I limped for days after the Brooklyn Book Fair, climbing and descending the subway stairs stiffly. The unfairness of aging is that my feet hurt, my joints hurt, after hours of standing and shifting heavy boxes and shivering in the cold, smiling over and over, “It’s a fairy tale… It’s a novel… It’s a story about two little girls who discover elves…”
But I loved it.
I didn’t know what to expect when given the opportunity to have a table at the Brooklyn Book Festival.
The number of vendors and authors and events seemed immense, and I had heard and read that you could shill at a book fair all day and maybe sell 10 books. But it was a book festival, in the borough of authors — Brooklyn — and the girls and their friends had plans to “help” sell The Crowded Kingdom by offering handmade bracelets and buttons made of my illustrations and of their own creations.
But what did I learn you need when you have a booth at a book fair? You need:
1. Awareness. I was barely aware of book festivals and conferences when I jumped back into the writing scene, so I was grateful to have a friend who could introduce me to the festival coordinators; now that I’ve been to one, I know you have to look out for them and register early, or find out how to qualify as an author or a vendor booth. And once I was there, I became aware of the sheer number of events and offerings; this year, the BBF projected 40,000 people. If I am fortunate enough to have a next time, I will come early, to size up the space, where the sun (or shade) falls, and where everything else is so I can get a chance to see it.
2. Registration — not a trivial fee, which meant it was more cost-effective if I shared my space. The Brooklyn Book Festival people paired me with a lovely author, Tori Nighthawk, who wrote a book, Don’t Judge a Bird By Its Feathers. At 15 (she was 13 when she wrote and illustrated the book!) she was the youngest author there, and she and her mother and her cousin shared a space with me right next to the Target Children’s Area, where lots of families strolled by wondering who we were and what we had to offer, which was great!
3. Marketing. The larger companies had canopies; we only had tables, so Tori’s mother and I discussed having banners, both wraparound and standing, at our space. They would be an investment for future displays, and as it turned out, Tori’s mom is a graphic designer so her table looked beautiful with vibrant colored tablecloths that matched her daughter’s book while I spread mine out with a couple of tablecloths whose stains I hid with strategically placed books. For a moment, I had that pang you have when someone else’s cupcakes look perfect and yours are melted and tilted and you hope they get eaten before someone notices… But the banners – designed by my dear husband – were beautiful.
I bought a SquareUp card reader for $10 at the FedEx store (you can order one for free online; if you can’t wait, like me, the purchased card reader has a $10
rebate card inside).
I plugged it into the iPad headphone jack,
downloaded the free SquareUp app, tested it with a dollar purchase on a credit card, and voila — I was ready for commerce!
5. Supplies! We brought a shade umbrella in case it was too sunny; Sun Chips; waters; and of course, bracelets, buttons, and a button-making machine borrowed from a best friend. And because it barely made it above 70, with a wind chill that made it colder, the girls took turns hiding under the table, where all the supplies made it warmer.
We had a steady stream of visitors starting from 10:05 AM until almost 6:00 PM.
They would come in clumps, many of them families with middle-grade children, which are my target audience, sometimes with little kids, where I would sometimes suggest Tori’s table because it was a great educational book with lots of bright pictures. Some would stop, smile, and move on. Friends stopped by, many from the neighborhood, and it was wonderful to share a little time with everyone, looking at the book fully realized, catching up on each other’s lives. I had brought a big box of books; by the end of the day, it was 3/4 empty, and I was happy to have had many small, interesting conversations, even from people who were just curious as to how or why I did it.
Illustrator Tony Arteficio stopped by. “I noticed you were the only Fil-Am author here at the book festival.”
Oh, is that true? For today, at least, I had forgotten I was a Filipino American writer.
“Thanks for noticing,” I said, smiling. “Yes, always happy to represent. A couple of Asian-American families did buy the book; they may have noticed that Jada and Jinny were of diverse background.” We bonded over being pinoys — being of Filipino descent. He bought a book, and took a snap proudly posing with the book and the author. I took his business card, of his own upcoming book, “Samurai Monkey: The Tiger and The Dragon.” I bet it will be a beautiful book; the pen and ink lines on his card were already graceful and promising.
The sun dropped lower; the wind got colder; garbage started to blow across our feet.
My daughter and I broke down the exhibit by ourselves. We weren’t supposed to pack up before six, but I hadn’t eaten, or gone to the bathroom, or even left the table, the whole 8-hour day. At some point, we sat there waiting to be picked up, sitting on motley boxes, staring straight ahead.
“I just wanted to tell you how lovely it was to meet your daughters.”
Suddenly, Nancy Wiley, the artist, she of the amazing handmade dolls, paintings, and books, was standing in front of my table. Her booth was fifty feet away from mine; her artistic output and craft was fantastical, wide-ranging, a wondrous thing to find at the festival. My girls bought a signed Alice in Wonderland book and had spent some time at her booth, yet I had never had a chance to get away for a moment to see it.
Her eyes were sincere and kind, as she gazed at my tired face and bare wood table. “Thank you,” I said. “You have a beautiful book.”
“Is this for sale?” she said, pointing at my joke copy of The Crowded Kingdom, the one that I placed on top of the wood to show that I hadn’t officially “closed up” yet at 5:45 PM.
She bought the book right there; she has a little daughter, she said, that she thought might find it interesting. I wrote out to her what I wrote out to everyone — what I was grateful to say to everyone — who stopped by that day:
“Thank you for believing in the magic all around you.”