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FAQ: How to host a book exhibit

This page provides advice for conference organizers about book exhibits. We want to help you make your book exhibit one that the conference attendees appreciate and find useful, and one that is worth the time, expense, and effort for the publishers and the conference organizers. If you follow the advice on this page, the book exhibit can be a great opportunity for conference attendees to see the latest publications in their field, examine textbooks, buy books unavailable in bookstores, and talk to publishers. Tell publishers your plans and expectations for the book exhibit and the conference, and you will encourage participation.

If space or attendance at the conference in limited, consider having just a small book exhibit on a couple of tables. For a small book exhibit, tell publishers that they should send a limited number of books and that they should not plan on sending a representative for the exhibit. You can have a very successful book exhibit on two or three tables in the registration area, without any publisher representatives, at a low cost to the conference and the publishers. If you cannot arrange a book exhibit which will be in a convenient, well-marked, and easily found location, then it is far better to have no book exhibit at all rather than a book exhibit which only a few people visit.

The most important considerations are the location of the book exhibit and making sure people at the conference can find the book exhibit easily. The full contents of this page are:

  • Charging publishers
  • Coffee and refreshments
  • Communicating with publishers
  • Hours
  • Joint book displays
  • Location
  • Name tags and registration
  • Registration packets
  • Security
  • Set-up and take-down
  • Shipping
  • Signs
  • Staffing
  • Taking orders for publishers
  • A sample invitation to participate in a book exhibit

    Charging publishers

    The cost of participating in a book exhibit often affects the publisher's decision of whether to participate or not. Publishers generally expect to pay more for table space at larger or more established conferences, and less for table space at smaller conferences. If you are willing to accept donations of books in place of cash, this is often appealing to publishers and to conference hosts: you can often ask for a higher total value of books, the cost to the publishers is somewhat lower, and it reduces the burden of return shipping.

    You should certainly charge publishers for any shipping costs you incur, and for labor costs if you offer individual staffing for tables. Charges for table space and for registration packet inserts vary widely between conferences.

    Conferences also vary on whether they want publisher representatives to register for the conference. The registration fee is often considered part of the charge for table space. If there are special receptions or outings that publisher representatives would have to pay separately for, you should let the publishers know in advance so they can plan accordingly.

    Coffee and refreshments

    Most conferences provide coffee breaks and often other refreshments. It is a tremendous help to the book exhibit if coffee and snacks are located in the back of the book exhibit or on the far side of the book exhibit from the talks, because that encourages people to find and walk through the book exhibit. This can more than double the number of people who actually make use of the book exhibit.

    Communicating with publishers

    In advertising your conference's book exhibit to publishers, you should let publishers know when and where the conference is, what the focus of the conference is, how many people you are expecting, what the cost of exhibiting will be, and if you expect or require publishers to send representatives. Provide as many details as possible about the plans for the book exhibit to show that you are following the guidelines on this page, and publishers will be much more eager to participate in the book exhibit.

    You should tell the publishers who their contact person will be at the conference, and you should find out who you should contact at each publisher if any advance plans for the book exhibit change. Let publishers know when and where they should ship their books, how return shipping will work, whether you expect publisher representatives to register for the conference or for any special receptions or outings, when set-up and take-down will be, and what the book exhibit hours will be.


    The hours of the book exhibit should be decided well before the conference, announced in the registration packet, and printed on signs for the book exhibit.

    The hours should allow conference attendees flexibility on when to visit the book exhibit. The most important times for the book exhibit to be open are during breaks between sessions. The book exhibit does not need to be open the entire length of the conference, but it should be open for at least half of the conference. When deciding on the specific hours for each day, allow for time to set up and take down book displays, and keep in mind that there is no reason to keep the book exhibit open when everyone at the conference is going to be elsewhere for lunch or dinner.

    If you are expecting publisher representatives to staff the book exhibit, you should send the book exhibit hours for each day to the publishers well before the conference so they can plan their travel appropriately. Also remember that the length of the working day for the publisher representatives should be reasonable, and should include a break around lunch so the representatives can meet with authors. If the book exhibit needs to be open straight through lunch, arrange for someone from the conference or a student worker to watch the book exhibit during lunch so the publisher representatives can leave.

    Joint book displays

    Some publishers may be interested in sending just a few books for a joint book display. This is a great way to include books from publishers who don't have a large number of books in the appropriate field, and to include department working papers and dissertations. The cost should be low, perhaps just donation of the display copies. Remember to leave enough room for order forms or catalogs from each publisher in the joint book display.


    The location of a book exhibit is absolutely critical to its success. The book exhibit should be in a heavily trafficked and visible area, convenient to the locations of talks and poster sessions, and near the coffee and refreshments. If several rooms are being used for talks, the book exhibit should be between those rooms. The book exhibit should not be in a different building from the talks, on a different floor, or split into several small locations.

    The book exhibit should be in a single location throughout the conference. Moving the book exhibit requires completely disassembling all of the book displays and reassembling them, which takes a lot of time and effort. If the book exhibit absolutely has to move to a new location during the conference, both the old and new locations should be highly visible so that conference attendees will not have any trouble finding the book exhibit. You should consider limiting the book exhibit to two days of the conference if the third day would have to be in a different location.

    Name tags and registration

    You should provide name tags and registration packets for each publisher representative. Let the publishers know in advance whether you want them to formally register for the conference, and what you want them to write in the payment area of the registration form if the registration is included in the charge for table space.

    Registration packets

    The location and hours of the book exhibit should be easily found in the registration materials, along with a list of the publishers participating in the book exhibit.

