Sunday, October 20, 2019

432. Rainbow Book Fair:


The Eye That Never Sleeps, my most recent historical novel, has received two more good reviews.  A Bestsellersworld reviewer concluded:

Altogether, I really enjoyed The Eye That Never Sleeps. I relished in being immersed in a story that captured the reality of that era in early New York history, especially being a New Yorker myself. I do highly recommend this book. It was a worthy read that was simultaneously informative, compelling and entertaining.

You can see the full review here.  An IndieReader reviewer said:

        The book is obviously well researched and lovingly written, and anyone withan interest in the city and the era will be rewarded by the pleasant prose and delightful details, right down to the sideburns on the main character’s face.

For that complete review, go here.  

For this novel and my other books, see my post BROWDERBOOKS.


         Yes, the Rainbow Book Fair of 2019 was an adventure, unique.  Rather than taking Lyft, as we usually do for fairs, we walked to the Gay Center on West 13th Street, and all went well.  At the Center we found that we were indeed at table #28 in room 101, quite near the entrance, and right across the aisle from the coffee urns and free bagels and doughnuts. 

                  Our table, like all the others, was covered with a fake blue cloth, “fake” in that it wasn’t real cloth, only a flimsy plastic imitation.  We set the table up with my two books, The Pleasuring of Men and Fascinating New Yorkers, at one end, and my partner Bob’s two works of fiction, The Coney Island Memoir of Sebastian Strong and The Professor and Other Tales of Coney Island, at the other.  I was sure that my novel Pleasuring, with a sexy cover showing a good-looking young man naked from the chest up, would sell, so I had 12 copies on hand, many on our big bookrack.  

The Pleasuring of Men Kindle Edition
At a gay book fair, how could this miss?
My nonfiction title Fascinating New Yorkers (FNY), of which I had only four copies, was also there, for I figured it a close second in sales.  I wasn’t sure if Bob’s two books, being slow-paced literary works with great attention to mood and style, would sell at all, so I had only four copies of each on the table.  Conspicuous by its absence was my first self-published work, No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World.  It is not gay-themed, and even more to the point, with its bright rainbow colors on the cover, it catches people’s attention at once.  I was determined that this time it would not upstage and outsell my other books, as it is wont to do.  So not one copy went on the table, nor did I have one in reserve.   

No Place for Normal: New York Paperback

        Besides the big sign  NEW  YORK  STORIES  hanging in front of our table, we had some smaller fun signs on the table top, to be displayed one at a time: 





Me and my paraphernalia.

        All four walls of room 101 were lined with exhibitors’ tables, and in the center of the spacious room there was a big circle of additional tables, ours included, facing the other tables to create a circular aisle.  If visitors entering the room chose to go clockwise, they would go straight ahead and come to our table first.  If they chose to go counterclockwise, they would turn to the right and come first to the table of Poets Wear Prada, where a group of older women, one of them in a wheelchair, were displaying  a disconcerting array of poetry chapbooks.  The women sat with their backs to us, but to access their chairs they had to enter by a narrow aisle next to one end of our table.  I predicted that, doing this, someone from their table would step on our trailing table cloth and bring our big book-laden bookrack crashing to the floor.  A worst-case scenario, to be sure, so we chose to be optimists.

         At the magic opening hour of 12 noon, by which time we had both gobbled a quick lunch, there was no incoming rush of attendees, for it was lunchtime on Saturday for everyone, and only an hour later did visitors begin dribbling in.  Next to us was the table of Harrington Park Press, loaded with books, but with no one there to sell them, which puzzled us mightily.  Across the aisle from us, next to the free food, was a stand with a sign overhead:


This we finally interpreted as


with the first letter of each line in a color that was barely visible.  And elsewhere in the room were dozens of other small gay presses that appear out of the publishing woodwork only on occasions like this.

         Slowly the aisles filled up with attendees, who as a group seemed unique to this and similar rare occasions:

·      A tall, phenomenally thin boy with a Mohawk.
·      Young men with flashy print jackets, very expensive, that Silas told me were very “in” this year with the moneyed young male gay set.
·      A hefty older woman with flaring long, platinum-blond hair and a glittering necklace.
·      A blond young youth with cherubic features, wearing a long capelike outfit that was oddly elegant.
·      A merry foursome of young women who were outrageously obese and stood bunched together in the aisle, blocking it, babbling with whoops and squeals of laughter, and showing no interest at all in the books.

