Hot Times at the Hebron Harvest Fair: The Thrill of Discovery by Kristi Petersen Schoonover
As a writer who gets herself “out there” a lot, I’m asked all the time by other writers: why? Why should I spend the money? Why should I go to an event? If I don’t sell any books, I won’t have made back my investment.
This is how I always answer: I enjoy investing in my writing career, and most of that money goes to publicity — which often includes attending events, like being part of the New England Horror Writers booth at the Hebron Harvest Fair this past weekend. Do I expect to make a huge number of sales? Not really. I do it to get my name out there and to meet people directly — something that pays off in the long run in more ways than just monetary. I spent five years writing for a public relations firm, so I know a little bit about the value of second endorsement — that’s why social media has exploded the way it has. People are much more likely to buy something if their friends tell them to than if they see it in an ad.
Likewise, people are much more likely to purchase one of your books if they’ve met you and talked to you. Maybe not that minute, maybe not that night or the next day, but at one point, they will. I have an Amazon Wish List a mile long, mostly loaded with titles of books by writers I know or met at an event. And believe me, I will purchase those books when I’ve got some cash and the time to read them. Even if it’s a year from now.
But there’s another reason to attend these events, another reason that I’d actually forgotten about until this weekend: thrill.
That thrill of a reader discovering a new book he would like to read, of meeting the writer behind that book he was holding in their hands, of having that book signed and personalized — of just talking to writers about reading and writing.
I had put together a bunch of ghost stories, folded them in half, and inserted our NEHW flyer inside. I’d approach people and ask, “Would you like a ghost story for Halloween?” I expected most people to either say “no” or just unenthusiastically take it. But I got tons of surprises! A blonde in pink shorts smiled, opened the story right away, started reading, and crashed into someone. A woman in a brown sweatshirt went on and on about how much she loved ghost stories. One man in a DUCK, NORTH CAROLINA sweatshirt was so excited he offered to pay me for it. Two teenaged girls came back later and were begging me for more. For an hour on Saturday, the crowds had thinned and not many booths were busy, so I visited the vendors, figuring they could read for a few minutes while nothing was going on. The guys at one booth (I won’t say, because I don’t want to get them in trouble if their bosses end up reading this) were more than enthusiastic. “Oh, yeah!” the guy said. “I totally love scary stuff!”
One woman came into the booth, all smiles, after I had handed her one of the ghost stories. She made a beeline for the table. “Oh my God! Is this the Disney book? [referring to Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole]. I saw this in the paper and I can’t believe I found it!” She just grinned and grinned (and I have to admit I had never seen anyone react that way to my book, so I felt a little strange) and when Ken teased her about “Hey, great, now she isn’t going to get one of mine,” she said, “You write, too?” (She was referring to Shock Totem). “Well,” Ken said, “I’m the editor.” She wasn’t fazed. “I’ll get one, which issue do you think I would like?” (I can’t remember if she wanted him to sign it or not, but I seem to recall she did. Ken can correct me). When I went to go get a cup of coffee, I passed one man sitting on a rock, reading. He had a copy of Kurt Newton’s Life Amongthe Dream Merchants and Other Phantasies. I had seen him at the booth with the book in his hands, and then when he realized Kurt was actually standing there, it was like he had won the lottery. Similar scenes played out with nearly all the writers who were there with their work.
Kids were thrilled to talk about It’s Okay to Be a Zombie with Danny Evarts. Others were excited to talk with writers about other books. Countless discussions were going all weekend on everything from Stephen King to what new books are coming out to how to break into the business. And most people who purchased hung around for awhile to talk. It was a pretty lively booth most of the time.
No one can put a price tag on these experiences. I’m pretty sure I still get that thrilled look on my face when I buy a book I simply can’t wait to read (um, in fact I did it there when I found out there was a Lizzie Borden story in an issue of Shroud, so of course I bought it). I still get that thrilled look on my face when I meet an author of books I love (you should have seen me meet Peter Benchley. I think I just had my mouth open the whole time). I am always excited by the settings. And the readers at our booth, they got excited too. As I stood there, I was excited for them.
So if you’re on the fence about going to an event and you can at all afford it (we all have to eat, too), stop thinking about it in terms of the investment/profit ratio. Start thinking about it in terms of the second endorsement, the magical memory and the reader’s thrill of a new discovery and meeting the writer whose book he’s got in his hands. The readers we were, and probably still are.
I know that’s how I was inspired to become a writer in the first place.
Here is a link to more photos taken by Schoonover, www.facebook.com/#!/media/set/?set=a.2147791928413.118778.1054758035