This past weekend, I tried something new. I bought a canopy tent, packed up my books, some tables and a few Rubbermaid tubs and I took my show on the road. For the first time in my career as an authorpreneur, I took marketing and sales into my own hands and became a vendor at a local small business expo.
It’s a lot harder than it looks.
I love being an author. The jury’s still out on the preneur part. I’m not sure that I have courage or the audacity for it. People who promote themselves must be bold, intrepid, stalwart, resilient, gutsy.
I am none of these things. But I figured that if being nice were a business skill, I’d at least stand a chance. So I gave it a try.
Even though it is mid-May, last weekend was rainy and cold. And even though we set our small tents up inside a giant tent and were able to stay dry, the three layers of clothing that I wore still weren’t enough to keep me warm. And even though I try very hard not to take things personally, I felt oddly rejected when people walked by my booth without stopping. And even though money is not the reason I write, I learned that every purchase was a kind of validation of my work that meant a lot to me. I also wanted very much to break even on the day.
I learned something about the cost of doing business—both financially and emotionally.
There were over three hundred vendors at this event, selling everything from food to jewelry to arts and crafts. There were crochet booths, woodcraft booths, jewelry booths, chocolate booths, hot sauce booths, dog food booths, cheese booths, hanging plant booths, baby clothes booths, home improvement booths, soap booths, whiskey-tasting booths and just-about-any-other-kind-of-clever,-crafty-thing-you-can-think-of booths. I was amazed at the skills and artistry of the people around me.
But besides being cooks and crafters and artists and artisans, everyone there had to be something else.
They all had to be entrepreneurs.
They had to know how to conduct business—both in following the rules of the game and in accepting the challenges of the marketplace. They had to schlep in their products and display them attractively. They had to price them in a range that the market would bear. They had to stand for hours in the cold (or the heat or the rain or the plague of locusts), and many had to drive long distances to get here. Many do this every weekend and have the muscles to prove it. They had to evaluate constantly. If business was brisk, why this was so? If it was not, what could be done? They had to weigh the cost of doing business at this venue against its return. They had to accept that sometimes they do well and sometimes they don’t and sometimes there’s no way to know how it’s going to go or why and sometimes there’s just not a damned thing they can do about it.
After all, this is business.
I never really thought much about what a vendor has to do to get that booth up and running. Having done it now exactly once, I have gained a new respect for people who stick with it and make it work—like the lady in the booth across from us who milks the goats in the mornings, makes her fabulous goat-cheese concoctions in the afternoons and then sets up an attractive booth on the weekends to sell her creations. People flocked around her booth to try her free samples. Once I discovered how hard she worked, I hoped that they were reaching into their wallets to buy, not just eating up what she offered them for free, and that they were being extra nice to her while they were doing it.
We have several spring and summer events lined up—farmers’ markets, library talks, vendor days—and we’ll see how it goes. Other writers I know who have tried this route have told me that they have not done particularly well, but I guess that depends on how you define success.
Here are some things that would make me feel successful in my outings as a book vendor. If I could finally find that perfect pitch. If I could figure out just when to engage with a customer and when to back off. If I could thicken my skin. If I could master the set-up and the take-down. If I could become a more confident self-promoter. If I could get my website address out to more people to increase views on my blog and subscriptions to my newsletter (coming soon, btw). If I could meet and learn from people with similar goals. And, oh yeah, if I could break even on the effort.
I’ve been authoring for some time now. Am I preneuring yet?