I did bookfairs about three or four times a year, about half of which were science fiction conventions (which matched my specialty as a shop).
I tried to bring:
1) attending authors books, both new and backlist
2) handselling favorites
3) new releases
4) a tray or two of bargain basement stuff
How much of each would vary by show and by amount of table space.
Sometimes I had the option of contacting the attending authors in advance. Some things that worked out well with that were:
Arranging a posted time when that author would come by the booth and sign books.
(I never asked for it specifically, but this often resulted in the author mentioning my booth and the time to their own circle of
contacts in advance of the show.)
Arranging for the author to buy any (or just some) of the unsold books, especially backlist, at the end of the show. I always offered
authors to buy their own books from me at wholesale. It's often a better deal than they can get for themselves, and counts towards
their sales totals (which books they buy through the publisher do not). I learned to be very conservative buying books just for shows,
I would rather run out than have to push them by themselves back at the shop afterward. This let me be a bit more adventurous when
putting in my order.
Selling the author's copies of backlist books rather than ordering them in myself. This was especially useful for titles that were out
of print but the author still had a quantity of. Just agree ahead of time on what your take and theirs is going to be. (I don't know that
I would recommend my system, which was to give the author full retail (less tax) for anything sold at the show, but then buy more copies at
wholesale to bring back home. I was just grateful to have the option to offer those books, but I probably should have figured in something
to cover the cost of the space they used.)
Things to bring (I kept a box pre-filled with these so that I didn't have to think about it while packing books):
$100 in singles
at least $50 in 5s
Plastic bags for the customers to haul their loot away in. (Unexpectedly convenient.)
3 x 5 cards (a few) (handy for small signs)
Comic book backing boards or some other cheap stiff poster board (handy for larger signs)
Post It note pads
Two tablecloths - one goes on the table before you put the books up. The other is used as a cover in the event of needing to leave the
table unmanned for a time (over night, during a panel...). Also doubles as a blanket when the outdoor bookfair turns unseasonable cool.
Roll of clear packing tape
A calculator, especially if you are going to charge tax explicitly.
(I usually used the "bookfair discount" system - I would add up the list prices and round to the nearest dollar. When I did my accounts
at the end of each day, the tax was figured off of the total collected. So it's really like giving everyone a 5% to 9% discount -
and I'd be sure to mention that to the customer if they seemed interested. The time and trouble saved by not having to do
calculations on each and every item sold more than made up for the discount in my mind. And I didn't have to bring a lot of change
along. I usually just kept singles and fives in one pocket, tens and up in the other pocket, and only went for the cash box when I needed
another credit card slip.)
Oh yeah - your credit card imprinter and forms.
MOST important: Bookmarks with your shop and contact information.
Every customer, and everyone who passes the table slowly enough, should have one of these handed to them. This is the biggest reason
you're at the bookfair!
I loved doing bookfairs so much that now that I'm not running a shop I've started working other people's booths with them. It's fun!
If someone shows even the slightest interest, I'll put together a ramble about the economics of doing book fairs, which I always found fascinating, but will make most people run far away quickly.