         This last quartet, as well as many other attendees, seemed to be there simply for the fun of it, with no intention of buying.  Since attendees were clipped at the entrance for a suggested five-dollar donation (“more if you can, less if you can’t”), we could only hope that these non-buyers were helping to support the Center.  Other non-buyers included, at one point, mothers with infants in strollers and scampering toddlers, and one puppy on a leash.

         Also present, midway through the fair, was a blond boy of about fourteen, with an endearing look of innocence, accompanied by an older woman who I assume was his mother.  He had probably come out to her early, as kids do nowadays, and expressed a wish to attend the fair.  Wisely, Mom decided to go with him.  Whether she knew it or not, she was protecting him from the chicken hawks, men who are attracted to innocent-looking young boys ("chicken").  All this is speculation, even fantasy, on my part, but I think there's a bit of truth in it.  I hope he found something of interest to read, or was otherwise entertained.

         Of course there were buyers, but as always, we waited and waited for the first one to appear.  Our buyers were always congenial and friendly, often with a lively story of their own to tell.  They tended to be older men, but two women appeared separately and asked me to sign their book, one for “Kathy with a K,” and one for “Nora.”  We were also photographed twice, and once or twice more without our permission.

          We soon learned to spot the non-buyers, and for them we didn’t trouble to stand up from our chairs:

·      Young men, of whom there weren’t many.
·      People who looked right at our funny signs but didn’t show a hint of a smile.
·      Older men with a beverage in hand.
·      People who started looking at a book, then turned to engage in a long conversation with a friend.
·      Unsmiling people who looked sourly at our books, lips pursed.

Silas was vastly amused once when I started to stand, then sat down again, having decided – correctly – that the buyer wouldn’t buy.  It was a long six-hour session, and we were saving our energy.

         There were, of course, visitors who looked and looked at the books, complimented us on the covers (especially Pleasuring), helped themselves to free postcards and bookmarks, said how interesting the titles were, and then, with Silas and me both on our feet and hoping, put the books down and walked away.  As veterans of book fairs, we weren’t surprised at this, shrugged it off.  But one man, having lingered unconscionably long at our table, left with these parting words: “Thank you for writing all those books.”  I was tempted to reply, “And thank you, jerk, for not buying any of them,” but wisely, I forbore.  Though only half the books were mine, he meant well, and it was all a part of the game.

         At quiet intervals I went about the room eyeing the books and other items for sale, and collecting mementos.  Among the loot I gathered:

·      A 3-by-4-inch card for a thriller entitled Summerville by H.L. Sudler,  showing a muscular male in a bikini and promising SECRETS!  SCANDAL!  MURDER! -- enticements that I resisted.
·      A smaller card from Poets Wear Prada announcing The Little Entomologist by Roxanne Hoffman, with a charming illustration of a plant.
·      Another card wishing “Happy Reading from Archer Publishing.”
·      A glossy sheet for Harrington Park Press, whose unattended publications turned out to be free, announcing forthcoming titles like A Mental Health and Counseling Handbook, Queer Studies Beyond Binaries, and LGBTQ Runaway & Homeless Youth.

                 Also, a bookmark for Flight Attendant Joe by author Joe Thomas, asking, “ever wonder what happens behind the scenes at 38,000 feet?” and boasting that “This book has enough ego to fill an entire Airbus A380,” and warning, “Fasten your seat belts and eat your fxcking nuts.”  Self-promotion to the limits, all of it, and beyond.  But why not?  That’s what book fairs are all about.

         Halfway through the fair, it happened.  Going past one end of our table to get behind the Poets Wear Prada exhibit, someone stepped on our trailing green curtain, and down came the bookrack and books with a crash.  Were we angry, shocked, perturbed?  No way.  “It’s okay!” we exclaimed. “Books and bookracks don’t break.”  So we scooped up the books, repositioned the rack, and resumed sitting or standing, hoping or not hoping, eyeing our watches, and counting the number of books already sold.

         Unlike at the Brooklyn Book Festival, we lost no sales because we couldn’t take credit cards.  On two occasions when a buyer asked about this, Silas assured them that, through the wonders of the Internet, he could take payments with either Venmo or Cash App.  Since both buyers had one or the other of these mysterious entities, payment was promptly made.

