Forty softcover copies of my new novel, Edgar Wilde and the Lost Grimoire, sat stacked on the table in front of me. It was the first time I’d seen that many copies of my book together in one place. Next to them were two similar stacks — novels by authors I had yet to meet. Around me were a few other authors, showing up a day early like me to get things ready for the excitement to come.
I did a 360, trying to imagine the Frankfort Convention Center filled with hundreds of authors — and thousands of potential readers. This was to be my first foray into the world of book fairs and book signings, and it felt like stepping into the deep end of the pool. The Kentucky Book Fair was a big deal. Frankfort had been the seat of the event from the very beginning, a full three decades ago plus a few, in which time it had grown from a very small local author appreciation event into a substantial fundraising event for local education and libraries.
I placed my one prop — a small, plaster replica of a New England cemetery grave marker — at the corner of my tiny table space. I stepped out in front, trying to visualize what it would all look like compared to the many seasoned professionals around me. I decided it would have to do.
On the way out I met Kentucky Book Fair veteran Steve Flairty. We introduced ourselves and wished each other luck. He would prove to be a very welcome face throughout the event, giving me helpful hints while promoting his inspiring series of books about Kentucky Everyday Heroes at the table across from me.
I was bewildered to have been given the honor of participating at this year’s event, and as I drove home that afternoon I wondered which way the winds were about to blow.
The first day of the event was a children and young-adult half-day. Hundreds of kids would be shipped in from schools and brought in by parents. Carrying little ziploc bags of money, these avid readers soon found their arms weighed down with stacks of future literary adventures. One girl walked slowly down the aisle, picking up almost every book available along the way. Stopping in front of me to adjust her pile, I joked to her, “Don’t stop now!” Without missing a beat, she coolly responded, “I won’t,” as a copy of Edgar Wilde made it to the top of her pile.
The kids were sweet and shy, most approaching me as if I was the famous author I hope to someday become. Whispering their names to me, they waited patiently as I inscribed a wish that they enjoy my little mystery. I also discovered a bookmark black market, as a few eager boys grabbed some from my table and then spilled their entire piles right in front of me. “Can somebody get me a bag?” one boy yelled, reminding me of a field medic trying to save a wounded soldier on the battlefield.
By first day’s end I’d sold 21 copies of my novel, slightly more than half of my entire stock! If the next day — the main day — was anything like this, I was going to be out of books before the event was even over. But where the first day had a built-in audience of book-hungry children, and not very many authors to choose from, the following day was going to feature a full roster of almost 200 authors, among them media giants Rick Pitino and Sue Grafton. It was going to be a different kind of day entirely, and I had a strong feeling I was about to be left in the dust by the sheer talent and quantity of all the other impressive creators around me.
One of the most gratifying new friendships I made that day was with famed Kentucky artist and writer Robert A. Powell. He was promoting his new book, Demon at Clear Creek, and I was honored to be able to let him know how his pen-and-ink artwork had greatly influenced my own artistic development way back in the early 80’s! He also sat across from me, and proved to be another incredibly supportive author during the entire event.
I left that Friday reeling with excitement and gratitude over the positive response Edgar Wilde had received so far. But would attendees even notice my little young adult historical mystery in the midst of such diversity and talent the following day? Whatever the case, I’d been embraced by colleagues and devoured by young lovers of fiction. I slept very well that night.
I arrived Saturday morning pumped to sell. This was the big day I’d heard so much about — the main reason I’d come. I’d heard it was going to be elbow-to-elbow all day, and it did not disappoint. The Convention Center looked very different from the previous day as I strolled in, and I took a deep, anxious breath, soaking it all in. Vendors were everywhere, preparing for the busy day to come. Some meandered up and down the aisles, connecting with friends and making their own purchases before the doors opened at 9am. At my own table, authors Julia Watts and Meredith Towben had already arrived, and greeted me warmly.
The next few hours were a blur of people and books, and endless talk about my novel, while copies of Edgar Wilde began to move. By noon I was down to only five copies. Nearby, special guest author Rick Pitino was signing copies of his newest inspirational tome. I believe I saw the back of his head a few times as fans milled close. I glanced again at my few remaining copies and waited. Across the aisle Robert Powell caught my eye and we shared a hopeful thumbs-up and a smile. In the stands my wife, child and parents sat. I raised updated finger counts to them as the stock continued to dwindle.
There are few things so cool as watching that final copy of your first novel leave the table. As it happens, my final copy was acquired by another author when she realized how many were left. I scribed my final signature for her, closed the cover, and watched it go.
With three hours still left, I shifted my strategy to letting people know about my now sold-out book (I proudly informed them!), and how to purchase copies online. Luckily, I still had plenty of flyers and bookmarks on hand, and I distributed those to anyone who would take one. I could have left after that final book had sold, but I was set to push on ’til the very end, to do every single thing I possibly could in the time I had left.
A good thing, too! With maybe an hour or two left, Kay Harrod, a staff writer for the Frankfort State-Journal, stopped by to let me know she wanted to do an interview about my Kentucky Book Fair success! Kay had actually been a teacher at Western Hills High School when I attended there, but I’d never had her as a teacher. We made plans to do the interview later that week, and when the day came we ended up enjoying a two-and-a-half hour conversation over coffee and became fast friends. As I write this blog, the article is due to appear in two days! I’ll be back in Jacksonville, Florida by then, and I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime, I already know I’ll always treasure that special afternoon with Kay, getting to know a truly remarkable person.
Another of my high school teachers that I met by chance was Venita Bright, who I ran into at Capital Cellars, where my father, brother and I were celebrating how well the whole book fair event had gone. Venita and I ended up talking for quite a while about the many life paths we have explored, as well as those to come. Venita was yet another friendship I’ll hold dear and look forward to continuing.
There were others as well, too numerous to mention here but just as meaningful, and I hope they will forgive a lack of mention in this blogpost.
This year’s Kentucky Book Fair has reportedly turned out to be one of the most successful yet, with nearly $145,000 in book sales, and I am so honored to have been a part of it. But I got so much more out of it than just a great showing. This has been an unforgettable experience for me, and I’m already looking forward to next year!
**A big thanks to Kentucky Book Fair Manager Connie Crowe, who guided me through the application process and kept me current on how to make the best of this incredible event! Connie, you made it easy for a first-timer to really make it happen. Also to Leslie Thomas, who moved me in the right directions. THANK YOU!!!
All photographs by Christina Ramey (except for the one featuring Meredith Watts and Julia Towben – photo by Ella Clem)