The Word On The Street is a national celebration of literacy and Canadian writing. The main fair is in Toronto but it also sponsors smaller events each September in Halifax, Saskatoon and Lethbridge (not sure why Lethbridge).WOTS claims to be the biggest book fair in Canada, and who would contest that; it may not be in the same league as Frankfort, or the BEA, but it is substantial. It’s held at Harbourfront in downtown Toronto, mostly outdoors. It claims be an all-comers show, from major publishers, to University Presses, and municipal Libraries, down to independent authors and small press. Some 500 booths in all. It claims to have 220,000 visitors for the one-day event. Wow.
Shannon started researching WOTS in May, but while WOTS may be the biggest show on earth (well, Canada) they had teething pains. Seems the staff are summer students, hired anew each year in May, trying to get it all together by August. She signed me up as an independent author, entry fee $250. Hmmm. But six weeks later when she hadn’t heard from the disorganized organizers she followed up. Nope they had no record of me. But they had Shannon’s $200. ‘So lets get Doug Jordan registered,’ she demanded. ‘Well,’ the cheerful rep responded, ‘all the booths for independent authors have been sold. But we still have space for Small Press Publishers.’ $750. Hmmm.
In for a dime in for a dollar. We signed up.
Let the calculations begin: If my average margin is $8 (after printing and shipping costs), and I sell for an average price of $24 ($20 for the Maxim Chronicles, $30 for the Hallelujah Chorus, $40 for the Dynamics of Management) I would need to sell 100 copies to get my entry fee covered. That didn’t seem too bad. But I also had travel costs, and other expenses. If there truly are 220,000 WOTS visitors, and even if only 10% of those visited my booth, that’s 22,000 potential customers! And if, realistically, only 1% of those actually bought a book, I should sell about 220 copies of my book! But I’m not going to this giant book fair to break even. I’m going to be rich and famous. So how many copies should I order and bring to the fair? My MBA training came to the fore and I applied a standard Operations Research procedure for estimating the optimal quantity of product I should have on hand: SWAG (Sweet Wild-Assed Guess!) I ordered 200 copies of TMC, 200 of THC and 40 of TDM). I still have most of them, hence the inventory costs mentioned above.
We recruited an assistant to help in hauling books and banners and setting up our booth. Madelyn, Shannon’s eldest. She had volunteered to work at WOTS to earn volunteer points for her high school graduation requirements. She had her site training on the Friday, so when we drove downtown early Saturday morning to set up my booth, she was my navigator. Physical traffic management (cars) was congested but after two tries we found the underground parking garage. I paid my $18/day parking fee, only to discover I needed to be escorted to my booth site by golf cart. But in the end, it worked well enough. Sunday navigation was easier and I pad my $18 and parked my car, only to discover on checking out on Sunday I should have been given parking passes as an exhibitor!
The site is lovely, right on Toronto Harbour but the central exhibits are dominated by the major publishers and sponsors; the independent authors and small press are pushed to the fringes. We had a lovely booth with a view of some boats moored alongside. Sunday was a beautiful hot and sunny day, even though mid-September, but typical of that atypical summer. We were grateful for our canvas roof and the harbour breezes. A beautiful day for a walk along the board walk, but alas almost no foot traffic walked our way. I think what was needed was a sandwich board person promenading the central displays to encourage people to visit the fringe.
I also had the sense that most of the traffic was incidental – just people out for a Sunday walk along the boardwalk, not actually attending the book fair. Some walked their dogs, even a few poodles. I wished I had brought my own as props. But none bought my books about my poodles. One nasty person made a point of declaring herself a cat lover and had no use for dogs. It was a low-point.
In all I bartered one book with a fellow vendor (and gave it to my daughter) and sold two copies of my books, and signed them, to a Toronto friend who I had coaxed to come and see me. She asked me how my love life was going. I didn’t break down crying but I told her the sad tale. Don’t worry about it Doug, she said, she’s an Aquarius, and this is a very unstable year for Aquariuses (or is that Aquarii?). She’ll come around next year.
I left for San Francisco the next day, my hair on fire.