         At BookCon 2018 it was our big sign  NEW  YORK  STORIES  that drew people to our table.  But now at Rainbow, where the aisles were narrower, attendees passed close to our table and were attracted by the sexy cover of Pleasuring.  So did Pleasuring fly off the rack?  Not at all.  Their eye went next to Fascinating New Yorkers, and then to Bob’s two books, and those were the ones that sold.  Pleasuring usually interested older gay men, but the other three could appeal to everyone and therefore found a wider audience.  To my surprise, Bob’s books, having “Coney Island” in the title, got a lot of attention, for buyers and non-buyers alike  seemed to have a Coney Island story.  One man told how, sunbathing on the beach, he had got a blistering sunburn on his shoulders and arms.  A young woman told us how she had grown up near Coney and knew it from her childhood on.  And another man told how, at fifteen, he discovered Coney Island and sex.  At first he wondered why so many men on the Boardwalk were staring at the beach, but then he realized that they were eyeing the young lifeguards.  Soon, without his parents noticing, he was sneaking off to Coney to indulge in quick, hot sex.  (Interesting story, told with gusto, but no sale.)

         We heard non-Coney stories as well.  One man declared that, because New York had no norms that you had to conform to, people came here to become themselves – a statement that I heartily agreed with.  Another man glanced at Fascinating New Yorkers and saw that the subjects of the first two chapters were Francis Spellman, cardinal archbishop of New York, and Roy Cohn.  Flashing a knowing smile, he referred to His Eminence as “Franny” (as he was known in certain circles), and mentioned a new study of AIDS-denier Cohn.  Obviously, he was well up in such matters.  (But no sale.)  And another male visitor said he liked the font of Fascinating New Yorkers, explaining that he never bought a book unless the font appealed to him.  "But," he added, "I want illustrations, too."  But my books are not for the coffee table; what counts is words in print.  Alas, another no sale.

Fascinating New Yorkers: Power Freaks, Mobsters, Liberated Women, Creators, Queers and Crazies Kindle Edition
Sold three, only one left, and it is spoken for.
Not meant for coffee tables.

         Still another male visitor told how he shunned television and preferred to read.  Knowing this, his TV-watching friends called him an elitist who looked down on them with scorn, an impression heightened by his being vegetarian.  When I told him that I had never owned a TV and that I ate mostly vegan, he grinned and presented his outstretched palm to me, so I could smack it with one of my palms in a joyous celebration of quirky nonconformity.  (But, alas, no sale.)

         The last visitor of the day was an older Irish American who told us, in a lilting brogue, of growing up gay in the Catholic Ireland of another time, a challenge that he seemed to have survived unscathed.  Topped by a jaunty thin-brimmed hat, his appearance came off every bit as Irish as his brogue.

         Two encounters were flat-out weird.  Soon after the fair opened, an elderly man appeared with a walker.  Seeing him, I applauded his coming, given his obvious physical handicap.  He came straight to our table and in a soft voice began telling us of a Project that he had undertaken with others.  Just what this Project was he didn’t explain, but it was huge in scope and would involve only New Yorkers.  Seeing my focus as an author on New York stories, he wondered if he hadn’t right off found the helper he was looking for.  “Oh, be sure to look around,” I said, gesturing toward the other tables, “I’m sure you’ll find something,” though just what that might be totally escaped me.  His whispery voice talked on and on without clarifying his obsessive Project, but he seemed determined to involve me in it.  “I need more information,” I said, offering my business card.  Spotting my e-mail address on the card, he waved it away, declaring, “We don’t do e-mails, we absolutely don’t!”  By now, Silas and I were eager to get rid of him, since he wasn’t about to buy any books, and was blocking the view of our table for others who might be of a mind to.  “You can mail me information,” I suggested, and now he deigned to take my card.  “One of my colleagues will contact you,” he said, and having given me his name, Bruce, he finally wandered off.  Silas and I exchanged a baffled look, still in the dark about his Project.  To date, no one has contacted me, and I rather hope that they won’t.

         Later in the day an older man, clean shaven and thin and not bad looking, came to us, his scant locks plastered smooth against his noggin, and talked and talked and talked.  He made sense in a way, but seemed all wound up, talked endlessly, scarcely catching his breath.  When Silas told him that we were just friends, nothing more, he asked Silas for a date.  Silas graciously declined, explaining that he was otherwise involved, but still the man talked on.  Him too, another non-buyer, we wanted rid of.  The noise level in the room had now risen to the point where I could make out little of what he was saying, so I nodded at what seemed appropriate moments, and smiled whenever he did.  Finally, still babbling, he walked off.  “Cocaine,” said Silas, “cocaine or methamphetamine.  They’re common in the gay community.”  News to me, but Silas was surely right.

