Report on the Sacramento Book Fair

I didn’t sell anything. Not one book. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. First time I have ever been shut out at a book fair, although the previous Sacramento book fair six months previous was close as I sold all of one book then. I don’t think anything else needs to be said, but I’ll ramble on anyway.

First, this was my experience. The experiences of others may differ. Before I get too far, let me first praise the fair promoter, Jim Kay. Jim does a bang up job promoting the fair. He gets a good crowd. He supplies plenty of iced waters and sodas for exhibitors while setting up and even feeds us pizza during the Friday afternoon set-up. I love the venue, the Scottish Rite Temple. It’s a good room with spacious aisles and really large booth accommodations, far larger than what I experience when exhibiting at a major book fair such as those sponsored by the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America (ABAA), of which I am a proud member.

I do wish the drapes were all closed. It was a hot, sun shiny day in Sacramento. The light blasting through those un-draped windows made vision difficult. Also, Jim Kay keeps opening the fair earlier and earlier. It first was scheduled to open at 10 a.m. He rolled that back to 9:45. Then it became 9:30. This time is was 9:20. If he keeps this up we’ll be opening this Saturday event on Friday night. Jim, weren’t not all morning people. Also, the tape police practically made Ken Sanders assume the position up against the wall for his in-your-face use of tape within his booth which is not, let me repeat, NOT allowed inside the building. It’s in the contract, Ken. Careful. This might go to the ABAA’s ethics and standards committee.

There were many ABAA members exhibiting at the fair. Maybe a quarter of the exhibitors were ABAA members which speaks to the quality of the material being offered. If I missed you, please forgive me, but I saw Bob Gavora, Ken Sanders, James Bryant and Mary Hill of Carpe Diem, Dave Meeker of Nick Adams & Co., Chris Lowenstein of Book Hunter’s Holiday, Ed Smith, Vic Zoschak of Tavistock Books, Carl Blomgren, Steve Blackmer of Chanticleer Books, Bud Plant, Greg Krisilas of Coconut Rose Rare Books, Elizabeth Svendsen of Walkabout Books, Michael Good, Brad Johnson of The Book Shop, and John Howell.

There were also a number of exhibitors who would like to join the ABAA such as my booth mates, Laurelle Swan and Jeff Elfont of Swan’s Fine Books in Walnut Creek. Nick Aretakis, late of William Reese and now on his own in Manteca, was there. Kim Herrick of Pleasanton was there exhibiting at her first book fair. Zhenya Dzhavgova of ZH Books in Fremont also tried her luck in Sacramento. I also saw Andrew Langer of Berkeley. All have aspirations to join the ABAA.

I should also note that ABAA member Joyce Muns of Berkeley came to shop, as did the ABAA’s president, Tom Goldwasser of San Francisco. It’s too bad that more Bay Area ABAA members weren’t there to support their fellow booksellers.

Unfortunately, ABAA member Taylor Bowie of Seattle couldn’t make it this time around, but I can assure Taylor, who knows all things gastronomical, that the food at the fair continues to be very good, especially the home-made chocolate chip cookies.

But neither the promise of a fabulous chocolate chip cookie nor the availability of a good snort of whiskey resulted in a sale. Whiskey, you ask? Seems that my booth mate, Jeff Elfont, decided to liven things up by bringing a bottle of booze to the fair. There were many takers. His better half, Laurelle Swan of Swan’s Fine Books, was mortified by Jeff’s idea, thinking that it would keep her from gaining membership in the ABAA. I think everyone agreed it might actually enhance and hasten her entry into our exclusive club.

On the good news front, I was able to make fun of Vic’s assistant, Marguerite (Don’t-call-me-Maggie) Peterson, and that’s always rewarding, but let’s talk about those that attended the fair, ostensibly to buy books. I had a couple of people want to buy one of my Ambrose Bierce titles for $30. The problem was that it was priced at $300. Clearly marked. One gentleman looked at several of my early John D. MacDonald science fiction titles.

“These are rare!” he exclaimed.

I thought that was the idea, but maybe I should have done what bookseller Mark Post did. He had a booth filled with books — all priced at $5. Is that what the Sacramento Book Fair is all about, a race to the bottom? Over the years the fair, which once might have been likened to a middle class cold beer, has lessened and lessened to the point where maybe it’s now a lite beer. Perhaps just near-beer.

So, is there anything the promoter could have done to increase exhibitor sales? No, which means any condemnation of the fair must be borne by the “customers.”

Maybe it’s as one bookseller told me. “Sacramento is still just a cow town.”

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