Books are alive and thriving in Lincoln City, Oregon

Those who predict the demise of books should have been at the Northwest Author Fair in Lincoln City, Oregon on Saturday. I joined 49 other authors packed into long tables outside Bob’s Beach Books to sell our books, schmooze with potential customers and network with other authors. My table happened to be next to the cash register. People were lined up buying stacks of books all day. Not necessarily my books . . . but books.

The day started with drizzle but soon changed to hot sunshine. Nonstop traffic passed nearby on Highway 101, and shorts-clad tourists toured the nearby antiques shops and stopped to browse the books. They brought kids who were bored and kids who liked to read, and quite a few brought dogs that socialized under the tables. I sat two tables over from popular author Phillip Margolin, and the fans surrounded him, buying new books and bringing bags of old ones to be autographed.

At my table, lots of people admired my book covers, especially the picture on the front of Stories Grandma Never Told (shown), but not too many actually bought my books. That’s okay. I enjoyed talking to them, and many took information they may use later to buy the books from me or someone else. Meanwhile, I was taking mental notes on what kinds of book they were buying. We had a little bit of everything at the tables–poetry, history, philosophy, memoirs, children’s books–but what people were carrying out by the dozen were genre fiction–mysteries, suspense novels, romance, fantasy, stuff like that. The woman next to me, Bernadette Pajer, did quite well with her Seattle-based mystery novels. In general, I saw that people wanted to buy books that looked familiar and accessible.

How do we convince casual readers that there is good stuff to be read in books that don’t have dragons, sexy women or men with guns on the cover? That one can read literary stories, essays or even poetry for fun? Or should I just write more fiction? When I offered freebies last year for both my novel Azorean Dreams and my memoir Childless by Marriage, the novel got far more takers than the nonfiction book did. I have a new novel on the way. We’ll see what happens.

A couple of people asked me if my books are available as e-books. They prefer to read on their Kindles or other e-readers. Yes, four of my books can be purchased (cheap) as Kindle e-books. Stories Grandma Never Told is the exception. It’s so packed with photos that I don’t know how to translate it into e-book form without making a mess of it. That leads me to thinking about a future in which all books are sold in electronic form. Would we have author fairs then? What would we put on our tables? How would we autograph our e-books? I don’t think we have to worry about that for a while. The printed book is definitely alive and thriving in Lincoln City, Oregon.

If you missed the fair, Bob’s has copies of all our books, along with lots of others. When I browse the shelves at Bob’s, I want to buy everything. And Bob’s Beach Books is owned by the same family that operates Robert’s Bookshop, the biggest used-book store I’ve ever seen.

Why not read a book today? It’s good for you.

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The Writing Life II: Authors Fair

Sixty authors, boodles of books, guest speakers at the Bijou Theater. Come to the Northwest Authors Fair in Lincoln City. Well, I had to go to that. Yes, I remembered that I sold only one book when I attended that same event two years ago. The year before that, I did slightly better and I got great information for a column, but I fried in the sun. This time I had a new book, Shoes Full of Sand. Folks would see that it’s local and lovely and buy it for their beach bags. After all, the fair is sponsored by Bob’s Beach Books, which sells “beach reads.” Shoes Full of Sand, perfect.

Um, right.

Lincoln City on a summer Saturday is one big traffic jam. Highway 101 is the city’s two-lane main street with no left-turn lanes or lights and limited parking. It took me an hour, and I was on time, but it was only by the grace of God that I entered the parking lot behind the store just as a family vacated a spot. Mine!

Dragging my wheeled cart of books to the plaza next to the store, I walked right into a snarl of confused writers, tables so close you couldn’t walk between them, and wind so heavy people screamed every time the canopies rocked. Most of the tables were already full. I found a space on the end between the canopies so I could get sunburned and windblown at the same time. Put anything on the table and it blew off. My books were just heavy enough, but the gales threatened to tear off the covers. Despite the blue sky, it was freezing in the wind-tunnel where I sat between two fantasy writers with my utterly factual Stories Grandma Never Told, Shoes Full of Sand, and Freelancing for Newspapers. Apparently it was warm everywhere else.

We zipped up our jackets and hunkered down, waiting for crowds that never really arrived. The city was full of people, but most didn’t get out of their cars. Some authors didn’t sell anything. Most of us sold a few books to other authors and to the bookstore. Occasionally we stumbled up the back stairs of the bookstore for trips to the bathroom–unisex, full of new books waiting to go on the shelves–and the kitchen, where one could get coffee and cut-up vegetables. We looked at our watches a lot.

Occasionally someone would come, pick up a book, read the back cover, admire the front cover, ask if we were the author. We held our breaths, thinking “come on, buy it,” trying to be as cheerful and encouraging as possible without being pushy.  Usually they walked away. But sometimes . . . it’s called partial reinforcement; it’s why people gamble, and why we show up at book fairs.

One new twist this year was a reception at a gorgeous house in a gated community in the waterfront community called Roads End. We enjoyed stuffed mushrooms, mini-quiches, giant shrimp, and Willamette Valley wines. After our afternoon in the wind, most of us authors felt like poor relations, but it was nice. If nothing else, it got us authors together. Thanks to Bob and his crew for all their hard work.

Go buy a book at Bob’s, 17th and 101, Lincoln City, Oregon. On my restroom trips, I could barely resist buying everything I saw on the shelves while waiting in line. So many authors, so many good books!