Chapter 14 Book Display at My First Book Fair, or Musical Shelves

My alarm was set for 6:00 a.m., but I woke up at 5:00, with thoughts of book displays, sales tax rates, and “What if no one buys any of my books?” running through my head. I sat up in bed and watched the sun rise out the window of the hotel room. I’m usually up with the sun to get Tom and Huck off to school, but I rarely take time to sit and watch the sun rise. I tried to be patient and appreciate the moment. Last year at this time I was trying to pick a name for my business, to evaluate and describe my stock, and to learn how to sell books from a website. I was too intimidated to actually speak to dealers I met at the book fairs I attended just for buying purposes. This year: I have a business, I know a few dealers personally, I have been to the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, and I am selling books for the first time at a book fair. I left for the fair’s 7:00 a.m. set-up time, relieved to see that I was not the very first bookseller there.

Booksellers had a chance to set up most of their booths on Friday afternoon, and after lugging in four bookcases and eleven boxes of books and book stands for my half-booth, I got most of my display worked out. As I began to put items in the glass case, other booksellers came to browse my stock. Several made purchases right away, and a veteran of many book fairs told me, “They know you’re a new bookseller and they haven’t seen your stock, so they come looking to see what they can find and to see if you’ve priced anything too low so they can make a good profit on it.” I was so pleased to have sold a few items before I had my display set up, I didn’t care that it ultimately changed some of my display plans. I quickly tried to re-arrange my shelves in an attractive way before the fair opened.

After all those previous posts about shelving at book fairs, here are the photos of how I ultimately decided to display my books:

A photo of the full booth. Since I had only a half-booth, I shared booth space with Carpe Diem Fine Books, ABAA from Monterey. That’s Mary Hill behind her glass case. My shelves are in the back. Hers are to the right.


My glass display case, including a close-up.



A few close-ups of my bookshelves:



Once the fair opened at 10:00 a.m., it was a busy day with brisk sales. Every time I sold a book, I had to re-arrange some of my set-up to fill in the gaps so the other books on the shelf didn’t tip over. Next fair, I will bring more than 10 boxes of books, so I can fill in the gaps with new stock rather than re-arranging and playing musical chairs, or should I say musical shelves, with my books. I also needed more book ends (I brought three pair, and four would have been perfect and stopped my constant re-arranging) and book stands (I brought twelve small (4″) stands and six large (6″) stands. Another six of the small stands would have meant that I didn’t need to try to stand books up and hope they didn’t just fall over.) In case you need stands, too, I got mine here.

I printed medium-sized table tent cards and used those to help customers determine what sections a book might be in (Americana, Decorative Bindings, Pioneer Women, etc.), but never did end up alphabetizing anything. I focused on an attractive visual presentation that would (I hoped) lure buyers into the booth to check out the books more closely. My sales were good (well — they surpassed my goal, which was to cover my costs. I don’t yet know what other dealers would determine to be a “good” fair). Aside from the sales, the high point of my day was to hear some customers who don’t know how much time I spent on developing a good display remark, “Your books are beautiful.” and “What a great display! I just love this pioneer women stuff!” One couple came back to my booth three times and I hand-sold them more books each time. I can’t imagine a better day!

Finally, I want to add a special thank you to my fellow Colorado Seminar friends MaryLou Sullivan of Black Swan Books and Jeanne Jarzombek of The Book Prowler for their reassurance when I agonized over shelving arrangements and for coming to the fair. And I’m grateful to Colorado faculty members Ed Glaser of Edwin V. Glaser Rare Books and Chris Volk of (and also an exhibitor at this fair). I’d also like to thank Mary Hill of Carpe Diem Fine Books for sharing booth space with me even though she’d never seen my stock before. Thanks also to Brian Cassidy, Bookseller and Vic Zoschak of Tavistock Books, who have provided lots of good advice from the beginning.

A very special thanks to Jim Kay, who organized, coordinated and promoted all of the details for the Fourteenth Annual Central Valley Book Fair. I heard other veteran dealers remark several times that the foot traffic was the most they’d seen at this fair in about a decade. If you live anywhere in Northern California, a regional fair like this is an excellent place to try out a book fair. I highly recommend it! See you at next year’s fair!


Lots of foot traffic at the fair!

Tomorrow: Book Finds at the Fair


Filed under Book Fairs, Getting Started

5 responses to “Chapter 14 Book Display at My First Book Fair, or Musical Shelves

  1. Glad to see you had fun. Hope to see you in Seattle. /ijk

  2. Barbara Palmer

    Wow, Chris. How we grow with each step! Congratulations. It looks wonderful. Now you get to search for more inventory, and that’s also a fun part of the business. How fortunate we are to live in a large metro area with many opportunities for book-buying.

    I’ve enjoyed your blog and photos, too. Have been investigating ChrisLands. That will probably be next.

    My biggest task since Colorado is to switch from HomeBase to (first BookTrakker, but I didn’t like it) then to BookHound. Still working with it, and learning it. It’s so much more powerful than HomeBase.

    Congratulations on your Booth 37. Thanks also for sharing your experiences with the rest of us.
    Barb Palmer

  3. Pingback: Sacramento Wrap-Up | books @ brian cassidy dot net

  4. Penny Van Kirk

    Congratulations on your first fair! I am so glad it went well for you.

  5. Pingback: Chapter 108 Strange Book Fair Superstitions, Or, Lunacy and the Arrangement of Books, Redux « Book Hunter’s Holiday

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