One thing I like about preparing to exhibit at a book fair is that it forces me to look through all of my books and decide which ones are worth packing up and bringing to the fair. It reminds me to pay close attention to condition and to visual appeal as well as to historical or literary significance. Unlike selling books on the internet, where written description is only sometimes accompanied by an image of the book, the customer actually gets to see the books you’re offering for sale up close. His choice of book is not solely based on the bookseller’s written description, but on his own judgment of the book itself. I try to choose books for a book fair with that in mind, and I save some books I think of as “pretty books” just for book fairs.
I also set aside for book fairs books that are difficult to find — dare I say rare — for book fairs. I can then showcase that book in my glass display case, where it will, I hope, catch the right person’s attention. There are few feelings better than matching up a book with a person who has been searching for it for a long time, and that’s an experience I hope to have at the book fair.
I try to bring to book fairs books I haven’t yet catalogued and listed on my website. Given my exceedingly slow rate of cataloguing, this isn’t hard to do. Most of my books are uncatalogued, though I am happy to report that many are now priced. That’s progress, albeit slow.
I think my Dante books would look beautiful displayed at a book fair, but since I plan to put those in a print catalogue, where they will also look beautiful, I won’t be bringing most of them to this fair.
I also try to bring books in a few different subject areas — Pioneer Women, Western Americana, San Francisco, Childrens, Decorative Bindings, etc. because I don’t know for sure what customers want to buy. I want to appeal to as many different customers as possible. I’m not sure whether the better strategy wouldn’t be bringing a lot of books on one particular subject to a large fair like this one. I’ll let you know how it worked to bring books from a diverse group of subjects.
The most beneficial thing about scouting one’s own shelves for book fair inventory is that I see more clearly now some of my early purchasing “mistakes”. By “mistakes” I am referring to books that have been listed but haven’t sold, books whose condition isn’t quite good enough for me to offer for sale and be considered an antiquarian bookseller, books that I bought on a hunch but which turned out to be nothing significant. Each time I prepare for a book fair and look at my books one by one, I cull and clean out these “mistakes” as well, usually donating them to a library. After all, I need to make room for the books I will likely purchase at the book fair. 🙂