The 12th Annual Houston Book Fair

by Adam Schachter

19 January 2015

A Report

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On Saturday, November 8th, I participated in the 12th annual Houston Book Fair. It was my first fair. Set up was Friday. At CABS they told us that no matter how many book fairs we do, we will always be anxious about at least two things: (1) low or no sales;(2) fellow dealers will think my stock stinks. To assist in ameliorating those fears the faculty gave us a detailed list of what we would need to set up and strongly encouraged us to prepare a mock set up at home for our very first show.

I over prepared and am glad I did. A month before the show I purchased two 6' x 2.5' tables as those were the sizes for the fair. I bought 3 folding bookcases and nearly everything else on the list they gave us. Two weeks before the show, I started setting up in our living room. Our kids thought that the online bookstore that has taken over their upstairs playroom was going to permanently invade our living room. They had good reason for this belief as there are book boxes, bookends, and all sorts of book-related things in every room of our house other than theirs (note to son: when you leave for college in 20 months, I'm filling your bedroom with bookcases).

Leaning on the advice of a CABS faculty member, I tried to acquire and display items that I hoped would draw people to the booth. A mentor mentioned that a crowd around your booth creates momentum and sometimes sustains the crowd. I tweaked and pruned and tweaked and pruned until I had what I thought would be my best effort for my first fair, one that would hopefully create a crowd and it looked like this:

My over preparation allowed me to mostly experience excitement, rather than anxiety, prior to the fair. I've spent nearly 17 years in a business where I've been constrained by marketing rules and I was about to spend 7 hours around collectors and dealers where I had no constraints. I could be as engaged or as quiet as I wanted while watching people check out my stock. More on that in a bit.

It was a small show, with about 20 dealers and approximately 300 people attended. My pre-show sales were low, BUT THEY WERE SALES! I even sold a book to a collectibles celebrity, Ken Sanders - a Mormon hymnal that Lorne Bair suggested I show to Ken. BAM! Booth rent.

The dealers and their stock ranged from top level ABAA folks and local general used book stores to collector/dealers and virtual beginners like me. It was a nice mix and everyone was super friendly and welcoming towards me.

When the public arrived, I knew that the last three years of effort and the last several months of agonizing over whether I should change careers were all worth it. It all felt natural. It seemed instinctual to know when to lean in and say, "If you love it, I can work with you on price" vs. letting people browse on their own. CABS faculty repeatedly told us that good bookselling is about story telling, and I was engaged in the act of storytelling all day long. It was a little odd watching strangers handle my stuff, but everyone seemed to respect the wares and I got over that odd sensation very quickly. The 7 hours passed slowly, but now feel like a blur. Thank goodness a dear friend and fellow bookseller, Mike Floreani, helped me set up and staff the booth as there was no way I could have done show #1 on my own.

Was the show a success? I think so. I have nothing to measure it against. I think it was successful because I had fun, made a decent profit, gained a few customers, learned about the wants of several dealers to whom I could sell up the food chain, and learned that I could do a book fair. My next will be Austin in January.

Thank you Craig, Kurt, the CABS faculty and everyone else who got me here. And a HUGE thank you to Mrs. Schachter and our kids for supporting me.

[Editor's note: Adam's eBay Store may be viewed here.]

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark


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