Wednesday, July 13, 2011
On June 18th, I made the 80-mile trip to Providence, RI to run a vendor booth at the 35th annual Pride Fest. It was my third year there as a vendor, and by far the best year yet! There were three reasons it was so fabulous. First, more authors and publishers sent me materials and books than ever before, which made for a dynamic table. Even when the same visitors wandered by more than once, the contents on the table had changed and they stopped to browse and chat a second or third time. Second, the energy was incredible. The weather was perfect, the river behind us sparkled, and music from the entertainment stages reached us just loudly enough to maintain the festival atmosphere without dampening conversation. Third, my sons, 11 and 13, who had come with me to help unload and set up, decided to spend the entire 8 hours with me in the booth (with frequent forays for fried dough, corndogs, and Pride hats / necklaces / noisemakers). Their presence and enthusiasm were just one more source of pride for me.
I had lots of eye-catching promo material from participating authors and publishers, and a steady supply of almost 300 rainbow swirl lollipops brought folks to the table who might have passed by otherwise. Visitors enjoying the festival don’t always want to buy a book and then have to carry it around the rest of the day, which gives me a great opportunity to pimp e-books in general, and many were pleased with the special Pride coupon Torquere Press issued for me to distribute. Even so, I sold more books than ever before, and had a great time sharing free books from Torquere Press with many who came by. What were folks grabbing? Well, paranormals and fantasy, contemporaries (especially featuring first responders), and erotica sold well, and good covers absolutely drew folks from glances to picking books up to read the back covers. (As a reader who pretty much ignores covers, this phenomenon always surprises me.) Librarians were delighted to get a crack at a free book, and snapped up Prizm’s YA titles. As you see in the photo, I had a banner with “Rainbow Writers Collective” on it – the festival organizers require a name other than the individual and that one seemed appropriate to me. Several visitors inquired about whether we have a bricks and mortar bookstore or an online presence, and I told them we were an ad hoc group of authors and publishers who pool resources to have a presence at events like RI Pride. I encouraged visitors to pick up lots of author postcards and publisher lists and visit their sites online. (Readers who attend events like this -- don't be shy about approaching the nice folks at the book booths. Believe me, we are dying to chat you up and hear what you're craving for your next read!)
The most common question visitors asked was where to find more LGBT books. It turns out many, many readers still browse their local B&N shelves in vain hope of finding new LGBT fiction. Almost no one had thought of following favorite authors to their web sites, and no one I talked with had heard of the GLBT Bookshelf – by the end of the day I wished I’d thought to print up some cards or flyers so I wouldn’t be scribbling the URL on the backs of coupons, postcards, and chapbooks! I also spoke with some aspiring authors, many of whom were bewildered by the new publishing landscape. I hope I was able to encourage them and steer them to good resources. Young people of all descriptions (including a couple of my students!) stopped for a lollipop and stayed to ask about books that address coming out, building an identity, and navigating the world as a queer person (I call these “coming to self” stories). The gal working the temporary tattoo booth next to us wandered over again and again to peruse the books on offer until she found one that took on these issues. Older folks cheerfully described their reading habits and asked for recommendations – and I was interested to hear that most didn’t equate “GLBT fiction” with “porn” as is so often done in the mainstream. I ran into some of them later at the illuminated nighttime parade and it felt so good to know that I’d had the chance to widen their view onto the dynamic and rewarding universe of GLBT fiction and publishing. Besides, everyone loves a parade! I want to thank Torquere for being so supportive and sending so many great books, and also Torquere authors Syd McGinley, JM Cartwright. And J. Rocci!(Edited and revised from post at leebenoit.livejournal.com.)