Being the new kid on the block is always full of surprises. Recently my colleague and I attended the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) annual trade show. This was our first trade show, and not knowing what to expect, we had prepared weeks in advance. We designed and printed a publisher’s catalog with our cover images, synopses, and ordering information and sent it to every bookseller who was a member of PNBA. We also participated in the Sunday afternoon raffle. The purpose of the Sunday raffle was to entice booksellers to stick around for the end-of- event drawing and to visit each booth or table leaving their business cards or contact information but, most important, to place book orders.
We knew the competition would be tough, so we created a gift basket unique to our hometown of Anacortes, WA. Besides a copy of each of our titles, we included smoked salmon from SeaBears (local distributor), refrigerator magnets made from vintage Anacortes cannery labels, and a variety of artisan beer from a local brewery. To make sure our table stood out, we included as our centerpiece, a vase full of candy, and we decorated our basket with sparkling balloons.
When the exhibit hall opened on Saturday morning for display set-up, we quickly realized we’d be vying with dozens of publishers for attention from distributors and wholesalers including the buy guys: Random House, Simon and Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt who were giving away free books. When the show began, most folks walked by our table with just cursory glances. Some stopped to chat; some merely tossed their business cards in our bowl; and some just smiled, strolling on past. Needing more than glances and smiles, I stood at the entrance of the exhibit hall and passed out cards, hoping booksellers would stop to listen to a sales pitch. Most dropped our card into their sway bag but headed for the free-book table. Finally, I got their attention. I told them if they wanted to win a vase of candy, some smoked salmon, and a few artisan beers, then head to Cave Art Press’s table over by the balloons. By raffle time on Sunday, we’d made dozens of connections, taken an impressive number of book orders, and even made a few new friends.
Besides the big-name publishers with the free books, the only other table that bested us was another small press that was also giving away beer—freshly poured in little beer cups.
Next year we’re returning next year with a keg and mugs.