Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Three Thoughts about Signs

T.W. Fendley's and my booth at Archon
Three Thoughts about Signs
Brad R. Cook

Signs, signs, everywhere they’re signs… at conferences, conventions, book fairs, bookstores, events, talks and so many more. There are even different types, so many different types. It can drive an author mad… and we stare at thousands of words every day. Being overloaded is part of a writer’s typical day, so don’t let the maddening number of signs drive you into shut-in, hermit status.

There are banners, standing signs, retractable signs, easel signs, table tents, backdrops, placards, illuminated, and so many more. Which are the best for authors trying to get attention in the hall of a book convention? Depends. Space is an issue. Visibility is another. But really it comes down to what works best for your book, your series, and most importantly your budget.

1 – Think About Your Space
The six-foot retractable sign, or the hanging backdrop, are author standards. They frame your booth, or talking space, creating a zone that is all about the author and the book. Signs are eye catching, drawing readers to you, sometimes from as far away as the other side of the room. However, most of the time we find ourselves behind a table and thus the bottom half of these signs go unseen. The exception is at workshop talks, or other events where the full-length sign can be a really good idea. Also, if there is room on the side of your table they can be a great way of extending your space.

Design a sign that works for the space you use the most, and adapt for the other situations, unless you’re one of those super wealthy authors (mythical I know) and then create signs for every occasion.

2 – Creating Something that Stands Out
Every sign will make your booth stand out, for good or for bad. Most readers glance in one of two places – down at the table to see what you have out, or up at the space above the author’s face – both are meant to avoid the dreaded eye contact, which could lead to an unwanted conversation, and the pressure to purchase something. However, if your sign can captivate the reader, capture their attention and draw them to your table, you are more likely to make a sale. Make a sign that people want to stare at.

First, it needs to have depth, flat signs with plain backgrounds are great for readability but our eyes won’t linger like they will if it fades into the image of distant castle, or has all these eye catching designs in the foreground and background. Second, it needs to be colorful. Yes, bold, bright colors can be seen from miles away, but they may not be the best approach. Dark colors create a place to suck the reader in, and warm colors are places reader want to spend time. Light colored words on dark backgrounds can draw people in, but dark words on a light background are easier to read. Pick images and colors that work best for your book, make certain they match the imagery and color scheme you already have.

There are much better blogs on the psychology of color, the path of the consumer’s eye, and the science of the trade show booth. They are worth a read to help you best design your booth and maximize sales.

3 – Try Not to Clutter
Signs are good, bookmarks, candy, SWAG, and other material fill out your table to make you look like a seasoned author. But banners, standing signs, table signs, easel signs, bookmarks, rack cards, booklets, candy, SWAG, more SWAG, and having every inch of space taken up can overload the eye, the senses, and the mind, making your potential reader run away.

There is a fine line between looking sharp and looking like a madhouse. Finding that line is the trick all convention authors must find.

Hopefully this article has you thinking about signs. I recommend,, or but there are many more sites to explore.

The picture shows T.W. Fendley’s sign and my sign side-by-side with our table in front of them. This is from Archon 2016, a sci-fi convention.

Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen -, Iron Zulu -, and Iron Lotus  A member of SCBWI, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at, on Twitter @bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr

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