I have to keep reminding myself that when I go out of town to a book fair for a few days it takes me at least twice as many days to catch up when I return home. The books are finally unpacked and put on freshly dusted shelves, the new acquisitions are stacked and waiting to be catalogued, and the invoices (all three of them) have been entered into the computer. I have replenished the groceries the rest of the family ate while I was away, washed my clothes, and reviewed homework completed by Tom and Huck in my absence. I have had a few cups of tea and a bite of chocolate. Regular blogging can now resume.
The Spring 2011 Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair was a lot of fun, and tomorrow I’ll post a few photos of the double booth space that I split with Tavistock Books and Carpe Diem Fine Books so you can see how it looked. There were 57 dealers at the fair this time, with every booth space in the main room sold out. We even had a couple of booksellers from Seattle join us at this small, regional fair. Jim Kay of Bookbomb.com, the show’s producer, did a marvelous job of publicizing the fair with spots on local radio and television and loads of free passes. Over 400 people showed up on a very cold, windy, and rainy day to shop for books. It was a marvelous recipe for a good book fair.
That’s the good news. Here’s the bad. I know a lot of booksellers wouldn’t share this information, but I’m still new enough to bookselling that I’m not afraid to say it:
I had the lowest sales I have ever had at a book fair in four years. I sold three books. Now if they were the right three books, I still could have had great sales — if I sold three $5,000 books, that would be fantastic, but these were not the best combination of three books one could hope to find. One of them was a $5 book.
Why were my sales so low at this fair?
I’ve thought it over in the days since the fair and I really don’t know that there is a definitive answer. I brought a variety of books to sell — a variety of genre as well as price, with offerings ranging from $5 to $1,000. I only sell books and ephemera in very good or better condition, so I don’t think condition was a factor, and I have a great booth location — I am the first booth inside the door of the main room, and this spot has served me well in past years. Sometimes — no, oftentimes — selling a book at a book fair is just a matter of getting the right customer in front of the right book for him or her. For some reason, the right customer for my books just didn’t come to the fair this time. Or if he did, he found his books in someone else’s booth.
The lack of sales is a bit ironic, because just last month at the Pasadena Antiquarian Book Fair I had my best sales at a book fair ever. Just as in Sacramento, I brought a variety of books — and in all price ranges from the one-figure to the five-figure. At the Pasadena fair, wrote invoices all weekend long. In addition to shopping for new material and the general bookseller merriment that occurs at book fairs, the high sales made it a great weekend.
I didn’t sell many books at last weekend’s Sacramento fair and neither did some other booksellers, but others reported doing well. Sacramento was kind of a mixed bag this time around.
One thing I do know about book fairs after four years of business and over a dozen book fairs under my belt is that book fairs are seldom predictable. Great sales one year can be followed by slow sales the next and then suddenly return to a level that I consider “good”. I’ve made profits on many more fairs than I’ve suffered losses, so I continue to do them. I will, in fact, be back at the Sacramento Antiquarian book fair when it is held again in September. Relative to larger fairs in larger cities, it is an inexpensive fair to do (i.e. if I take a loss at an inexpensive fair close to home like Sacramento, the loss is less than when I have paid more for a booth and travel at a larger fair) and there are usually good books to be found for resale there. Besides, I enjoy the company of my fellow booksellers and some of the regular fair-goers too much to skip it. We had two wonderful dinners on Friday and Saturday night, and the food and company definitely made the fair worthwhile.
You win some. You lose some. That’s the bookselling game. The object is to win more than you lose, and I aim to keep doing just that.
TOMORROW: Pictures of the booth
LATER THIS WEEK: The rationale behind some of the books I choose to bring to a book fair
See you in the stacks!