Fair game

Posted Wednesday, November 23, 2011 in Culture

Fair game

by Harrison Thorp

MIAMI — After a one-day exhibit of my debut novel "Freak the News: Journalistic High Jinks in a Small Maine Town" at the Miami Book Fair International, I find myself channeling Don Adams in "Get Smart."

Would you believe I sold 75 books and the rights to my screenplay to a Hollywood producer? … No?

Would you believe I sold 25 books and caught the attention of an indie filmmaker who sounded vaguely intrigued?

Ah, how 'bout I traded a book with the exhibitor next to me so we could say we didn’t get skunked after a tropical monsoon washed away any hopes of a productive outing, let alone a single, solitary sale?

For any independent writer/novelist/publicist like me, Friday’s fiasco should serve as a cautionary tale for the ages (more about the ages angle later). But for all the day’s frustration and mayhem, it started out on a promising note.

My partner, daughter and I awoke around 5 a.m. to enable us to prepare ourselves for the day and leave our Hollywood Beach motel by 6 to get to Miami Dade College in downtown Miami by 7 for book-fair registration.

But it was already raining by the time we left, and we learned quickly that Miamians don’t like to drive in the rain. Traffic slowed to a crawl, and it took us roughly two hours to drive the 30 miles to the fair site.

Once we arrived, however, registration went smoothly and the rain thinned. Spirits remained high as we were given name plaques, plastic table cloths and bunting to adorn our 8-by-4-foot tables. Behind the tables, each exhibitor had about 20 square feet of space to store extra books, food, water and other personal items. The fair space cost $300 for the day.

After a frenetic half-hour we were happily prepared and cautiously optimistic as the 9 o’clock start time approached.

But beyond a few street people who asked incongruous questions about the book writing and publishing industry — and the injustices of life — there were few takers, just a steady stream of people, mostly young college students, hurrying past us to school or work.

Then the crowds took a downward turn. Evidently, Friday is the day every grammar-school teacher in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties takes their students to the book fair to inspire them to be writers, “look at the authors” and participate in hands-on children’s books activities that are part of the event.

A 35-foot swath between the booths on our side of the street and Miami Dade Campus buildings on the other was constantly awash in a streaming confluence of primary-school youths with teachers in tow.

To put it more succinctly, less than 1 percent of the humanity we observed from our booth could be called book-buying prospects.

By 1 p.m. all we could hope for was an end to the school day and maybe a few adults getting off work in downtown Miami who would saunter through, browsing for a good read.

But when it rains, it pours. Around then, the skies opened up and a torrential deluge scattered any remaining street crowds. Even worse, poor drainage around our tent rose quickly in the back and we had to scramble to keep books dry. More rain leaked through the top of the tent, damaging a few books. Winds whipped through the compound, fluttering paper bunting and scattering sheets of promotional materials.

One straggling youngster stepped up to the booth and asked, “Is that for sale?” Pleasantly surprised at his interest, I said, “The book?” “No,” he said pointing to my hat on the table behind me. “Your hat.”

The rainbursts continued off and on throughout the afternoon, but began to abate in force and duration around 3. One of the event organizers commented, however, that with even a hint of rain, any late-day crowds in this city that loathes rain would be minimal.

By now, almost half of the exhibitors had packed up and left. The penalty for leaving the fair before 6 p.m. was waived by fair administrators. We stuck it out till around 4, called it a day and trudged back to our rental car, books between our legs.

In my article last week I mentioned I’d probably never forget the experience of attending the Miami Book Fair. How prescient was I?

So was the experience a total loss? Not exactly; I got a great book from the vendor next to me. And on Saturday it was sunny and in the 80s.

Would I do it again? Sure … but not on Friday.

And just for the record, I did not sell my hat.

Harrison Thorp is the author of "Freak the News: Journalistic High Jinks in a Small Maine Town." He can be reached at hmthorp@aol.com or freakthenews.com. He lives in Lebanon.

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