Have Books; Will Travel
by Barbara Renner
I’ve written books, and I’m willing to travel to make sales. Selling books can be wet, hot, and downright frightening.
As Sunbirds, my husband and I escape to Minnesota for the summer. That’s where my Lonnie the Loon series sells best. We live in what is known as “lake country” – a lot of lakes and a lot of very small towns. Every single little town has a summer street fair, all with cute names, such as Turtle Fest, Potato Days, Pelican Fest, Looney Daze, etc. The townspeople love to buy crafts, fudge, brats, emu oil, lamps made out of guitars, and books. So, I unfold my six-foot table, set up my easel and sign, and wait for grandma to shuffle over and swoon over Lonnie.
The weather in Minnesota can best be described as erratic. The locals have a saying, “If you don’t like the weather right now, wait a minute, and it will change.” June is usually a rainy month, and that’s when the residents of Perham celebrate Turtle Days for an entire week. And, yes, they watch turtles race and enjoy a street fair. The first summer I set up my display of books, the rain dumped in the morning but eventually cleared up for the rest of the soggy day. My table was positioned between the pony rides and a man selling soft bows and arrows. Not many kids were interested in Loon books. Last summer the clouds opened up around noon, so I folded up my table and escaped, my car running over and dragging an orange cone in my haste.
My best sales occur at Looney Daze in August. The craft tables line Main Street, along with activities like a Loon calling contest, Weiner dog races, a parade, and a 5K walk/run. By August, the humidity has draped itself over the corn fields, and the best way to style hair for the day is under a hat. I don’t have a day tent, just my table, so I get a little gamy standing in the sun all day. One summer, the vendor to my right let me stand under her tent during slow times. I felt obligated to buy one of her wind chimes made out of silver forks.
The best venue for selling my books has been as a vendor at the Communities Collaborative Brain Development Conference at Shooting Star Casino on the White Earth Nation. The conference draws teachers and social workers in early childhood programs. Through these contacts, I’ve booked appearances as a paid guest author at a new library, a community college writing class, and a preschool.
The casino was particularly busy during the conference this year. There were no parking spaces close to the conference center, so I had to park in another lot. At my age, I find myself needing to mentally make notes about the location of my parked car or I will walk out of a store, search for my vehicle, and curse the person who stole my Toyota. I made a mental note at the casino: car facing north, end of row, single space. Got it. At the end of the day, I marched out with my box of books and bag of stuffed loons directly to my car, facing north, end of row, single space. Except, there was another car in its place, with people standing around it. After playing 20 questions, the nice couple helped me locate my car. It was in the next lot to the east, facing north, end of row, single space. That night, their friends heard a funny story about the little old lady wandering around the parking lot looking for her car.
This summer, I drove 120 miles to the Red Lake Nation to read my books to a group of pre-kindergarteners at a parent open house. They paid me a stipend and also bought 14 books, which made the two-hour journey tolerable. The drive in the middle of the afternoon took me down two-lane highways, through the woods, and eventually on the reservation’s winding roads around a lake. The theme of the night was waterfowl, and the coordinator brought her boyfriend’s white goose, which screeched and pecked in a cage in the cafeteria while everyone was eating a ground beef and noodle bake. After my reading, I reversed the drive home on unlit winding roads through the reservation, through the dark woods, and down two-lane, nocturnal deer-infested highways.
Now that I’m in Phoenix for the winter, I won’t have to worry about getting my books wet in the rain; the heat is dry, and the only frightening road to travel is the I-10 during rush hour. However, there’s still a possibility of my car relocating itself in a parking lot.
Barbara Renner and her husband have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years. As “Sun Birds,” they fly away to Minnesota to escape the summer heat – and to fish. While in Minnesota, Barbara became fascinated with its state bird, the Common Loon, and was prompted to write four picture books about Lonnie the Loon, because everyone should know about loons. However, books about loons don’t sell very well in the desert, so she is writing a new series of picture books about Quincy the Quail. Barbara visits elementary schools as a guest author to read her books and share interesting facts about loons and quails. She’s working on other children’s books and a special book about her yellow lab, Larry: Larry’s Words of Wisdom. Learn more about Barbara at RennerWrites.com, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.