Every summer, on Fridays and Saturdays from late June to early September, there are free Craft Shows on the Ocean City, New Jersey Music Pier. The setting is ideal, reaching from the boardwalk toward the ocean with a high covered roof and open side and front that catch the cool breezes. My husband. and I have been taking part for nine summers with our published books as our craft. We enjoy meeting hundreds of locals and tourists each summer in an informal setting and introducing them to our books. We call it our “third career”.
Bob and I are the only authors joining a terrific group of women and men who create their original crafts. Some pursue their work year round, traveling to shows up and down the East Coast. There are painters, sewers, wood workers, candle makers, bakers, jewelers, children’s clothing designers, knitters of afghans and sweaters, soap makers and plant growers with colored-glass filled wooden pots. Crafters are often accompanied by their spouses or children who assist in setting up the complex displays on their tables. That task can take at least an hour or more with different stands and racks to hold tiny hand painted objects or hanging garments.
There is a caveat printed on the agreement forms that “All work by the exhibitors must be original.. Not accepted are sports memorabilia/cards, cosmetics, imported mass produced or manufactured T-shirts & sweatshirts , sneakers, food or other items that directly compete with the Boardwalk Merchants” Different groups sponsor the Craft Shows, including Ocean City Class Council, Raiders and Cheerleaders, and Ocean City Exchange Club. There is an entry charge for the first three groups of $50. for each space and table . Electricity $5. We only need one space and table . We always request the last table closest to the ocean to be able to walk in front and talk with prospective buyers about the books.
We are the fastest set-up and breakdown at the end of the Show. It takes us about twenty minutes to set up when we arrive about 8:15 a.m. and five minutes to wrap up at 3:00 p.m. We tape large posters of some book covers down the front of the table on the beige cloth to attract interest. Then we arrange our books. Bob has his six mystery novels and I have my two non-fiction books and three novels. We have our names on “Book Signings” placards and our price list. We usually bring five copies of each book, and ten copies of “Courage in High Heels” which is our best seller. If it’s a good day, we sell a few books before 9 o’clock.
Over the years, there’s camaraderie that develops among the regulars and that is a plus to the experience. As we set up each time, we compare notes and wish each other well. If there’s a problem, we help each other straighten it out. We never have figured out if Friday is a better selling/buying day than Saturday. People who rent a house or an apartment for a week start and end on Saturday. One would expect they would have more $$ for books on the first Saturday, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. There are also other patterns. The early morning strollers usually are walkers or bike riders. They rarely have money with them. No shoulder- bags for women is a sure sign. Tougher to know with men who have $$ in their pockets. It’s still a guessing game. One year, a woman on a bicycle stopped and gave us a check for every book on the table! She collected books signed by the authors. We’ll never forget her.
Bob and I have different selling techniques. He’s the expert since his first book was “Professional Selling” , Prentice Hall, published in four editions since the l970’s. It was written for community colleges and the trade. Still in use at Harvard and The University of Wisconsin. The key chapter, the ABC’s of Selling- “Always Be Closing. I’ve learned to vary approaches with different women and men who stop. Many walkers don’t stop at all, but those who do are potential buyers. I ask women, “Do you prefer true stories or novels?” If they say true, I hand them a copy of “Courage in High Heels” and ask them to read the back cover. They learn that the book contains “ the true life stories of 8 women –not famous women — who have overcome multiple obstacles in life with amazing resilience and spirit.” I show them the Then and Now pictures and highlight certain women. If they are older women, I explain why I wrote the book, “To honor older women in our society who don’t get enough respect.” They always nod in agreement.
If they prefer fiction, I introduce them to my three novels. Two are current stories of family life and “functional families” in contrast to the many dysfunctional families in print today. I start by saying “That’s why I wrote “Flaw in the Tapestry” I was sick of those books! And when I completed it, I wanted to know what happened next. (pause) So I wrote “If Winter Comes.” And I push that book next to the first. We give a price break on two, three or more books. Selling a double or a triple is a thrill. A self described “ reader” may buy one of mine and one of Bob’s. He has a great signing line, “Life is a mystery…” When he sells more than one, he signs, “Life is still a mystery!” We each have return readers who come back each year for other books. Betty, an older woman who owns all our books, sends us a holiday card and note each December. We look forward to seeing her each summer walking down the pier. We exchange warm hugs.
Last week brought a special moment for me. My latest book is “The Critical Eye”, Xlibris 2010. It is a collection of some of my Op Eds and articles that have been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and other national and regional newspapers and magazines. They are as relevant today as when they appeared. When a man stops at the table or is the husband of a woman looking at my books, I give him a copy to look at. I point out Section II: Communication, Technology, Science and Section III: Religion, Race, Gender, Prejudice. When an older man stopped last week, I opened the book to Section IV: Very Personal Essays and turned to “From Slonim to America; A Dream Fulfilled” and said, “That is my father’s story. He was a little immigrant boy who came to America and grew up to become a surgeon”. He looked at me from underneath the cap he was wearing and said very slowly and distinctly, “I was a little immigrant boy from Lebanon who came to America and grew up to become a surgeon.” I don’t know why I showed him that essay, but I will never forget the moment. Yes, he bought “The Critical Eye”. Later, Bob walked out on the boardwalk and saw him sitting on a bench …engrossed in reading the book.