         By five o’clock, with only an hour to go, I had entered what I termed the “yawn phase” and was running down.  We had sold only six books, no better than at the Brooklyn Book Festival, which threatened to depress me mightily.  With the attendees thinning out, there seemed little chance of any more sales.  I had told Silas earlier, “If we sell eight books, I’ll be satisfied.”  That would outdo Brooklyn, and be double what I had sold when I first exhibited at the fair in 2012, displaying only the bright rainbow colors of No Place for Normal: New York.  But out of nowhere came a buyer, and then another buyer, so we achieved the magic number of eight.  I was vastly, joyously relieved.  Such is the absurdity of small-press publishing and the antics of the human psyche, when the sale of a mere two books can assume such grandiose importance.

         By a quarter of six our neighbors were packing their books away and stripping their tables bare, so we began packing up, too.  What to do with our fake blue table cloth became clear, when the blond cherub whom I had noticed earlier popped up again, scooped the table cloth up, and tossed it in a nearby trash can; he was evidently allied with management.  Soon Silas and I were out on the street, where the autumn air was delightfully mild, and walking back to my place.  Arriving at 286 West 11th, Silas promptly toted the big bookrack, the rolled-up sign, and his book-crammed suitcase – in other words, everything but me and my shoulder bag -- up the four steep flights of stairs, leaving me to trudge up in his wake.  Directed by me, he dumped all the stuff in the living room, and there I dumped my shoulder bag, too.  “Hey, we did it again,” I exclaimed, then a quick hug and he was gone.  After a light supper, I wearily collapsed in bed.

         Inventory: we had sold eight books in all, four of mine and four of Bob’s: 1 Pleasuring (a measly 1!), 3 Fascinating New Yorkers, 3 Professors, and 1 Sebastian Strong.  Out of 24 taken to the fair, only eight, which at first glance seemed paltry indeed.  But then I did a sober calculation.  For eight books at $20 each, I had pocketed $160.  My table had cost $117, but the books had cost me something, too.  Not Bob’s books, which I had inherited, but my own.  From $160 I subtracted the cost of the table ($117) and the cost of my books ($69.27), which gave me an outlay of $26.27.  O blessed Rainbow, I had almost – almost -- broken even!  Just this once, in my history of book fairs, the cost is bearable, reassuring, a delight.  So will I do it again?  You bet!

         By the standards of the big presses, with their book sales in the hundreds and thousands of copies, to be talking about 6 books or 8 or even 24 is, to put it mildly, ludicrous.  But such is the world of small presses and indie authors, where two or three books sold, or not sold, can determine a day’s success or failure.  Ludicrous, but quaintly small-time and charming, and anyway, that’s how it is.

         What, then, is my outlook for book events in the future?

·      Brooklyn Book Festival 2020:  No way!  A mere 6 sales, outdoors, and with the weather unpredictable.  Brooklyn, ta ta.
·      Rainbow Book Fair 2020:  Absolutely, if Silas is available.  By myself, a challenge, though maybe feasible.
·      BookCon 2020:  A toss-up, with the negatives and positives equally matched.  Expensive, and overrun with hysterical young females who don’t buy my books.  (So hysterical that, at BookCon 2019, some panelists were so unnerved that they called in security to calm the crowd and guarantee the panelists’ safety.)  But three times in four at BookCon, my daily sales averaged 13 or 14: acceptable.  Easy to get to, interesting older buyers, indoors.  But I would need Silas, and with a demanding new job, he has trouble predicting his schedule.

·      A book release party, spring 2020:  Most likely.  I’ll have at least one new book by then, self-published and in need of promotion.  (That  word again: promotion.)  The first party was fun, so why not a second?  And so easy: the books will be all here snug in my apartment, and instead of me going to people, people will come to me.  All this, for a cost of some wine and some little plastic cups.  Whether they read or not, my guests are great guzzlers, though never drunk.  So let them come and chat and guzzle.  If, that is, I do it.
         Book fairs, whether costly or not, come only once a year.  An author needs to be selling all the time, and the big sales are on the Internet.  So how does an unknown get himself known?  Through SEO: Search Engine Optimization.  The words themselves shake me to the bone.  And think of all those little unknowns scrambling to unlock the secret and get themselves more known: intense, competitive.  Will I be able to learn this daunting process?  I have my doubts; stay tuned.  Meanwhile, I take comfort in Rainbow 2019.  For a mere $26.27, what an adventure! 

Coming soon: ???

©   2019   Clifford Browder



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