and account for at the end of the year. You will have expenses to report. This can be quite a headache if you have more than one or two books to track.

Its a BusinessThe good businessperson has a spreadsheet of some sort to account for this side of the business, as it will be part of your annual business tax report. An excellent method for assembling the information we generate for your tax report is discussed in a guest post by Ellen King Rice, The Business Sequence for Writers. Her article offers an excellent framework for keeping our business records straight, so filling out our annual tax forms will be easy.

As a former bookkeeper, I strongly suggest you keep an account of your costs for each book. This is for tax and insurance purposes if the stock of books is lost or damaged in a house fire or flood.

You can do this on notebook paper with a pencil, a ruler, and a calculator. However, a green or yellow ledger book with eight to twelve columns is already set up for you to begin using. These are available at Amazon and can be found at all office supply stores and some grocery stores.

I began working as a bookkeeper in 1982, using the industry-standard tools of the trade for the time. We noted each transaction with a red or black pencil in ledger books of varying sizes (2 to 32 columns). In those days, we used rulers or yardsticks to ensure we tracked a particular item on the correct line across all the columns. The handiest electronic device on my desk was the calculator with a printout tape.

The tools for this method of accounting are still available in the stationery section of any store and are quite affordable.

I use Excel for all my accounting purposes, but no matter how you create your spreadsheet, each title you have on hand to take to book fairs or shows has several associated costs.

The first column contains the heading Titles: under that heading, list the title of each book you take to shows. We will use my most recent book, Bleakbourne on Heath, as our example book.

On the same line as the word Titles, working to the right in column 2, write unit cost. This is the price you pay for each copy you must take to a show and varies from title to title by the book’s length and trim size. On the same line as the book’s title, write the cost you pay D2D, KDP, Ingram Sparks, or your publisher for that paper book. In this case, I pay Draft2Digital  $4.99.

Column 3 is the current stock-on-hand at the end of the taxing quarter: Quantity in stock: 15

calculatorColumn 4 is the sum of column three times column twoInventory value: $89.11. That is what you would have to pay to replace those books. It is also what some Departments of Revenue may tax you on at the end of the year if the value of that stock is over a specific limit, say $5,000.00. The total value of stock-on-hand for all my books combined rarely exceeds $500.00.

Annual inventory taxes are why retail stores have end-of-the-year sales. They need to offload their inventory to keep their taxes low.

Column 5 is the retail price. This is what Draft2Digital charges for the book: $15.99. You set your retail price to cover the cost of replacing the book, with some revenue to cover table and vendor fees at shows and conventions (see my previous post, the Business Side of the Business: budgeting for in-person sales events,) and still allow for a small profit.

Column 6 is the special show price (if you discount your books at shows): $12.00.

Column 7 is the retail value of your stock on hand. It is the sum of column 3 times column 6: $228.00.


Did you collect sales tax from your customers? When you apply for your business license, you will receive a pamphlet with all the taxing jurisdictions in your licensing area and their tax rates. These range between .08 and .11 here in Thurston County.

Washington State has no income tax, so all our revenues come from quarterly business and sales taxes collected at the time of purchase.

Note the tax jurisdiction where the books were sold, as you may be required to forward the taxes collected to your state or province’s Department of Revenue. If you are smart, you will make another page with these columns:


At the bottom of both spreadsheets, total each column. That will give you the stock expenses for all your titles. There will be no scrambling at the end of the quarter for Business and Occupation taxes if you live in a state like Washington State or at the end of the year if you live elsewhere. Be smart and set aside the money collected as sales tax because it is not yours and is not part of your income.

That way, you will have it at the end of the year if you only do a few shows a year like me, or quarterly if you do shows and signings every week.

Bookkeeping should take less than an hour after each show. If you have kept your spreadsheets updated, filling out annual business tax forms for your state and federal agencies will go quickly. You will have all the numbers you need to back up your reports if you are audited.

Also (and this is important), you will know the exact number of books you have on hand in each title. You will know when it’s time to reorder more stock. There is a two-to-three-week lag in printing and shipping time, so ordering books in advance is critical. You don’t want to waste money by purchasing stock you have plenty of, but you need to have a supply of your better sellers.

My personal spreadsheet is a little more detailed and is saved in the cloud, as are all my business and other records. I also back up my files to an external drive because it never hurts to be vigilant.

Something we rarely consider is the infrequent natural disaster. I live on the northwest coast of the US, so we must sometimes deal with forest fires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, Pacific hurricanes, and, occasionally, tornadoes. They don’t happen often, but it can be devastating when they do.

water not a friend of booksDepending on where you live, the natural world can be hazardous. If something should happen to your stock of books due to theft, fire, or flood, you will be able to claim your business loss.

Many authors are far more prolific than I am. Replacing the stock of 1 to 30 titles is a burdensome expense to carve out of the family budget unless an author has sold enough to cover that cost.

Are you covering your costs? Keeping good records will ensure you can see where you stand and allow you to make good decisions regarding your expenses.


Filed under writing

The business side of the business: budgeting for in-person sales events #amwriting

Spring and summer are conference and convention seasons. Regardless of your publishing path, indie or traditional, you must budget for certain things. You can’t expect your royalties to pay for them early in your career. And just so you know, many award-winning authors must still work their day jobs to pay their bills long after becoming bestsellers.

Its a BusinessAt first, getting your books in front of readers is a challenge. The in-person sales event is one way to get eyes on your books. This could be at a venue as small as a local bookstore allowing you to set up a table on their premises.

