I met Russ Kyper at the first Dearborn Street Book Fair several years ago in Englewood, Florida, while I was attending my very first book fair as an author.
I had a great spot! I was the second display from the entrance to the book fair, next to Priscilla Hurd, author of "The 13th Goddess, A Tale of Atlantis." Priscilla had a marvelous display with professional looking backdrops and cutouts. Me? I had a plastic model of the Mace tactical missile my book was about. I also had newspapers from 1954 extolling the new missile programs at Cape Canaveral, and of course I had my book, U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers, on display as well, mounted vertically on a display pedestal on the side of the display table. I watched with envy as Priscilla sold book after book, while I on the other hand, got to hear war stories from every veteran who needed a captive audience to talk to.
Many people stopped and read my material, then moved on without saying a word. A few nodded and smiled, but only the veterans stopped to chat. And chat they did. I probably should write a book about the myriad experiences I heard from men, and several women, describing their incredibly varied military pasts. Several browsers, however, triggered warnings when they told stories often seen on television, some quite distorted from the truth, as personal experiences. Not every airman was stationed at area 51. Aah, human nature!
After realizing I hadn't sold any books, Russ suggested perhaps I needed a specialized audience, as I might find at the Buchan-Dearborn fly-in. He invited me to set up my display at the next fly-in and exuded confidence I simply needed to be in the right place. After one overweight, middle-aged woman, stopped, looked at the missile and raised her eyebrows and said, “Is that phallic, or what?,” I decided he was right and packed in the missile model.
So, early on a recent gusty, overcast Saturday morning I packed the Toyota with a folding card table, a box of books, and everything I had used before and sat off for the grass strip airport known as Buchan-Dearborn. Russ had asked over the phone if I had a display tent, or set up. When I told him I had nothing more than a table, he said “No problem, we'll set you at the end of the display area.” In theory, that works well. However, if the two closest vendors are no-shows, the stark emptiness of an open airfield only magnifies the pitiful inadequacy of your display.
Believe me, this is a test of your belief in yourself and what you want to do. Talk about being exposed! I unloaded and looked around, and decided not to wait any longer on the Coast Guard display, which was supposed to be adjacent to me, or the display that was supposed to be adjacent to them. How pitiful my little table looked! I had worn my daughter's gift shirt that said boldly across the front, “Ask me About My Book! No, Really” and I decided I wouldn't back down now.
Displaying to the general public doesn't sell my book. Amazon seems to do just fine, people who are interested find it, rather than me trying to sell it to the world. It just became available as an Ebook and I have no idea how I'd sell that at a display.
With the 20 knot winds blowing across the field, it was impossible to set any displays more than just laying books on the awkwardly tiny card table. No, I didn't sell any books though many of the visitors went out of their way to see what I offered. I did, however, meet a B-24 pilot who flew 17 combat missions in the Pacific, a Clipper ship pilot from Pan Am, and a restaurant owner who drove over from Punta Gorda rather than fly because of the windy, gusty weather. Three people actually asked me about my book, but they didn't buy it though!
The weather was a major factor this year as only four aircraft actually flew in. Other aircraft were taxied across from the other side of the airport so there were at least several airplanes for the crowd to see. No book buyers, though. None. So, when the first drops of moisture dampened the table top, I decided to pack it in. I again met some neat and interesting people, but I've found my type of book has an audience even narrower and more specialized than I thought.
However, If I ever decide to collect material from aging veterans struggling to find someone to listen to their stories, I'll just set up a book display. Works every time.