September 9, 2017

How to be a Dork with a Book Table

Last weekend I set aside a big part of my truth (I'm SHY!) and ran a book table at my local agricultural fall fair—for the sole purpose of self-promotion.


Because the fair is quite small, the rental fee on the booth was minimal, so I thought, for a first time shot, this was a good way to test the waters, test myself, and maybe—just maybe—sell a book or two.

The amazing thing was, I really didn't have to do anything. I found that my booth spoke for itself. There was this comical dance of people wandering by being very intentional about avoiding eye contact with me—perhaps fearful that I would try to sell them something that they didn't want. BUT, those people who were interested in literature, who were readers or cared about the art community, they would approach me, ask questions, flip through the pages of a book or magazine. I had to do nothing except smile and answer any questions they might have.

And take their money. (Ha!)

I only had to sell a few books to cover the cost of the table and I'm happy to say, I surpassed that goal! Between Friday and Saturday, I spent nine hours with my pretty table, and in that time I sold six books, a few magazines, and made connections with people who will hopefully submit some future content to Blank Spaces. You guys, I shook hands with an artist who's work would make you cry! I also shook the hands of two actors from that Wingin' It show my kids used to watch (one of whom is featured in the September issue). Listen, our little Durham town is full of talented gems...I'm just beginning to tap the surface.

(My favourite book sale was to a woman who bought one because 'she thinks my mom is nice'. Ha! I loved that!)

book table set up

So I didn't make a fortune, but I didn't waste my time. If nothing else, there's value in being visible in your own community. It's a slow grind to get noticed—to convince people you're worth taking a chance on—to create enough buzz that you can more than break even. But I feel like I'm on my way. More than one person picked up my book and told me they'd already heard about it somewhere. When I went into the bank to exchange cash for coin so I could make change at the fair, two of the tellers told me they couldn't wait to read my book! The bookstore in Hanover keeps needing me to replenish their stock. I've been invited to visit two book clubs, with a potential third in the works.

Slowly, slowly, slowly things are opening up. I'm overwhelmed and grateful. Grateful that people are taking a chance on me. And grateful that it has been a little slow. I'm easing in and that's okay.

It's hard to be shy and out in the public. I'm learning every day, slowly breaking out of my shell, even though it goes against everything I know about myself.

So, if you've got something you want/need to share with the world, allow me to impart a little bit of my two step trial-by-error book table wisdom as you make plans to promote yourself in your own community:

My Two Step Book Table Wisdom

1. Make it attractive 

Never judge a book by its cover? Ha! Everyone judges by first impressions. We can't help it. We're wired to seek out pleasing things. Be thoughtful as you plan out your booth. Don't just slap down your books and think that's good enough. Unless you're wildly charismatic or stupidly famous, no one will give you a second look if you haven't invested some thought into your set up.
  • Consider accessories that compliment your theme. I was promoting writing and creativity so I included an old Underwood typewriter and a couple vintage cameras. These alone brought people to my table. I had a lot of conversations with seniors who learned to type on typewriters. They shared stories about typing class and how many words per minute they could do by the end of the course and the sound it made when a whole classroom was busy writing. It allowed natural conversation and was an easy way to draw people in.
  • Create interest by playing with different heights. By using an old suitcase, a wooden crate, little boxes, and a magazine stand I was able to set up a dynamic table with many places for the eye to go. People appreciate when care is given to display, and it's nice when you're given a compliment...even if they don't buy anything!
  • Display in sections. I divided my table in half. One side for Wildwood and one side for Blank Spaces. While many people explored the whole table, it allowed for those that had no interest in a magazine to just focus on the book—or visa-versa.
  • Have a take-away. I had brochures with Blank Spaces Submission Guidelines on them, pamphlets with Book Club questions, business cards, and candy. Always have candy!
  • Include 'proof' of your awesomeness. Sometimes people need to be convinced they should believe in you. I printed off and framed some reviews Wildwood has received through various online portals. For the magazine, I had a map of Canada, marking off all the provinces and territories where contributors hail from. It was a great conversation starter and dispelled the misconception some people had that Blank Spaces was a local magazine featuring only local talent.

2. Make yourself attractive

This should go without saying right? Dress nicely, smile widely (not weirdly!), and be friendly and open to questions. Don't be pushy. Be polite. Be gracious. Be humble. And when someone says, "Wow, good for you!" but doesn't buy the book, say "thank you and have a nice day".

book table set up

So, what's next for me? 

I'm publishing an anthology of work by 34 Canadian authors. It comes out at the end of the month. You can pre-order a copy here if you like. All proceeds will go towards the continuing work of Blank Spaces magazine.

I'm working on a sequel(ish) to The Church in the Wildwood - The Ghost of Iris Carver. I wish I had a publication date to tell you for that one...stay tuned!

Next weekend I'll be attending a writing workshop in Waterloo. Fun!

On September 24 I'll be at Toronto's Word on the Street with my Blank Spaces girls. If you've got nothing going on that day and you're a book/magazine lover, come on down to the Toronto harbour front. The festival is free, open to all ages, and it's a great way to get a jump start on your Christmas shopping for any readers on your list!
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