Monday 14 October 2019

The Narberth Book Fair by Lynne Benton

The last weekend of September was a memorable one.  On the Friday, Sharon Tregenza and I drove through torrential rain for 150 miles or so from Bath to Narberth in Pembrokeshire, for the Narberth Book Fair.  Our only doubt was whether we could keep going for the whole weekend, or whether our energy would run out before the end, but we needn’t have worried.  It turned out to be a really enjoyable weekend.

Sharon used to live there and was still friends with Judith Barrow, who organised the Book Fair, so she stayed with her for the weekend, while I had found a small hotel just down the road from the Queen’s Hall, where the Book Fair was taking place.  This was ideal, as I could walk to and from the Hall on both days, and given that the hotel had its own private car park, I was able to leave my car there for the whole weekend without worrying about it. 

On the Friday afternoon we were there to help setting up the hall, putting cloths on the tables etc., and setting up our table (Sharon and I were sharing a table – her half was covered with a yellow cloth and mine with a red, so it was really colourful, and the little tealights added some glitter!)

By the Saturday morning everyone was set up and the fair opened.  Altogether there were about 50 authors, writing for both adults and children, but not everyone came for both days.  However, on Saturday we were fairly buzzing with people filling the hall.

Someone asked me afterwards what was the difference between a Book Fair and a Book Festival, and I explained that at a Book Festival authors give talks to a seated audience (who have paid to attend) and then a local bookshop will sell their books and the authors can sign them for anyone who queues up.  With a Book Fair, entrance is free so anyone can come in and walk around, looking at books and/or talking to the authors, who are all seated or standing behind their tables on which their books are displayed.  And if we’re lucky, some people buy some too, which we can then offer to sign.  Children were all very keen to get their books signed to them personally!  Although most of the authors there wrote for adults, there were a few of us in the Children's Corner.

 We realised quite early on that there is a fine line between being friendly and encouraging, which makes people want to look at your books and talk to you, and being too pushy, which puts people off.  We also found that it worked best if we stood up to talk to people, rather than remaining seated all the time.  I suppose this was particularly important when talking to children, some of whom weren’t much taller than our table!  And some people just wanted to chat, so again it was better if we stood up to chat to them (and sometimes after the chat, they bought a book too!)  Anyway, it worked for us – though we were relieved when we had the occasional chance to sit down between customers!

The Book Fair had been arranged to happen at the same time as the Narberth Food Festival, which was going on outside the Hall.  It had been felt that people who came to one would also attend the other, and that seemed to be the case.  In fact on the Saturday afternoon we had another downpour, at which moment the Hall filled with people coming in out of the rain, so we did quite well then! 

I soon began to wish I’d brought more books with me!  I’d brought six of each of my five books for older children, as well as four of each of the selection of little books for younger children, since I had to carry them all there (in a wheeled suitcase!) and thought that would be enough.  However, by Saturday afternoon I’d sold out of all the Book 1’s of my Roman trilogy, "The Centurion's Son" – several people decided to buy just Book 1, to see how they liked it.  Fair enough - I realised I should have thought of that and brought twice as many Book 1s!  Now it meant that nobody was likely to buy books 2 or 3 if they hadn’t read Book 1…  Which was annoying!

However, overnight I came up with a bright idea.  If on the Sunday anyone showed any interest in the books at all, I could offer them a deal of £2 off if they would like to buy the whole trilogy, and if they would let me have their address I would send them Book 1 as soon as I got home.  And to my delight two people took me up on the offer, so I was able to sell two complete trilogies (and of course I posted two copies of Book 1 to them as soon as I got home on the Monday!)

Although the Sunday was quieter, people continued to trickle through the door and by the end of the fair at 4.00pm I’d sold almost as many books that day as I’d sold on the Saturday, making 37 all told.  (Of course, I did buy a few books too, from fellow authors, which I am now looking forward to reading!) Though one little boy, whose mother was trying to interest him in our books, was far more interested in my fairy lights on my half of the table, which kept changing colour!  Maybe I should have brought some of those to sell too!  (Unfortunately the colours didn't come out on the photo, though you can see the tealights dotted around - they show up nicely on the red cloth.)

By the end Sharon and I were both feeling exhausted but very happy and glad we’d made the effort and gone all that way.  As well as selling so many of our books, we’d had the pleasure of meeting so many fellow-writers and young readers that we felt it had all been worthwhile.

1 comment:

Penny Dolan said...

The weekend sounds really enjoyable, Lynne, and I'm glad it was such a success all round. Great solution to your "missing Book One" problem.

Has the Book Fair been going long as an annual event?

I'm asking because a group of about eight local writers tried to set up something similar one Saturday in the local library, with tables all round a central area, and a notice saying there would be talks. But the library users just weren't interested in stopping to buy or sitting to hear about the books. I felt very, very sorry for them all, though they seemed happy enough.

Maybe the separate hall and quantity of authors created a more interesting and welcoming (and book-buying) environment?

Well done you and Sharon (who also posts on ABBA)and hooray for the Book Fair organiser too.