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I mailed a ten dollar check, the fee for a half table. I ordered thirty paperback copies of my children’s chapter book from the printer. I used Adobe InDesign to do up a page of the book’s best reviews in big, colorful type (check out the design by clicking the link below and visiting the ‘Reviews’ section of the book's webpage). I bought a clear acrylic, table-top document holder to display the review promo page. That was my preparation for the bi-annual Ottawa Small Press Book Fair, held on June 15, 2013, at a community center on Elgin Street in one of Ottawa’s most vibrant downtown neighborhoods.
I arrived around 11:55 to set up for a 12:00 start time. I had a simple set-up, so five minutes was plenty. The children’s author sharing the table with me was kind enough to offer the other half of her table cloth to give my set-up a more professional look.
And then I waited. And waited. And ate an apple. And waited. Sales for the day: three, made within the first one to two hours of a five hour event. One was to a kind fellow author. There wasn’t a lot of foot traffic, in part because the event is so grassroots there is no budget for promotion.
Of those who showed up, a majority were a literary audience interested mainly in the poetry and other literary publications at the fair. This is understandable given the literary focus of the event. Arc, the nationally-acclaimed, Ottawa-based poetry magazine had the table next to mine, and a variety of poets and small literary presses had the bulk of the tables. There were children’s authors present, but not really a customer base for their books.
No, I didn’t make back my ten dollar fee with those three sales.
Sound grim? Actually the opposite. I plan to reserve a table at the fair in the fall. The event was more than worthwhile as an opportunity not for selling but for networking with like-minded people in the community. I met other Ottawa-based children’s authors with a desire to band together and promote our books in our city. I’m not sure where this will go, but I can’t think of another way that I could have found these co-conspirators. I also had valuable exchanges with accomplished writers of other genres. Writing is so solitary, it’s a rare and welcome event that brings us together for an afternoon. Sure, I could just go to the fair for free, but ten dollars for a half table is so nominal a fee, I would rather pay it and be part of the event.
Three sales may not be much, but the conversations that went along with those in-person sales were a pleasure that is just not possible with online sales. Based on online search, I found similar small-press events in Toronto, Montreal, Saskatoon, and Quebec City. I wonder how many cities in Canada and the US (and everywhere else around the world) have this type of event. If so, I’d be interested to hear in the comments section if anyone has tried them and what their experience was like.