Southern Festival of Books after-show report.
For the past several years, I’ve been selling books at the Southern Festival of Books. That is, I was running the booth for the Nashville Writer’s Meetup. While I’d sell my own books there, I was also responsible for pitching books from a dozen or more other authors. A month or so before those shows, I’d start collecting books from the other authors, price them, and then spend weeks afterwards returning the unsold books and distributing the earnings.
It was a lot of work for very little in return for me.
This year, I wanted to do something different. So with my partner in crime, Nikki Nelson-Hicks, pitching in half, I got a booth. Given my sales from the NWM’s booth in past years, I knew I’d have to hustle to make enough in sales to cover the booth fee. But, I felt up to the challenge.
I have to admit, not dealing with everyone else’s books this year felt like a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Instead of a month or more of prep time, I only needed a couple of days. Books were priced, signs were printed, and boxes packed. The weather forecast called for a wonderful weekend. I was ready for anything.
Friday was a beautiful day. My youngest daughter, Amelia, helped me set up the booth. Nikki and her husband Brian showed up and got her half of the booth arranged in no time flat. The sky was clear and the temperature fell within that perfect Fall range, not warm but not cool. Just perfect.
Saturday on the other hand was mostly cloudy and cold. Not freezing, but the temperature dropped to a level that made it uncomfortable for everyone. Did it hurt sales? Hard to say but foot traffic wasn’t where I’d expected it to be.
Sunday sucked. The forecast called for overnight rain on Saturday, continuing into Sunday but clearing out by lunchtime. That’s what all the experts sadi.
No. The rain fell all day. Heavy at times and light enough to be annoying at others. By early afternoon, the moisture in the air began to take a toll on the books, causing the covers to curl and the books to warp. So we call it a day and packed up before more damage could be done.
Thing about Nashville is that it can’t figure out what season it is. Summer, Winter, or Monsoon.
Having run the NWMG for years, I had an idea of what kind of foot traffic to expect and a rough idea of what my sales should be. Friday, we had a good turnout, capitalizing on the lunchtime crowd. I moved a fair number of books, roughly equal to what the total Friday sales were for the NWMG’s booth, but this time, all the sales were mine.
Saturday was good despite the chill in the air. While good, the number of people passing by the booth wasn’t impressive as in years gone by. We later realized why this was, but I’ll get to that.
Despite the rain, Sunday turned out to be a good sales day, with my numbers beating the ones from the sunny and warm Friday. I’ve noticed this trend before. If it is raining, wet, and miserable, I’ll sell books. No idea why.
In the past, the event planners utilized the whole of Legislative Plaza for the event, with all of the event and vendor booths set up together. Last year, they expanded some of the bigger booths, such as Parnassus and the SFoB booths. This led to pushing some vendors into booths on Anne Dallas Dudley Blvd. This year, far more booths were relegated to Dudley. While the road connects the main branch of the public library, where the panels were being held, and Legislative Plaza, it didn’t have the same number of passersby as the main plaza.
One Friday, we learned that Mckays Books, who’d been a staple at the event for years, pulled out due to being forced to set up on Dudley Blvd. They saw no reason to lose money by being pushed to the sidelines. Another large book seller reportedly had their sells drop to a third of the usual sales figures, last year after being pushed on to the side street.
When I did escape my booth and wandered around, it was clear that the bulk of the traffic was staying in the plaza and not exploring the vendors on the side street.
I’m happy with the sales figures. While I’d love to have made a profit, I am content that I broke even. Nikki did well, but I’m not sure where her final numbers fell.
All this leads me to wonder what could have been if our booth has in the plaza instead of the side street. Will I go back? Maybe. But it may depend on whether or not we can negotiate the location of a booth. That, however is something for next year.