I’ve never exhibited at the Seattle Book Fair. This year I choose to skip the Sacramento Book Fair in favor of Seattle. It was an experiment. I’ve never driven 800+ miles each way to exhibit at a fair. At 67 I wanted to see if I could do it physically, withstand the rigors of the road, sleeping in strange beds, deal with changes in my regular diet, etc. And I’ve heard nothing but praise for the Seattle fair. It’s also run by Lou Collins who is also a member of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America (ABAA) of which I am a proud member. Of the 98 exhibitors, 48 were ABAA members. Good start.
I arrived at the venue the Thursday before the fair. It’s a drop off only day. I couldn’t set up until Friday. Why did I arrive Thursday? I guess because I could. It was the mistake of a virgin exhibitor, especially since I found out upon arrival that I couldn’t actually drop off until 4 p.m. I kept asking myself why did I bust my ass getting there if that was the case. I wish I had known. I also wish there was some signage about the fair, where to go. There isn’t a sign on the building to say it’s the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall. I guess everyone already knows. Everyone but me. As I said, it was my first Seattle rodeo. Rookie mistake.
When I arrived to set up Friday, it was about 64 degrees in Seattle. I loved that cooler weather since it had been in the 90s where I live in California, but it was at least 20 degrees hotter inside the venue compared to the outside. I don’t sweat a lot, but I soon had huge wet spots all over my T-shirt and was physically uncomfortable for the first few hours. I guess air conditioning is expensive in Seattle. It was like this EVERY day of the fair, even in the early morning hours. I kept asking everyone if it was just me. It wasn’t.
On Saturday morning, first day of the fair, I dressed in my best duds. I didn’t bring my umbrella despite the light rain. The rain during my short walk to the venue wasn’t an issue, but the accumulated rain from hours before was a distinct problem. As I stood on a street corner waiting for the light to change, a car roared through a huge rain puddle. You got it. Suddenly a 12-foot tsunami drenched me. Head to foot. I dripped water from every part of my body. I was soaked through to the bone. It was a comedy show, although when it happened I distinctly remember not laughing.
Was this an omen?
Thankfully I had another shirt and another sweater inside my attache case.
The show opened with great crowds and it stayed crowded for most of the day Saturday. I got no stupid questions, which was great, and a few people asked good questions. The questions didn’t result in any sales, but it helped pass the time pleasantly. Of course there was the usual assortment of business card collectors, note takers, and be-backs, but that’s true of all such fairs.
Of course any bitching by me about logistics and procedures means little if you leave the fair with a large bag of loot, so what was the bottom line?
I had no pre-fair sales, but that’s not unusual. I sold my first book, for $250, about 11 a.m. Saturday. I sold a $50 book around 2 p.m. That was it. I had one sale Sunday. It was $175 from a fellow dealer. I think it was a mercy transaction, but I was happy to have it. So, total sales were $475. The trophy case and booth fee came to $1,200. Hotel bill was nearly $600. I stayed with friends along the way up from California, so my expenses there were very light, but gas cost me another $200.
I heard, from my very unscientific survery of other exhibitors, that just about everyone did better than I, but only a few were happy beyond expectations with their sales. Most grumbled slightly. Nearly all who wrote about their experience with this fair praise Lou Collins and Bill Wolfe, the promoters, year in and year out. I think the logistics could have been better. The air conditioning should have been better. People driving their cars in Seattle could have been better, but only some of these issues can be dropped in the laps of promoters who I should say were responsive to my needs. And I don’t blame the promoters for my dismal sales. Not their fault in any way, shape, or form. Sometimes exhibitors have bad results. And despite the high praise for Lou Collins, Seattle remains a regional fair. What does that mean? It means it’s not an ABAA-sponsored fair. Like Sacramento, or the Bustamante fairs in Southern California, or even the shadow fairs associated with the ABAA California fairs, expectations should remain low. Everyone loves a well-run fair, but the fair being well run doesn’t pay the bills.
There is one potential saving grace. I did meet a couple who are not yet book collectors, but they are thinking seriously of beginning to collect. I had serious discussions with them. They are especially interested in a $6,000 book. I should know if we can consumate the deal within the next two weeks or so. They are also interested in other titles I have, so I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Maybe not, but with 35 years of experience in judging potential customers from those who only talk through their hat, I feel relatively confident that the financial aspect of my fair experience may turn around. As usual, we’ll see.
The question is, will I exhibit there again? It’s not an easy answer. What do you think?