When the invitation came in my email to participate in a community book festival in Long Beach this April, I thought, why not. My last book was published in September of 2020, over a year and a half ago. Okay, call it two years. My book came out during the pandemic so any events I did to celebrate or promote my book were done online.
This festival would be a chance to wave my book in front of people in the hopes of getting it into their hands. Except I’m not the book-waving kind of person. I’m a terrible salesperson, having been fired once from a telemarketing job on my first day because I apologized to the woman who was busy wrangling her toddler when my phone call to sell her a newspaper subscription barged in on her harried life.
I should know better than to sign up to stand at a table with my books and related paraphernalia with my non-assertive self smiling awkwardly as people pass by with averted eyes. But it turns out that at this festival, which lost some traction due to cancellation the past few years, there were not a lot of people at whom to smile awkwardly or otherwise. Foot traffic was sparse, consisting mostly of the young dancers scheduled to perform. I did sell a half dozen books before noon, after which the sparse foot traffic petered to scarce.
While the dancers were performing, a woman stopped at my table to chat for half an hour. Or maybe it was just ten minutes. Whatever. It was nice since the foot traffic had ceased altogether, the dancers having drawn all available bodies to the stage. I thought the woman might be a potential buyer of my book. Indeed she did sweep her eyes over my display and asked what my books were about. I had answered this question several times that day and the words tumbled smoothly from my practiced lips. I watched as she picked up a book and read the jacket copy. “Looks interesting,” she murmured.
I nodded. I smiled. I fired off a telepathic message of buy it, buy it, buy it.
She placed it back on the table. “I just love to read,” she said.
Did I point at my book and suggest that she might just love it? No, I did not because I suck at selling my books.
“You know who I love? Viet Nguyen!”
“He’s great,” I said. “Smart and funny and super nice.”
“You know him!”
“Well, I met him in 2008 at a writing conference.”
She swooned with envy. I wondered if my having met Viet would move her to buy my book. But her mind was fixed on Viet. She confessed she had sort of stalked him.
“Oh,” I said.
“It’s fine,” she said. “My husband understands.”
“Oh,” I said again, my vocabulary having deserted me, which mattered not at all since the woman continued to talk, so I continued to listen.
“I mostly read writers of color,” she said.
Did I wave my brown hand in front of her? No, I did not because I suck at selling my books.
Later she expressed her love for memoir.
Did I mention to her that though my books are fiction, I borrow heavily from things I’ve experienced, especially my recent book which was right in front of her? No, I did not because I suck at selling my books.
She talked on and I nodded on. I did appreciate her love of reading, her enthusiasm for talking about it, her very presence at this book festival of high hopes and puny attendance. When she decided to drift on to another table, I put a set of illustrated postcards and a notepad related to my book Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories in her hand. Each of the postcards has a quote from the book.
Maybe they’ll inspire her to read my book someday. Or maybe if she writes a postcard to a friend, that friend will be inspired to read my book. It’s a strategy akin to a whisper out of the side of the mouth. Psst, hey, buy my book. This is my hope. Because I suck at selling my books.
This woman had been the peak of the so-called crowd. After she left, I felt a little deflated. But wait!
What saved me were the other reasons I had said yes to participating in this festival 1,100 miles from my Seattle home. It was outdoors in Southern California, with a high chance of sunshine and warmth, and it was less than an hour away from my brother and brother-in-law in Orange County and a couple of hours from my sisters in San Diego. They all drove up to Long Beach and appeared not long after the woman left and they hung out at my table and bought copies of my books to give to friends. I suck at selling my books, but I’m good at having supportive siblings.