And now, the conclusion of the 2010 San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair . . .
When Tom — who worked very hard and never complained — had finished helping me unpack the Bookmobile and put some books on shelves, Thoughtful Husband, Huck, and our neighbor, who, in keeping with the Tom Sawyer theme, we’ll call Joe Harper (close friend of Tom Sawyer), came to pick up Tom and go the aquarium in the City. I finished setting up the booth and set out to find the book of my dreams, the sleeper no other booksellers noticed, the book on which I could make some money.
As I set out to make a circuit of the large exhibition hall, I took along a few Dante catalogues to distribute to the other booksellers. Due to the delay in receiving the print catalogue from the printer, I had mailed the catalogue to customers and other booksellers only a few days before the fair. I decided to mail catalogues to local booksellers who would receive it before the fair and to personally give a catalogue to out-of-town booksellers at the fair. If I had mailed it to them, they wouldn’t have received it in time for the fair.
Before I got very far, I saw a bookseller I know walking my way. This is the same bookseller who at a bookseller holiday party had scoffed (and rightly so) at the idea of the Dante catalogue ever making its way into print after nearly three years. I made sure to mail him a copy of the catalogue as soon as I received it. I wanted him to know I had finished it at last.
I worried what he’d say to me. Here was a bookseller who (justifiably) thought that because of an almost comical amount delays I perhaps wouldn’t be able to finish my catalogue. Here was a bookseller who quite likely wondered if, when I did finish the catalogue, the books offered by this newcomer would be worthwhile. Would the catalogue prove that it was worth the wait? I wanted to hide behind the trophy case in my booth or dive beneath the tables. Perhaps the only thing worse than not completing the catalogue would be to have completed it and have people think it was no good.
Well, even worse than that, really, would be to sell no books from the catalogue. I know I shouldn’t be too wrapped up in what other people think of it. But still . . .
I looked around and saw nowhere to hide. I briefly hoped that maybe he hadn’t had time to look at the catalogue before the book fair. “Chris!” he called out to me, striding towards me. No hiding now. He shook my hand warmly and said, “Your catalogue is beautiful. I hope you won’t mind, but I’ve forwarded it to a customer who I think will be quite interested in it.”
Would I mind? Of course not. Heartened, I thanked him for his kind words and set out to find some books and give out the rest of the catalogues. I found a few nice books while making the rounds of the other bookseller’s booths. Three beautifully bound books about Italy, some original photographs by an American woman photographer, and a few other little gems written by American women. The fair was indeed getting off to a good start, though there was not one “amazing” find in particular. All of my finds were good solid books priced at a point where I could still make a profit.
When I returned to my booth, one of my favorite bookselling friends was waiting for me. She’s a mom to two boys, too, and she completely understands why things like Cub Scouts and homework projects might make me take me so long to complete the Dante catalogue. Showing her solidarity as a fellow bookselling mom, she asked me to sign her copy of the catalogue. A couple of other people asked me to do the same thing. I was bemused and surprised but flattered.
Two other booksellers whose long experience I respect and admire told me they were going to keep the catalogue on their shelves as a reference. I nearly fell over. The catalogue, along with the hard work and research that went into writing it, was being taken seriously. Though I generally try to be a modest person, I have to say that I was pleased with the positive reception given to the catalogue by others in the trade. It helped make all of the struggles of completing the catalogue worthwhile.
When it opened to the public on Saturday, the fair was a busy one. I sold books of all kinds to book lovers, book collectors, and booksellers. Sunday was a bit slower, with less sales, but I sold a few expensive books that day, so it was a good day for me. It was a great fair, this time as much about my catalogue’s coming out as it was about selling books. I had a great time.
At the end of the weekend, I had ten invoices to book lovers and collectors, nine invoices to booksellers, and one invoice to a library. Some of the invoices were for multiple items. There was no one type of book sold. I sold all kinds of books, ranging in price from $25 to $1,000. This fair was the first in a while where booksellers in particular seemed to have a little bit of cash to buy books again. That wasn’t the case this past year at the Santa Monica or Sacramento fairs. That, or maybe I didn’t have the books people were seeking at that fair. That’s the fun part of the book business. You never know what will sell, and sometimes you are pleasantly surprised by what does.
I realized that the 2010 San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair was three days I will always remember when I look back at my progress as a bookseller. After three years, I had reached a goal I had set for myself a long time ago. I had written back in 2007 that the two of the hallmarks of a “real” antiquarian bookseller are selling books at book fairs and issuing print catalogues. I’ve since learned that there are other equally important qualities (like buying books at a good price; forming relationships with colleagues, customers, and librarians; and learning how much you still don’t know), but it’s fun to go back and think about what it took to get here.
See you in the stacks!
Coming soon: Is the true measure of a catalogue’s success whether the books are selling? I’ll let you know how the Dante catalogue is doing.