Or it could be as large as a table at a regional conference or convention.

Signings at writers’ conferences are usually a bit pricy for the number of books you might sell, but they are great ways to network.

What are the minimum costs for working a table at a signing event?

The bare minimum expenses:

You must have a stock of books on hand. You can’t sell books that you haven’t ordered. I order well in advance, as it can take three weeks for an order to arrive via the least expensive shipping method. Paying for overnight shipping of fifteen to twenty books is well out of my price range.


Coins, Microsoft content creators

We must consider the table fee. A bookstore might not charge you anything for the table, but they may take a small cut if they run your sales through their cash registers.

However, large conferences and conventions will charge table fees ranging from $70.00 to as high as $300.00 or more. This varies with the size and type of conference, the venue where the convention is being held, and the vendors you will be competing with.

Sci-fi and Fantasy fan conventions can be quite pricy. You will be in an immense, crowded room, competing with big-name RPG game franchises and movie franchises, plus all the vendors of memorabilia and collectibles that are available in the vendors’ alley.

If you are able to get a table at a major fan convention, you must pay for transportation, food, and lodging. These costs could be gas, parking, airfare, hotel, etc., if you don’t have friends or family in that area. If you are planning to stay in a hotel, take simple foods that can be prepared without a stove. Being vegan, I tend to be an accomplished hotel-room chef, as most coffee bars don’t offer many plant-based options. While that bias is changing, I still go prepared.

Bring at least one pen for signing your books. I bring four or five because sometimes the pens don’t work as advertised.

Square Card Reader 1The final thing you will need is a way of accepting money. I have a metal cash box, but you only need something to hold cash and some bills to make change with. A way to accept credit cards, something like Square, is a good option. You will find a lot of vendors use Square, but there are other options out there.

These things are the bare minimum you will need to provide. At many shows, you’ll be given a table with skirting and a sign attached to the front with your name in block letters. You can get by with this if you’re on a tight budget. New vendors manage with this minimal setup all the time. This option lets you squeak by on little more than the cost of your books. Your setup and teardown time will be short, and you’ll have little to transport—always a positive, in my opinion.

My good friend, Lee French, is a pro when it comes to selling at conventions. She co-wrote the book, Working the Table: An Indie Author’s Guide to Conventions with Jeffrey Cook. She tells us that to really succeed, you’ll need to invest a bit more.

It helps to have some kind of promotional handout. I find bookmarks and business cards are the most affordable option. I know a few authors who have all sorts of little buttons and promotional trinkets relating to their books made. They give them out to everyone who passes their table, buyers or not.

However, most of my friends agree that business cards and bookmarks are the best bang for the buck in promotional material. They are less expensive when purchased in bulk, so I get as many as my budget allows.

You will need a business license to sell books at most conventions. Each state in the US has different requirements for getting these, so do the research and get whatever business license your local government requires. This allows you to get a reseller’s permit, enabling you to buy copies of your own books without paying sales tax. If your state doesn’t assess sales tax, you don’t need this, but you’ll still need the business license.

If you live in a state like Washington State, be smart and set aside the money collected as sales tax. It is not yours and shouldn’t be considered part of your income.

Investing in some large promotional graphic, such as a retractable banner, is a good idea. A large banner is a great visual to put behind your chair. A second banner for the front of the table looks professional, but they do require some fiddling with pins.

Lee French suggests getting a custom-printed tablecloth that drops over the front of the table, acting as a banner. It looks more professional, and the books will hold it down, so you don’t have to mess with pins. You can find a wide variety of sizes and shapes of banners and graphic promotional props on the internet.

I have an inexpensive black tablecloth for under my books, but you can get one in the color of your choice. Venues will often provide a white tablecloth, so buying one isn’t necessary, but it makes your display look more professional. Most shows offer a 6×3 table.

steampunk had holding pen smallI suggest buying book stands of some sort. Recipe stands work, as do plate and picture stands. Whether they’re fancy or cheap, be sure you know how to use them properly so they aren’t falling over when someone bumps the table. I use folding plate stands as they store well in the rolling suitcase I use for my supplies.

This brings us to storage and shifting goods. We must move our gear between the table and our vehicle, and sometimes we’re forced to park in inconvenient places. Many people use wheeled bins or fold-up handcarts. Luggage carts are a great, lightweight option when you only have a few books. I use a large wheeled suitcase, as I travel pretty light.

I have a plastic container with a good lid for storing pens, bookmarks/cards, book stands, and other whatnot.

I suggest you keep it simple because the more you add to your display, the longer setup and teardown will take. The shows and conferences I have attended offered plenty of time for this, but I’ve heard that some require you to be in or out in two hours or less.

Aside from the table fee and transportation, Lee French says it will cost about $400 for your stock of books, banners, bookmarks, and odds & ends. The way inflation is going, it may take more than that.

Shop the internet for sales on banners and similar items. You will need to replace bookmarks, business cards, and book stock, but most larger promotional items won’t need to be repurchased for a year or two.

working the tableIf you plan to get a table at a large conference this year, I highly recommend Working the Table: An Indie Author’s Guide to Conventions by YA authors Lee French and Jeffrey Cook. This book has all the tips and tricks you will need to successfully navigate the wild seas of selling your books at conventions.

And if you choose to embark on the in-person event circuit, I wish you good luck and many happy sales.


Filed under writing