A friend sent me an email about a regional book festival looking for authors to sell their books. I skimmed through the email. Sounded promising. No charge for the table. Last year, 900 attended. I sent an inquiry thinking I was too late. Free tables are a rarity that would be snapped up fast.
The following day, I received an email welcoming me and my book, Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot, to be part of the event. “You will be in a theater on Main Street,” he wrote. Nice. I would not have to deal with unpredictable weather. “The front of the theater is large glass windows making it easy for attendees of the festival to see you,” he wrote. Better than nice, good placement, we won’t be in a corner where no one can see us!
Luck? A blessing from God! Neither.
Rebecca, a friend and the author of Amy Signs, and I arrived at the theater. The email information was correct. We were in a nice lobby that faced Main Street with large glass windows. FREE BOOK FESTIVAL glared at me from the poster on the theater door. How did I miss “THAT”? FREE! Was that in the email? Why did they invite authors to sell books at a “FREE BOOK” festival?
I knew most of the authors that were already set up in the theater. A mystery writer, whose class on writing I had taken at a community college had just finished his twenty-fourth book. I must have made an impression at the writing class. He remembered me.
One of the authors, who I did not know, said he recognized me from the North Shore Literary Society. I hate it when people know me and I don’t know them. His book Random Allotment was a Faulkner, 2012 William Wisdom Creative Writing Finalist. He writes in his spare time and works full time as an attorney. We had a long talk about publishing. He had self-published through Amazon, and was frustrated that book stores would not stock his book. “How do publishers decided which bookstores to place your book in?” he asked.
His question told me that he knew more about being an attorney than he did about publishing. “Publishers don’t place books in bookstores. Bookstores are independently owned. They purchase books that they have a reasonable expectation will sale. And they rarely purchase books that are not returnable. Most self-published and print-on-demand books fall in that category, which is why bookstores won’t pick up your book.” That answer started a conversation on marketing that lasted until my mouth was dry and begging for water.
I noticed a woman looking at my book and excused myself for a possible sale. Another long conversation, my mouth morphing into the Sahara Desert with each word. She left with a free magazine that contains a sample of my writing and a brochure about Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot. She wanted the book but didn’t have any money. Of course, she had no expectation of needing money at a FREE BOOK Festival.
“The theater is selling drinks and snacks at the end of the hall,” said Rebecca as she took a sip from her 16.9 FL OZ bottled water.
I grabbed my wallet and headed for the end of the hall. “How much for bottled water?”
“One dollar,” she said and turned to dig for one in the ice chest.
I thought that was cheap. Until she handed me a 4 FL OZ bottle of water.
Rebecca grinned. “I brought mine from home.”
I downed my 4 OZ’s of water while I surveyed the empty street in front of the theater except for an occasional car that whizzed by. The only people who had visited the theater were a few friends of the authors. I wondered where the rest of the festival was being held and if any of the 900 people from last year had returned or if this year simply failed to draw a crowd.
The children’s author who forwarded the email about the festival to me approached my table. “Everyone is at the library across the street,” she said. “Let’s grab some of our promotional material and let them know we are over here.” That sounded like a good idea. I grabbed some brochures and followed her out the door.
In front of the crowded library, a man running for mayor handed me a brochure and asked me to consider him at the next election. I handed him my brochure and asked for his consideration as well. Behind the library, free food was being served. My friend and I met a woman who had light brown hair, a six week old baby strapped to her chest and three elementary age children fidgeting by her side. My friend handed her information about her children’s book. I didn’t give her a brochure. I doubted she would have time to read my book if she bought it. Two of her children had fiery red hair. “Your husband must be a red head,” I said.
“No, he’s not.” She pointed to her daughter’s brunette hair. “His hair is that color. We think the red hair came from a great, great grandparent.”
Inside the library there was free everything you can imagine and a mass of people. I browsed the tables. Picked up two free poster of the Cajun Ten Commandments for my husband and the Children’s pastor at my church. Then I rounded the corner and ran into another author friend. “How did you get in here with all the people?” I inquired.
“I did a “Get Published” seminar a few months ago. They invited me to return for the festival. But I have not sold one book,” he said.
“Me either,” I replied. “I do better at Christian events and it doesn’t help that this is a FREE BOOK festival.”
I couldn’t find my friend in the crowd, so I headed back to the empty theater to see if she had returned. Her husband shook his head NO. I joined a conversation Rebecca was having with an author. He was an associate professor at a nearby University. Another very long conversation ensued. Rebecca returned to her table while the professor and I talked about racism and justice. He wasn’t interested in the book I was selling, but he was interested in the article I wrote about the different perception of racism I encountered at the Christian Community Development Associations national conference. He was also interested in my first book, A Reason to Believe, about the seven appearances of God to Abraham and the faith he taught him. The book is no longer in print. I have been rewriting it and posting chapters to my personal website. He asked for links to the material which I was happy to provide.
I returned to my table. A woman walked into the theater. A customer? NO! Just another author who was in a different building across the street. Sigh.
I looked at Rebecca. “Are you hungry?”
“Yea, do you want a free hot dog?”
I have gradually changed my diet to hold my expanding waist line at bay. Hot dogs are not on my list of acceptable foods. “No, it’s 1:00 pm. I am ready to leave and eat a salad.”
We agreed that leaving an hour early would not be a problem, since no one had been in the theater except authors most of the day. I had everything neatly secured in my water proof box when the brown haired woman with the fiery red haired children walked in and stood in front of my table. This time I gave her a brochure.
When I returned home, I checked the email about the regional book festival. Yes, it said FREE BOOK festival. That is what I get for skimming instead of reading the whole email. The day was not a total loss. I did have some interesting conversations with an attorney and professor, as well as a pleasant healthy lunch with a good friend.