I'm an advocate of planned, paid-attendance events with author appearances rather than bookstore booksignings. Put a short performance or presentation in the mix, even better -- but not necessary. Stay open to unusual things happening, too. If the event is charging money and marketing to their audience effectively -- you'll be more likely to have a crowd to talk to. Think about your own behavior when it comes to a free event -- sometimes you make the last-minute decision to pass on it because you have no commitment there.
We did a targeted show with a more-than-perfect audience. The show organizer advertised effectively and repeatedly, and marketed well. We purchased a booth for $200, as did 15 other marketers that were selling goods and services that this audience budgets for each year. It was a beautiful day, a very convenient setting, and all-in-all, a great event planned. It was a free event for these attendees, and the attendees are actually volunteers for their organizations.
But then, it was a beautiful day. Only six people attended the event, in all. Pretty pathetic, right?
Not so fast. We made a single sale to a fellow exhibitor's company who will use the book as an ongoing promotional incentive. Did we plan for that? Yes, fortunately. Specifically that? No. But we have learned that the unexpected happens at these events. Not only did this single sale pay three times what the booth cost us, but the potential future lifetime potential of sales from that deal are many hundreds of times higher. One person, one sale, made our show worth it. The author also was asked to prepare a proposal for a paid keynote speech at the state annual convention.
Being at the right event, with a relevant audience doesn't mean there has to be hundreds of people there. Don't forget that the other exhibitors may be your customers too. Stay open, stay realistic and honest with yourself about your goods and services, and be prepared for anything to happen.