Did you write all this? Which book is your newest? What are you working on now? Behind the book table again at yesterday’s Celebration of Women in Newport, I felt like the old veteran as I watched people pick up my books, study the covers, and put them back down—or sometimes even buy them. I have been doing this since Stories Grandma Never Told came out in 1998.
I have sat at book tables all over Oregon and California, including many stints at the annual Dia de Portugal in San Jose, bookstore signings, book fairs in the rain in Lincoln City, and street fairs in Stockton where the only person who bought a book was the fellow author sitting next to me. All too often, sales are sparse, the only purchasers being the other authors. The truth is, if the event is not specifically about books or about the subject of your books, most of the people attending are not looking to buy books. They’re going to spend their money on food, carnival rides, and souvenirs. The writers are just a roadblock on the way to the fun.
Because I have published three books about Portuguese Americans, my books sold like linguica sandwiches—hundreds—at the Portuguese festival. At the Lincoln County Fair, not so much. Yesterday? Two.
So why go? Exposure. People see you and your book, maybe they’ll take a flyer or postcard, and maybe later they’ll think, hey, I should buy that book by what’s her name. Maybe you get a little free publicity in the newspaper. Plus it’s fun to hang out with other authors, people who understand what you do and can exchange information on how to do it.
Yesterday, I sat between Lee Lynch, author of more than a dozen novels and longtime booktable partner, and Lori Tobias, whose first book, Wander, just came out. Lee and I traded war stories while Lori gathered information and advice and vented about how this was not as much fun as she expected. No, but it could have been worse. We were warm, dry, and the wind wasn’t blowing. At the fair in Medford where the photo above was taken, it was 35 degrees inside and snowing outside. Nobody came.
You learn things over the years. Don’t bring every copy of every book. You only need a few. Have something for people to take: cards, bookmarks, candy, or trinkets related to your topic. Get a cart or a strong person to help you carry the books because they are heavy. Get there early so you don’t get the table least likely to be seen. Bring sunscreen and a hat if it’s outside. Don’t hog your space. Bring dollar bills and coins for change. Keep your book money separate from your personal money. Acknowledge every person who approaches with a greeting and a smile. Resist the urge to read or stare at your cell phone, even if nothing seems to be happening. Wear comfortable clothes; nobody cares what you’re wearing. Etc.
Lori kept saying she’d rather be writing. I was content at the table. It was Sunday afternoon. I had played three Masses at Sacred Heart Saturday night and Sunday morning, so I was too tired to do anything useful anyway. I was among friends. There was music, wine and chocolate. You learn to ride the writer waves of private time and public time.
Besides, I had new editions of two of my books on their virgin outing. Stories Grandma Never Told, that book about Portuguese women that launched my book table career, has been updated, with a new cover and, for the first time, an e-book version. Azorean Dreams, my Portuguese American romance novel, also has a new look. What’s next? Another novel, a memoir, and perhaps a poetry book. Got to keep adding new merchandise to the table. Also, I’m going to move into the 21st century and start taking credit cards at in-person events for those customers who wind up emptying their purses and pockets to come up with enough nickels and wrinkled dollar bills for a book because they don’t carry cash.
Next time you see somebody sitting at a table with books, walk up and say hello. We’ll be glad for the company and delirious if you buy a book.