    If you are willing to accept inserts from publishers for the registration packets, you should decide which of the following are ok: flyers or order forms, small catalogs, or complete catalogs. You should also decide whether you will accept inserts from any publisher, or only those who are participating in the book exhibit. If you need to see sample inserts before accepting them, review the sample inserts several weeks before you collate the registration packets so publishers have time to print and ship you the actual inserts.


    The book exhibit area must be locked when the exhibit is closed, or books will be stolen. Unless there will be publisher representatives in the book exhibit while it is open, there must be conference staff or student workers in the book exhibit whenever it is open who can watch the entire area. There should be at least two people working in the book exhibit at most times, because you cannot expect a single person to answer questions, keep an eye on the entire room, and not need to take a break.

    Set-up and take-down

    When scheduling the book exhibit hours, remember that set-up and take-down take time. You should have at least one hand truck, dolly, or cart available for publishers who have brought boxes themselves. For set-up, you should have small signs for each table listing the publisher; that way publishers know where to set up their book displays, and there is some identifying sign for publishers whose signs may have been lost, damaged, or forgotten. For take-down, it is very helpful to provide some newspapers which can be crumpled to pad boxes, packing tape to seal the boxes, and black markers to label and address the boxes, since these supplies often run low at the end of a conference.


    You should tell publishers well before the conference where they should send their books and what date packages need to arrive by. You should also tell publishers what return shipping methods are possible. Some publishers prefer to use FedEx and bring their own paperwork, so you just need to call FedEx to arrange a pickup and the shipping cost is charged to the publisher's account. If you can offer UPS Ground or FedEx Ground shipping, the shipping generally has to be paid by the person who is actually handing over the packages, and you will have to be reimbursed by the publishers for the shipping cost. As long as you have the weight of the packages and their destinations, you can call UPS to get rate quotes and arrange for pickups. You don't need any special paperwork that way. The ground services are much more expensive if you go through a reseller like Mailboxes Etc.

    If you are packing books to send back to publishers, pack the books tightly, fill any empty space with dense padding so that nothing can move when the box is shaken, and add padding between the box and its contents whenever possible. Reinforce all seams on the box with strong packing tape, and make sure the destination address is written clearly and is covered with packing tape.


    Conference attendees need to be able to find the book exhibit easily. There should be a sign at each entrance to the book exhibit which prominently says "Book Exhibit" and lists the hours that the book exhibit will be open. There should also be signs posted throughout the conference which point people to the book exhibit from the registration area and from locations of talks and poster sessions. These signs should say "Book Exhibit" in large bold letters, have a very large bold arrow pointing in the appropriate direction, and ideally should list the actual location and hours of the book exhibit.

    Remember that many conference attendees do not know the building as well as you do, may be hesitant to explore a building they don't know, and may not even realize that there is a book exhibit. You need to encourage them to visit the book exhibit, and make it easy for them to find.


    You should plan to provide some staffing for the book exhibit for the entire time it is open, unless most of the publishers are sending representatives. Some publishers may be interested in paying for students to staff their tables and take orders, if you can arrange the details.

    There should be someone from the conference staff at the book exhibit at the beginning and end of the book exhibit to answer questions and make sure everything is going ok. There should also be someone from the conference staff at the book exhibit every time the exhibit is supposed to close, to ask conference attendees to leave the book exhibit so it can be locked. That job should not be left to the publishers.

    Taking orders for publishers

    If you are willing to take orders for publishers who do not have representatives at the conference, ask each publisher to send a sample copy of their order form before the conference so you can make sure it's clear. You should find out from the publisher what forms of payment they will accept, whether sales tax needs to be added, how to calculate shipping costs and whether shipping is taxable, whether display copies can be sold, and whether there is a particular discount for display copies. You should also find out whether the publisher wants the orders sent back with the book display or separately.

    A sample invitation to participate in a book exhibit

    Dear publishers,

    The organizing committee of the 3rd Conference on Presenting Research invites you to send books to a book exhibit at the conference. We expect 200-250 attendees, mostly from North America. The conference will be held on August 3-5, 2011, at the University of Studies in Miami, NH. You can find more information about the conference at the following web site.

    The book exhibit hours will be 10-5 on August 3 and 4, and 10-2 on August 5. The exhibit will be in a room adjacent to the registration area, between the two rooms we will be using for talks. The room will be locked when the exhibit is not open, and we will have signs posted throughout the conference pointing people to the book exhibit and listing the exhibit hours. Refreshments for conference attendees will be in the book exhibit room during the afternoon breaks on August 3 and 4, and coffee will be in the hall outside the book exhibit room in the morning on all three days.

    The cost of a 5 foot table for all three days is $100. Additional tables are $75 each. Registration for publisher representatives is included in this cost, though we ask that reps fill out a preregistration form so we can prepare name tags. If you cannot send a representative, we can provide a student rep for your table for an additional cost of $150. If you want the student rep to take orders or sell display copies, please send a sample order form at least two weeks before the conference so we can see if we have any questions. An unstaffed table is also fine; we will have someone in the book exhibit while it is open to keep an eye on the room.

    Instead of a full table, you may send up to three individual books for a joint book table, at a cost of $10 per book and donation of the book. You may include order forms or catalogs at no charge. Books from the joint book exhibit will be sold on the last day, and proceeds will go to the conference.

    If you would like to send a single-page flyer for including in the registration packet, we will need 250 copies by July 15 at the conference address. This is free for exhibitors, and $50 for non-exhibitors.

    The deadline for reserving space is May 25. We will send instructions to exhibitors by June 1 for shipping, return shipping, set-up, and take-down. Please contact Marisa Fetcherton at the following address or e-mail address if you have any questions, and use the enclosed form to reserve your space as soon as possible. Make sure to let us know who our contact should be at your press, and thanks for participating in our book exhibit!

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