I’ve written several times about how much I enjoyed preparing for and selling books at my first book fair. (If you’d like to read the articles, click on the Book Fairs category on the right sidebar to see all posts pertaining to that subject.) I wanted to end this little series on A Bookseller’s Education with a post on how important it is to add book fairs to your bookselling repertoire.
If you sell books only on the internet, you need to reach customers in other venues. I’ve often heard booksellers lament that the customer base for antiquarian books seems to be shrinking. If people don’t see antiquarian books and become familiar with them, how will they know enough about them to find them for sale on the internet? If we booksellers don’t reach the newbies, we will indeed eventually lose our customer base. So, for nothing else other than PR for the antiquarian book trade, you ought to do the occasional book fair (assuming there is one within a few hours drive of you. If not, then add something else to your repertoire, like an occasional print catalogue).
Here are the benefits I gained from doing one small, regional book fair:
1) I had to become organized — pricing most of my books, writing thorough descriptions for books over $100, and purchasing bookshelves and book stands. Whether or not I ever sold books at a book fair, I needed to do these things. The book fair was the catalyst for my actually getting them done.
2) I learned whether I had been selecting books that might actually sell. (Fortunately, sales were good for me.)
3) I met dozens of booksellers I hadn’t known before, who were also selling at the fair. They bought books from me and I bought books from them. I have since corresponded with a couple of booksellers who had books in my specialty. I wouldn’t have met these people if I sold books only on the internet. Developing relationships with other booksellers means that sometimes they offer you right of first refusal on a book you love when they could sell it elsewhere.
4) I bought lots of new stock. A book fair is like having 20-50 antiquarian bookshops in one location. It’s one stop shopping, mostly with dealer discounts and no shipping charges.
5) I gained new customers, including repeat customers who contacted me after the fair to purchase more books.
6) I gained confidence in my ability to sell books and felt validated as a bookseller.
Whether or not you are able to do a book fair, I encourage you to expand your horizons and sell in multiple venues. The benefits of doing so will affect more than your bottom line.
The booth I shared with Carpe Diem Fine Books at the Central Valley Antiquarian Book Fair.
See you in the stacks!