Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2010 Issue

Rose City Used Book Fair (Portland, Oregon June 11-12): "An Unpretentious book Fair"


I'm racing now to do follow-ups, which are resulting in additional sales and potential sales. This is one of the great values of a show. But you have to make contact with those customers!

My mom used to slap me silly for "talking too much" when I was little, and persisted in making rather snide comments about my "gift of gab" throughout the rest of her life, but gift it is. I like people, especially book people, and I like their stories. And everyone has a story. You just have to pry it out of them, and if you LISTEN to them it's not hard.

I don't understand booksellers who sit glumly in their booths looking like they need an enema, or with their nose in a book, barely acknowledge their customers. Even worse are the ones who adopt a supercilious attitude of superiority. Customers rarely open up in such cases. Sometimes they just creep away, reluctant to ask a question or try to engage the bookseller, or even to look.

People often ask me how I get so many repeat and "quote to" customers and institutions and archives. The same principle works even with email orders - throw out an innocuous but interested comment and see where it goes. Keep "live" conversations with customers about THEM - people love to talk about themselves, and especially about a collecting interest. You do need to understand when people prefer to browse or "just look" without being engaged. Some are afraid of a hard sell so you just back off, tell them to look to their heart's content, and ask any questions if they have them. Sometimes they see that you're not going to bear down on them and they open up. When someone is seriously engaged with a book - shut up! Let them do their mental calculations (you can tell if they're looking at copyright dates and condition, or if they are debating between several books - give them breathing room). Just be there to answer questions or make comments when they're ready. It's really a kind of fine science and psychology. Again, you have to focus on the customer, his/her body language and responses, and not on how tired your butt is or how eager you are to make a sale.

OK - by the time I get home I can't say three words together that make sense, but even the buzz is bliss. The mind engages and gallops, even if the tongue falls off the track and the body needs a tow.

Two days after we were home I was whining, "I want to do it again." By day three the buzz was gone and I really wanted to go to bed and sleep. No chance of that though - some dealers from the show passed through on their way home and stopped in to spend money. Can't knock that, either.

Again, I have the highest compliments for the Rose City Book Fair promoters. Apparently everyone else was happy - I tried immediately to reserve a double space but was informed that they were already pretty well booked up for next year - I could have the space I had this year, but switching or adding on would happen only if there were a cancellation. I was happy on the stage, but given its odd shape it was a bit tricky to set up a table that could be browsed on both sides without worrying about people backing off.

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