Friday, June 5, 2009

Selling Isn't Everything by Chester Campbell

I’m a sucker for any invitation to “come up here and sell your books.” That’s how I happened to wind up in the small town of Irvine, KY on the fourth Friday in May. If you happened to be tuned in then, May 22, to be exact, I blogged about heading that day for the Estill County Reading Celebration in the aforesaid Kentucky hamlet.

It proved an interesting evening. The celebration took place in the Estill Springs Elementary School. The classrooms were each decorated in the theme of a children’s book. A local bank had donated a large chunk of change to provide each child who attended with a free book and a free meal (hot dog, drink, cotton candy, and such). They streamed in and out of the place starting around 5:00 p.m.

A big tent set up in back featured storytellers and poets and other live performances. Brown T-shirts paraded around everywhere, sporting the legend “Oh the places you’ll go with reading.” The donor’s logo printed on the back said Carhartt Work Clothing, a large manufacturer whose administrative headquarters calls Irvine home. They had T-shirts for my wife and I as well.

It was a great event for the kids and their parents. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out so well for the invited authors. We were provided tables in the gym with nice book cover signs, but the adults who wandered about “Author’s Row” didn’t appear to be in a buying mood. I met some nice folks, handed out several promo folders and bookmarks, but sold few books. The others appeared to fare about the same.

They set up a feast for the authors in the cafeteria, which was probably the best part of the Celebration for us. Everyone was friendly and accommodating. They just weren’t buying.

The highlight of the trip for my wife and I was our stay with Tom and Francine Bonny later that evening. They were delightful hosts. Tom is the retired superintendent of the Estill County Schools and Francine is a member of the Arts Council. They live in a rural area a mile and a half off the main drag. Their large two-story white house with blue shutters was built by Tom’s grandfather well over 100 years ago. But it sparkled like new and was filled with comfortable furniture that had been passed down through the generations.

They owned several acres of land where they grew much of their own food, including corn they had ground into meal. The barn out back had unusual decorations on the side facing the road. This, we learned, came from one of Francine’s pet projects. She had organized a group of women who painted enlarged quilt squares on sheets of plywood, which were mounted on barns in the area. We saw several others on our way out the next morning. Some were quite intricate designs.

Before we left, Tom bought all five of my books. He said he planned to give them as gifts. I suspect he felt a bit embarrassed that our sales effort the night before had proved so fruitless. We wound up with enough to pay for our gas, and our food and lodging were free. The net result was an enjoyable trip to meet some new friends. I’ll probably go again the next time we get an invitation like this.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Events like this happen, and right now, more than ever.
We have to look for other benefits, such as making a new contact that will lead to something even bigger.

L. Diane Wolfe

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It's hard for me to see why some events lead to lots of sales and others don't. I'm sure there must be a logical pattern there, but I haven't figured it out.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Chester Campbell said...

You're right, Diane. You never know when some unexpected benefit will turn up.

It's one of those unfathomable enigmas, Elizabeth. If I knew the answer, I'd be selling books like mad.

Morgan Mandel said...

There's always the tax write-offs for the gas and other items you spent. Also, if you took pictures you can use those. Also, you have something else to add to your list of accomplishments.

And, there are future benefits from word of mouth. Not to mention, you had a good time and as they say in the commercials, that's priceless.

Morgan Mandel

Dana Fredsti said...

I always figure no matter what the sales are at a signing event, I can always take away something positive from the experience. And it sounds like you did just that!