Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Book Fair: Still a Good Day

Yesterday I spent the day exhibiting my wares at the Oregon Book and Author Fair at the Jackson County Expo Fairgrounds in Central Point. This was my fifth year at the Book Fair, and 62 of us authors drove in from all over the state to do it. The day wasn’t without its challenges—the heating system in Padgham Pavilion was on the fritz, plunging the indoor temperature into the meat-locker range. And the County Expo—well, it’s a bit far off the beaten path for most book shoppers, so let’s just say the attendance was not robust. (Extra thanks to you visitors who did come.) The fair’s human-dynamo organizer, Trisha Barnes, managed to keep her composure even when her duties must have felt like herding cats, particularly when we writers all got together and set a Guinness World Record for “number of authors signing their books simultaneously.” (We pulled it off, even though we looked like a team of people assembling a 50-foot-long sandwich.)

I sold a few books, enough to pay for the table rental and the gas to get there. But, in my philosophy, book fairs aren’t about making money. They’re about getting your book in front of people, whether they buy it or not. And secondly, they’re about spending time with other authors, most of whom are in the same boat you’re in—trying to catch the wave of e-book technology without getting the wind knocked out of them, submitting their books to prize-selection committees, and learning the publishing business by the seat of their pants.

So, with a lot of time on our hands, we authors spent much of the day talking amongst ourselves. With Ken Lewis of Krill Press, I talked about Kindle vs. Nook formatting and his decision to turn away from the traditional author-agent-publisher triangle and start his own publishing house. I had a short chat with nonfiction writer Sue Lick, who posted a funny and candid recap of the fair on her blog today. I was happy to run into my tablemate from last year’s Douglas County Book Fair, novelist Bob Mayo, who wasn’t exhibiting but had made the drive down from Roseburg to see the fair. My favorite book of the day: To the Woods, horticulturalist Evelyn Hess’ award-winning memoir about her years living on 20 acres of wild land southwest of Eugene. And, with 14 of us poets exhibiting, there was plenty of time to trade poetry books, swap news, gossip, and debate the relative merits of New York Times vs. Oregonian crossword puzzles.

I also got to spend some quality time with Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen, whose table was next to mine. From Paulann I got a glimpse into the life of a state poet laureate—she tours like a rock star pretty much year-round, and, in spite of being a long way from home, she never lost her good cheer all through the chilly day. It made me wonder whether they stress-test candidates for Poet Laureate, much as they do with astronauts—whether they subject them to the literary equivalent of the G-force chair and the underwater space-walk simulation. I guess in a poet’s case, they’d have to coop them up with their spouse in a hotel for weeks on end, or strand them at the side of the road in a September blizzard.

After all that, while I was driving home and thawing out, I felt remarkably good. Despite having spent the day shivering and not selling as many books as I might have liked, this not-great day at the book fair was still a great day.

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