Close up of trophy case
Perhaps it was my failure to follow my superstition of setting up test bookshelves at home. I reached a new milestone in my bookselling career at the book fair last weekend: for the first time, I didn’t make a profit at a book fair.
Finally, I feel like a real bookseller. 😉
Not exactly a milestone I am thrilled to reach, but I suppose it happens sometimes. In an effort to keep things real around here, I thought I’d just ‘fess up and admit it. Here’s the story:
Saturday morning, the day of the book fair, dawned hot. I woke early because of the combination of heat in my quaint, historic (read: un-air conditioned) hotel room and the usual book fair anxiety — what if no one buys any of my books? Some booksellers I know do very well at this fair. Others, not so much. I wondered how I’d do. I wondered if anyone would leave his home, pay the exorbitant price for the gas it takes to drive to the Gold Rush destination town of Grass Valley, come out in the 100 degree heat to our book fair, and then spend more money on books. I was in a state of heated anticipation.
I got to the book fair around 8:00 a.m. and spent the two hours until the fair opened shopping the booths of the other dealers. I met one dealer who is in the process of selling off his wife’s decades-long collection of pioneer women and particularly American women who were married to military men in the 19th century. I purchased three books on the spot, and would have purchased more if I could have been sure my sales that day would cover it. I wandered the exhibit hall, buying a few more interesting items. Finally, it was 10:00 a.m. and time for the fair to open to the public. Oh, and more importantly, the air conditioning was on, and the temperature was, at last, comfortable.
My boothmate (Jeanne of The Book Prowler) and I stood at our booth, which was in the back row of the exhibit hall, and waited. It might take people a while to work their way to our location, we reasoned. We waited.
And we waited some more.
After about 30 minutes, we got our first browsers. Now it felt as if the fair had really begun, though not exactly with a bang.
As Grass Valley is a quaint, historic town with many buildings dating back to the Gold Rush, I expected to sell a lot of Western Americana, especially some of my books about pioneer women. I also brought a bookcase of miscellaneous books (offered at $10 each or 3 for $25) that I wanted to sell. These were good books marked at more than reasonable prices, but because they are outside of my specialty, now that I have determined to specialize in Dante and Western Americana, I need the shelf space back. I sold most of the contents of the bookcase by the end of the day, but only three Western Americana items.
Sale Shelf: $10 each or 3 for $25
Books by or about pioneer women
I was happy to have the sales, as a few dealers who’d done the fair remarked that it seemed especially slow this year. The fair was well-organized and well-publicized, so I wondered if perhaps the heat, the price of gas/transportation to Grass Valley, and the current economic climate had conspired to keep people away.
Though sales were slow, my purchases were brisk! I decided to take some advice I learned at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar and try to find a book or books that I felt I could sell later to make back my cost of doing the fair. Tomorrow, I’ll show you some of my purchases. I also used the slow periods during the day to walk around and get to know some booksellers I hadn’t yet met. Though I’ve had better luck with sales at the other book fairs I’ve done, I made back my fair expenses (but not my hotel and travel expenses). Overall, it was an enjoyable day, and I will be back next year to give it another try.
If you are a new bookseller who is considering doing a book fair but worry about not making back your costs, I am here to tell you that yes, that does happen sometimes. I’m also here to tell that you can rest assured that it feels awful when that happens. If you don’t like the idea that the outcome of a book fair can be uncertain, then re-consider your choice of occupation. Every time you buy a book, you are taking a gamble that you can sell it at a profit. I find that the fun part of bookselling, but it also means that I need to constantly educate myself and refine my book-choosing abilities. Additionally, I need to expect disappointment once in a while.
Lesson #2: Book fairs are not just for selling books. If you just want to sell books, then build a website. Book fairs allow you to develop customer relationships. Book fairs allow you to make a one-stop shopping trip at the booths of all the other dealers. Book fairs also allow you to evaluate your stock as compared to other sellers. Do you think your books are rare? Not if you see a few other copies of the same title for sale in other booths. Do you think the condition of your books is the best? Visit the booths of the best-known sellers at the fair and compare. Sometimes this can be painful, but it will help you know how exacting you need to be in the future.
Lesson #3: Book fairs also allow you to publicize your business and to socialize with other booksellers. Sometimes these other booksellers have books they’ve saved just for you. What I am trying to say is that the value of book fairs can not be judged by sales alone. Their worth can also be found in purchasing opportunities, in networking with colleagues, and in developing customer relationships. I love book fairs, and I loved the fair this weekend enough to come back next year. The fair was well-organized, well-publicized, and, thankfully, well air-conditioned. My sales weren’t what I hoped, but they weren’t a total loss either.
Lesson #4: When all else fails, find respite with chocolate and with your bookseller friends.
From left: Me, Thoughtful Husband, Jeanne’s husband, and Jeanne at a post-fair dinner!
Tomorrow: Book Fair Finds