I’ve seen this question come up from time to time on the yahoo self-publish group, so I thought I’d compile a few of the sage answers of experience with my own theatre rat background.
- If you’re expected to bring your own stock of print books, pack them in a plastic tote. Something will spill, the weather will turn, and cardboard tears right as you’re lifting the box out of your car. Something always happens.
- Addendum to the above: go to Wal-mart or where-ever and buy one of those little foldable, all-purpose luggage tote frames on wheels. Your back will thank you later.
- Make sure you know how much space you’ll have at your venue. Some people think a table means 3’x8′ and, no, the venue means a 3’x8′ table you must share with 4 other people. Other places will expect you to bring your own table (rare, but it does happen on occasion).
- A tablecloth might make your space look a little nicer, but it is going to wiggle and move throughout your signing.
- Signage: don’t hang a banner on the front of your table – most people won’t see it because there will be other people standing in front of it. If you must have a banner of some type, make it smallish (no longer than 2′ long), bring your own device to suspend it behind you (most venues won’t let you hang something directly from their walls or ceiling), make sure the venue is okay with it and try not to piss off your table partners with it.
Now we get to The Kit.
Everyone who knows me, knows I have pre-packed kits. These kits don’t get unpacked unless I have to re-stock them or they are actually in use. I have camping kits. I have my Scadian/Theatre rat kit. All my beading stuff is located in one box. All my archery stuff is found in another box. All the manuals for EVERYTHING in the house is located in 1 binder. Ditto for the history and receipts documenting house repairs and upgrades.
My house is a mess, but my OCD is such that if I discover something from one location that is supposed to be kitted out in another, I will find you, and you will die.
This is because I don’t like to think about stupid details. I want to grab the box, pop it open and we’re done. If I have to think, I will forget something. Right now I’m working on beta-testing my Author Appearance Survival Kit on someone. I’m reasonably certain I covered the basics and he can fill in the rest as he figures out what he does and does not need – He’s a smart guy.
On the other hand, I’m married to a smart guy and sometimes he is dumber than a box of hair. Especially when it comes to stuff like this. I guess it’s all about perspective. I can’t remember if I was married on the 15th or the 16th and I’m almost 20 years in.
You’re going to need a bag/backpack/toolbox with pockets/dividers/sections and what not. A lot of this stuff you can pack and bag from what you already have in your home or buy in the “Travel Size” section of the store. Gas stations are good places to find “travel size” medicines.
This is the stuff I think would be useful.
Space Pen – Writes upside down, underwater, at insanely cold or hot temperatures without glopping up or jamming, and writes with little to no pressure applied to the surface. These are quite easy to find at places like Amazon, Staples, Office Depot and so forth. Not so much a Wal-Mart item, but you can check.
Space Pen refill – One should always be prepared, although you have to write A LOT to run one of these things down (I think they advertise 10 miles? 1 mile? It’s a lot.). Once again, reasonably easy to find.
Back up pens – At least 5. If you do not have a Space Pen, back up pens are a must. If you do have a Space Pen, back up pens are still a must because pens grow legs and walk away. It’s true. They do. Ask anyone.
Although if you take my Space Pen, I will find you, and you will die.
Water – Stay hydrated (it makes life so much easier).
Pain Killers – For that headache because you didn’t stay hydrated. Or because your back is messed up from sitting in folding metal chairs lacking lumbar support.
Almonds – Protein is good when you’re hungry. If you have a nut allergy, then I trust you know what kind of protein you can pack that you can quickly gobble down with little to no utensils other than your hands.
Chocolate – Please tell me I don’t have to explain this one to you.
FirstAid Kit – Papercuts happen. You don’t need a full sized one, just a little baggy with some bandages is fine.
Memo Pad – Get the person’s name
write rite right before you write it in the book, or for other notes (like that hottie’s phone number).
Breath Mints – Sometimes you just really want a mint (or maybe that hottie wants a private “interview” afterwards).
Skin Cream – Dry skin is irritating. Handling paper makes it worse.
Kleenex – Fans get uptight when you grab the shirt they’re wearing and blow your nose on it for some reason.
Tums – Yeah, because you never experience inconveniently timed stomach upset.
Sucrets – ‘Tis always the season sick people will be breathin’ all over you. If you aren’t expecting it, that’s when plague steps out from behind the curtain and taps you on the shoulder with an irritating sore throat tickle. Sucrets or Halls or what not won’t stop it, but it helps suppress the cough and the sore throat long enough for the show to go on.
Hand Sanitizer – Your hands will get dirty handling money, books, pressing palms and “Do I really have to shake your hand? I mean, you just sneezed on it, man.”
Chap Stick – You will have to use “perma grin” for your entire performance. You will also lick your lips a lot (a common human reaction under circumstances such as book signings and speech giving). Chapped lips hurt (and the hottie doesn’t think kissing chapped lips is at all sexy during that “interview”).
Other stuff I think you could add:
Any Meds You May Need – I think this is a gimme, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people forget their meds at home.
Sewing Kit – Because the button never falls off at home. It always falls off right when you’re about to play in the public eye, and the porn star look is soooo 1978.
Pocket Knife/Multi-Tool – Because I’m a Theatre Rat and I CAN’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT. No, seriously. I have one on my purse. Another in my kit. Another in my car.
Glasses Repair Kit – I wear glasses. I hate contacts. Get over it.
Eye Drops – This might be more of a Colorado thing, but sometimes eyes get dry and irritated and “What do you mean I still have two hours left to go? MY EYES ARE ON FIRE!”
Cleaning Cloth for Glasses – Because glasses get dirty. And sometimes someone says something that simply requires you take off your glasses to clean them, buying you some time to process what was just said and an appropriate reaction to it.
Your Business Cards – No, seriously. This is another one people forget about. Bring those book plates, too.
Feminine Products – If you are female, this is important. If you are male, it could draw some weird looks.
I suppose I could add some other things, but sooner or later you have to trim back the baggage (unless you’re a Theatre Technician – in which case, you will need a lot more than just this). My own Kit will probably be my Scadian/Theatre Rat kit that I’ve already got packed. All I have to do is toss in some water and food and I’m good to go.
I’m certain you’ll think of more things to put in as time goes by – like a small make-up kit, tape, curare and a blow gun, spare change, paper clips, whatever. Experience will show you what you need.
But as an old theatre hand, I’m confident this should be enough to get you started.
What else do you think might be useful?