I have been selling books for long enough now that you would think I’d have a clue about how to hold a book stall. I should know the right questions to ask of the organisers, the right kind of events to attend and what price is reasonable to pay. I should have all the gear with me and set up and take down should be a well oiled machine.
How is it then that I still end up paying £25 to stand in a church hall for six hours while a total of twelve customers circle the event without buying anything? Why do I still have a suspect wonky gazebo and why do I only ever remember to take my trolley when there are three flights of stairs to contend with? And why on earth did I go all the way to Doncaster to try and sell children’s books at a pub quiz?
The answers are, I had very few events booked, the wind wrecked it, I’m absent minded and it was free and someone asked me to. I often think I should go with my instincts more, but that might make for a much more boring and uneventful life.
My initiation into stalls started in November 2009 when I did my first community market. I brought a gazebo with me that I’d borrowed from a friend and due to it’s incredibly unhelpful legs it took four of us about an hour to put it together. We tried to weigh it down with bricks and a case full of exercise weights we had in the shed (stop laughing, you all have at least one unused piece of exercise equipment somewhere in your house). The gazebo had no sides and it rained. A lot. I had (I thought cleverly) decided to bring with me a polythene dust sheet to cover my books. It covered my books for the first hour making it impossible for customers to touch the books or even to make out the titles. Like Argos but with rain and no catalogues (they hasn’t been delivered yet). After the rain stopped things improved and it was only the legs coming apart every time the wind blew and the exercise weights swinging ominously around the customers that were a cause for concern. A bit of excitement all adds to the adventure.
There have been a number of events where I chose a table inside when I should have been outside and vice versa. My favourite of the first kind saw me drinking flat tonic water with a lovely old man who told me all about his psychic wife. I didn’t sell many books though but you can’t have everything.
If you can avoid torrential rain that’s always a bonus. But I have to say that just like Percy the Park Keeper I hate wind more (sorry flash back to tonight’s bedtime story).I am reminded of another event after I had bought a pop up gazebo and four proper weights, but before I had realised that sand is way more effective than water for weighing it down. Sufficed to say I got a little bruised as I leapt up to try and catch said gazebo as it flew sideways and headed straight towards a lady selling jewellery. As it happened I needn’t have worried as her gazebo and stall blew away at the same time so it would have missed.
But even if you have great footfall, a sturdy gazebo, and perfect weather there is always more to worry about.There’s the eternal “how to look” question. If I sit down do I look rude and disinterested? If I stand up do I look like I’m ready to pounce and sell, sell, sell? Through experience I’ve decided the worst thing you can do is sit down then leap up when anyone shows an interest in your stall. It can frighten people especially if they hadn’t seen you sitting there. I mostly opt a kind of leaning posture, or I pretend to be organising something in a box.
Seasoned stall holders have told me that you shouldn’t leave early or eat at your stall as it looks unprofessional. So essentially stand up all the time with a rumbling stomach and continue to do so even if all the customers have gone home.
Despite all the occasional disastrous events and uncertainty about how best to do it, it’s still the stall holding that I love best. Just give me lots of people to talk to, customers and stallholders alike, and I’m ok. Let’s hope my events this weekend provide that and a few sales as well. And at the very least some flat tonic.