Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon. (Matthew 16:18)
As most of you readers know I attended book fairs and festivals selling my books for years. The last time I actually sold books in a festival was I believe (and I could be wrong) was four years ago at the new Compton Urban Book Expo. I bring this up because I have to tell the truth, something that is not a shock to authors I have met in the past, but it is a truth that I have to expose right now. I say this from experiences I had in Black Los Angeles, not anywhere else.
It's not that Black people don't read books, it's that we don't support literary artists.
With all due respect to the late, great Itibari M. Zulu, I was honored to take over the L.A. Black Book Expo when he sent the request to me in an email back in 2006. Fourteen years later, I have to question my decision and wonder what would have been a successful book selling journey for me? This isn't to say I did not enjoy the process of organizing an event. This essay is about book selling only. My thoughts on LABBX are in the archives. Take a look at them.
I will say the most success I ever had selling copies of The Depths of My Soul and The Voices of South Central in the Black Writers Festival that used to be held in the Howard Hughes Center in Culver City. My books for the October weekend sold in the double digits. Although I was a vendor/exhibitor in other book festivals in the city, the Black Writers Festival is where I achieved the most success and it was fun.
It's very difficult to establish yourself as a well-known author in Black Los Angeles. You have to gain popularity by either appearing on the radio, writing a provocative book, or promoting yourself as if you were the most famous author on the planet. Besides the radio and television appearances I've done, I am not a shameless self-promoter, never have been. What I can say is that if I had only given this more thought, I should have bought a plane ticket and flew out to Texas or the East coast to the more popular literary events and sold my books at those places. I did not, so here I am writing years later about the errors I made.
One year, my future wife and I attended an event in the central valley of California where we hardly sold any books only to have a woman pass us a card about a community event in Sacramento. It was on a day the Black Writers Festival moved locations so I had to make a choice. We decided to travel to Sacramento and it was one of the best decisions we made. We wound up selling in the double digits and very happy with the positive outcome. I haven't had a day like that since and this was over a decade ago.
We're now in the era of digital sales so there's no need to produce mass quantities of books these days. The print model is fading while the digital books are steadily gaining influence (although different surveys state print is still highly in demand). The digital shift means there less black owned bookstores in the city and the ones still in operation as it's been the case for years, depend on selling more than just books. Depending on what day I visit, Barnes and Noble stores are not that full but they're not totally empty either. Only the students in certain schools I substitute for know I'm an author and they keep my sales going. I doubt if I could go into whatever is left of a Black community festival and sell my books there. Not in South Los Angeles. Not in the year 2020.
I don't regret selling books in the venues I attended, but at times I wish I didn't waste vendors fees in a community event which left me with visitors stopping by my tent, staring at the cover of my book, opening up a page and walking out. You don't know what that does to an author when passers-by do that, but that's part of the process of making a sale. If there's one positive thing that comes out of the Stay-at-Home orders during this pandemic, it's that more people will be encouraged to buy books and hopefully I will make a sale or two. If not, then I hope to keep trying no matter what to anyone and everyone reading this including the citizens who live in South Los Angeles. Take care.