Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fair Weather

By Chester Campbell

Outside it was cold and rainy, but inside the Frankfort Convention Center warmth and coziness prevailed. Conditions obviously weren’t as favorable as in years past, what with the economy sliding down the tubes.

So the question arises, is it worth an author’s time to weather the storm and trek off to a book fair?

I journeyed to Frankfort the past weekend for the 27th annual running of the Kentucky Book Fair. Despite the weather, a respectable number of buyers showed up for the Saturday event. But as one man told me apologetically, “Last year my wife and I spent $400. With the way the economy is now, we won’t do nearly that much today.”

Everybody came with the idea of buying books, however, and a few toted away bags full of them. Some authors had an inside track by being well known in Kentucky. Others by being well known in their field. A children’s author at the same table with me had a constant stream of kids, parents, and grandparents stopping to get his colorfully illustrated books signed.

Sitting beside me was Judy Moffett, a science fiction writer who lives part-time in Kentucky and the rest in Pennsylvania. Her paperback books sold well, but the hardcovers bombed, which was a sign of the times.

Book fairs like Kentucky’s bring in 200 or more authors, so there’s plenty of competition. You can’t just sit there and smile. Half the people look the other way and many more seem to be hurrying by on their way to catch the next bus.

If you’re not a household name, it can pay off to put in a little extra effort. Following my usual policy of ignoring the chair at a book signing, I stood behind my table from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except for the time it took to eat my sandwich. Anybody who came within range of my voice, which isn’t all that strong, unfortunately, got the smiling query, “Do you read mysteries?”

I talked to enough of them to sell 39 books. Not a bad day, all things considered. The Wall Street Journal recently quoted Barnes & Noble’s chairman as saying he had never “seen a retail climate as poor as the one we are in.” Simon & Schuster reported store traffic was down and fewer customers were buying more than one title.

I had the luxury of four books in my Greg McKenzie Mystery series lined up on my table at Frankfort. A couple of people bought all four.

You never know what will push someone’s hot button. When I told one man that in Deadly Illiusions the Federal Reserve chairman is murdered at the Opryland Hotel, he grinned and said, “I’ve got to have that one.”

It’s always nice when a reader comes by (in this case a member of the DorothyL listserve) and says, “I’ve read all of your books and really love them.”

But the name of the game at a book fair is to sell books. It can be done if you play your cards right.


Jean Henry Mead said...

You're a brave writer to weather the storm, Chester. Put me down for a copy of each of your books in your barn buster sale. I've been meaning to order them for Christmas gifts. What a nice surprise that they're now on sale.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Great job, Chester. You're right; book sales are way down at nearly every event, but the enthusiasm of an author can make all the difference. Best of luck, Mark

Ben Small said...

Good job, Chester. I found the same thing when I did some book signings in Southern Indiana during the spring floods. Despite so many families in that area having been wiped out, a little effort, a greeting and some working the crowd paid off big time. The Greenwood Borders manager said I sold more books than any author ever.

You can't just sit. You've got to work the crowds and network. As usual, you're the shining example.

So glad you had such success. In this market, that's very encouraging.

Chester Campbell said...

Jean, Mark and Ben, thanks for the comments. I agree, enthusiasm, or attitude, makes all the difference in the world. Whether the people are few or many, I smile and stay upbeat. In a store, it makes the host feel good regardless of how many books you sell. And they'll invite you back.

Beth Terrell said...

It's been my pleasure to see the Master at work.

We can all learn something from your methods, Chester.