Sometimes it seems even God doesn’t want you to sell books, or Mother Nature or whoever.
The Louisiana Book Festival was Saturday. It’s a pretty big deal in the world Louisiana letters – usually draws crowds in excess of 20,000 book lovers who spread out over Capitol Park in Baton Rouge (or as I like to call it, Red Stick.) Big pavilion-style tents filled with publisher’s displays fill one side of the park, along with tables spread across the park with authors and literary groups hawking their wares. That’s where we were.
But this year the weather forecast was forbidding – not just rain expected, but a big damn storm on the horizon. The organizers – who already had their hands full dealing with the fact that the city had scheduled some kind of parade the same day, closing half the downtown streets – did the best they could. They moved the exhibitors tables from the park to the neighboring Louisiana Museum. Some of the tables were inside, but most were crowded into the large covered area outside. That included us.
It wasn’t ideal – there was no real traffic flow from the tents for the big guys to us small fry exhibitors. The traffic flow was never in the thousands, and rarely in the hundreds. But starting at 10 in the morning, scores of people made their way over between cloud bursts to see what we had to offer.
I talked to a lot of folk. I pitched the book. Tori and I were dressed in pirate garb, of course, and that always draws people. Gave out a LOT of postcards with ordering info on them, and sold and signed a small handful of books. (By the way, I love my Paypal card scanner that turns my phone into a cash register.)
And then the weather started turning. A flurry of rain, then a break, then another flurry. The tables toward the outside were getting wet, and one by one they folded up and went away. Even worse, the crowd petered out (I almost said dried up, but as the afternoon went on, nothing was dry.) Even our display was getting damp as the winds picked up and blew the moisture in.
Around 2 p.m. the rain stopped again, but by this time half the exhibitors in the covered area were gone. Even worse, the crowd was gone. They just didn’t want to deal with the weather. And though it wasn’t raining at the moment, the sky to the west was turning black and the wind was blowing harder. We packed up.
We had brought everything in a large suitcase – books, display material and props, some of the pirate gear, everything. It was heavy, but it was water proof.
We got it all packed up and started dragging it across the park towards the car, and that’s when the next wave hit. Even before the rain, the wind hit. I saw one of the big pavilion tents for the big-time exhibitors kind of blow up – all the sides blew straight out as the gust hit it, and people inside were suddenly scrambling to secure everything. We made it to the corner of the park, and it was raining like hell. Tori had parked the car two blocks away. I didn’t know where it was, so she told me to wait with the suitcase on the bank’s porch while she went and got it.
By the time we had everything packed up and were sitting, panting in the cab, we were soaked to the skin. Good thing we’d had the foresight to bring extra shirts, so we peeled the drenched pirate shirts off, donned our T-shirts and headed home, windshield wipers slapping.
We didn’t make back our investment – mostly the cost of the table space and the mileage to and from. But we’ll give them another try next year. We learned some lessons Having variety of product is important. Not just the one book. And make sure you bring plenty of change – more than you think you’re going to need. Rule No. 1 in selling is, when the customer wants to give you money, make it easy to do so.
But if the weather isn’t going to cooperate, there’s nothing you can do. There’s really no way to plan for six inches of rain. So we sold some, but not as much as we’d hoped. We’ll give it another try next year.
But we’ll keep our eye on the weather.
It’s National Novel Writing Month
I don’t have much to say on this. Every month is novel writing month to me. My daughter, Kate, has taken part four times and completed four. So she’s in again this year. It’s a good idea, I think. Whether you complete a story or not, it can’t help but build an appreciation for how hard this can be.
I’ll leave the final word on the subject to writing guru and author James Scott Bell in the Kill Zone Blog.