Saturday morning. The fair opened to the public at 10:00 a.m. I had my daily rendezvous with a cup of Earl Grey and got to the Concourse Exhibition Center around 9:30, ready to sell a lot of books. Jeanne and I had our quite a few of our books displayed face out and we each had a glass counter case. Here are some photos:
As you can see, we were prepared and ready. Our booth was as inviting as we could make it. A line of people had gathered outside the exhibition hall, waiting for the 10:00 a.m. opening time. As the hall began to fill with bibliophiles, it was busy and crowded. We had a lot of people come by to look at and to admire our books — always a good feeling. We had a lot more people come by to talk about books — also a good feeling. What I didn’t have was lots of sales — not a very good feeling. The fair was open from 10:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. At the end of the evening, I had sold a total of five books, none of them particularly signifcant. Not a good feeling at all, but sometimes this is the reality of selling antiquarian books.
The majority of books I brought to this fair were books by and about pioneer women. They are all pretty to look at, all have exciting or historically significant stories, but unless a customer is interested in collecting this subject, not a lot of sales were going to happen. It is a niche market. I needed to wait for the right buyer to come along. The question was, would the right buyer be at this fair, and if they were would they find me, and if they found me, would they buy my books? Selling books at a fair is a house of cards, each action contingent upon the one that came before it. I tried to put on my game face and think of it as “exciting” instead of anxiety-inducing. The rest of the weekend would be a test of my bookselling abilities. Thank God I brought the emergency chocolate!
Unhappy with my sales that day, I thought about some advice I received at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar last summer regarding book fairs: There are three ways to recoup the costs of doing a book fair — sell your way out, buy your way out, or drink your way out. 😉 (h/t Between the Covers). Though my pre-fair sales to other booksellers on Friday were good, I was not at all happy with my Saturday sales. Selling my way out was not working well enough. Late Saturday afternoon, I began to look for a good item to buy so that I could buy my way out — that is, I needed to find a really nice item(s) that I could buy and then sell later at a significant price, hopefully a price equal to or greater than the cost of doing the fair. I wandered the same booths where I hadn’t found much in my areas of specialty on Friday. While out browsing other dealer’s booths I saw Steve, a bookseller I had gotten to know at the Sacramento fair last September.
“Oh, I’m glad I saw you. I have something I think would be good for Book Hunter’s Holiday. Want to come take a look at it?” Steve asked.
Intrigued, I followed him back to his booth.
He had a very small archive of ephemeral items from the 1890s. All of them had belonged to a woman, an M.D. from the Bay Area who founded a political party — this in the days before women had the vote. The archive had broadsides advertising the party’s meetings, the foundress’ lecturing services, a letter/receipt, and, best of all, her handwritten journal/diary/commonplace book covering 1895-1897. You can bet I snapped this up immediately. I can’t wait to have time to sit down and read through her journal. This is going to be a wonderful item to describe. I only found this material because the seller remembered me from the other fair and called it to my atttention. I must remind myself of this the next time I feel so shy. If sellers know you and your interests, they will sometimes put items aside especially for you. I was buying my way out of this fair.
After finding such a great buy, I was feeling better. I went to dinner Saturday night with five other booksellers, all of whom are a good deal more experienced than I. Around a table overflowing with another gourmet San Francisco meal and lots of Spanish wine, I was regaled with stories of good fairs and bad, good buys and bad, and good booksellers and bad. It was a night to remember. I was also drinking my way out of this fair.
Wait. That doesn’t quite sound the way I intend it to. 😉
I don’t really mean that. What that “drinking your way out” phrase means to me is that it’s to my benefit to spend time socializing with and getting to know colleagues. Your relationship with your fellow booksellers will sometimes lead to a future sale, as it did in my buy from Steve earlier that day.
Sunday morning. When I arrived at my booth I found a couple of books other sellers wanted to buy, put aside with their business cards inside so I could invoice them later. This was a great way to start the day. When the fair opened to the public at 10:00, it was busy again, but today people bought books. I can not account for why people were not buying on Saturday and then spending freely on Sunday. Book fairs seem strange that way. They are not predictable, at least not to me. At the end of the day, I held my breath and looked at my receipts, not sure what to expect. Sales were much better on Sunday. I did sell my way out of the fair after all.
Sunday night, the closing night of the fair, Jeanne and her daughter Jessica and Mr. Z. and I all had dinner together. We re-hashed our sales and our finds for the weekend. It was a great ending to an exciting, roller-coaster ride of a weekend.
Selling at a big book fair was fun. I did not have the most expensive sale of any seller, the best item offered of any seller, or the prestige of the well-known booksellers. Like Rudy, I was not the quarterback, I did not score a touchdown, nor did I make the game-winning play. But, like Rudy, I felt fulfilled in pursuing my dream and being able to play in the game.
See you in the stacks!
Tomorrow: Book Fair Hangover