Monthly Archives: March 2015

Can You Sell Books at the Flea Market?

Maybe YOU can, but I sure couldn’t.

I’ve found a few different ways of doing collateral advertising for my books. For example, since I also sell used books on eBay on the side (mostly from my library-sale acquisitions), I send out a flyer about my memoir with each of my packages. It’s an inexpensive gimmick and has the added benefit of targeting people who are known readers. Well, since I’ve reached a point at which my accumulation of used books has exceeded the rate at which I can sell them, I had the idea of taking them down to the flea market and trying to unload some there.

I didn’t really expect to sell a lot of books. I think there’s a reason why you don’t see a ton of booksellers at flea markets, and it’s because used books are a very heavy, very bulky item with – I hate to say it – low dollar value. I knew it was going to be a pain and likely not very profitable, but I also thought it would make for a worthwhile experiment. What if I brought down some of my own books and tried to sell them there, too?

I didn’t get my hopes up, of course. I don’t know that the flea market is the best venue for book sales, but on the other hand, you do get book-hunters showing up there, and there was, I figured, a certain logic in it. If I was selling mostly used books, I’d be more likely to draw buyers who were looking for books – just like with eBay.

So I spent the week boxing books and organizing books and sorting through other household goods that I wanted to take with me. I spent maybe two hours packing and loading the truck – no mean feat with my frozen shoulder – and then finally, yesterday, it was time.


Now I have done flea markets before. In fact, back in the days when I moved all the time, I pretty much did one every time I was planning on heading out of town for a while, so I had what I thought were realistic expectations based on actual experience. And in my experience, I have never walked out of a flea market without at least three hundred dollars for my trouble, even when I was just selling my household garbage. So even if I didn’t sell any of my own books, the worst-case scenario didn’t look bad at all.

But, like every other business venture I’ve tried in the past two years, even my lowest expectations somehow managed to be ridiculously high. Twenty hours of work and I made exactly forty-two dollars. Sheesh – for that amount of work I can make that much selling my books online. And without all the heavy lifting!

It still might have been worthwhile if I had sold even a single copy of one of my own books, but alas, even that was evidently too lofty a goal. It was an interesting experiment, though, with plenty to show about the behavior of shoppers. Probably the smartest thing I did was buying this display stand and placing it prominently at the edge of my stall:

Flea Market Display

And I have to say, it was a fabulous attention-getter. I very quickly lost track of the number of people who stopped specifically to examine my memoir, but I’d hazard a guess that it was several dozen, which sounds great until you realize that not one of them bought it, even at the discounted price of six dollars. One lady came close – a fellow seller at the market who said she would buy it if she made enough money at the sale. She did not – according to the buzz around the booths, nobody was making money that day – but she did come back for my card at closing time so that she could contact me later. But another gentleman (and I use the term loosely) seemed almost offended by my display.

“Who’s this Lori S – Sc – Sca?” he asked loudly of no one in particular.

“That’s me!” I called from where I sat next to my truck.

“So why would anyone want to read YOUR memoir?” he snorted, as if only the life of J. Lo or President Obama is worth memorializing.

Hundreds of people HAVE read it, I wanted to say. Unfortunately I was too busy being dumbstruck to formulate a clever answer, so I came back with a dull one instead. “Uh….because it’s an interesting story?”

“Okay, well you gotta give me more to go on than that.”

As reading a blurb was clearly beyond the capacity of this particular customer, I explained the story to him as quickly and patiently as I could.

“Did you end up crazy, too?” he responded when I was done.

Well, if I did, then maybe you ought to be more careful how you speak to me.

“No, I actually turned out fairly normal,” I answered.

“What about drugs? Did you end up on drugs?”

By this point, I was really curious as to the point of this line of questioning. Was he trying to learn the end of the story, figure out whether it’s even worth reading, or evaluate the stranger sitting ten feet away?

“No, no drugs,” I said, wondering whether there was indeed a magical substance that would take the edge off of this conversation.

Fortunately I didn’t have to resort to chemical therapy, because at that point the man just grunted again and walked away.

Mr. Who-the-Hell-Are-You aside, all in all, it was pretty disheartening. While I realize that the flea market doesn’t necessarily cater to readers – or to people who want to pay close to full price for things – being there and seeing how people responded to my book was eye-opening in a less-than-comforting way. The interest was there. The audience was there. Heck, even the author was there. But the bottom line was, I still couldn’t sell any books.

And this makes me wonder – how much better is it, really, selling in bookstores? Granted, then you’re dealing directly with your target market, but there’s also a lot more competition nearby that also appeals directly to your target market. How many people have to pick up my book before one of them buys it? Based on my flea market experience, I’d guess, what, a hundred? Two? That is an awful lot of exposure I have to obtain in order to make my measly two dollars or less on a sale. Indeed, it sounds almost as tough as selling online, if not even tougher.

So today I’m trying another experiment. I didn’t want all of those hours I spent preparing for the flea market to be wasted, so I put in a few more and moved my boxes of books up to my porch along with my tables and my displays. And I put an ad up on Craigslist advertising a used book sale, and then I put up four other ads, too, one for each of my paperback books, describing the books and also describing my sale, hoping against hope that the combination would drag in some customers.

It’s after four and not one person has even come by yet.

And somehow I don’t think these problems are entirely unrelated. You hear all the time about the “golden age” of independent publishing, way back in the late oughts, when it was still possible to become a bestseller by listing a book for free on I remember back to the nineties, when I was able to make a living selling on eBay. But that was before digital was ubiquitous, before anybody could look up their own special piece of junk and see what it was worth and list it online for the world to find and to buy, before anyone who wanted something could just go online and find it without having to go to places like flea markets hoping to spot a rare gem. I hardly make anything on eBay anymore, and it’s for exactly the same reason that it’s so hard to sell books on Amazon now – because everyone else is doing it, too. Unless I have an item that is VERY unique or VERY rare, I may have only a day or an hour in which my listing has a chance to be seen in the midst of all the others that look just like it and maybe cost less than mine does.

I’m going to keep experimenting, and I’m going to keep trying. But I can’t help but wonder – if electronic sales aren’t the answer, and in-person sales aren’t the answer, then what is the answer? If there is one at all.

Plastic Bottles and the Kaiser – a plea #1000speak @1000speak

I was even-more-than-usually-impressed by this post by Geoff Le Pard for this month’s #1000Speak project. Geoff’s incisive analysis of bullying on international as well as individual levels will make you re-think the very basis of bullying – and what we can do to stop it.

On Viewing Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21

I’d never really thought much about Avant-Garde cinema – I guess it didn’t particularly appeal to me, and I never felt any special desire or calling to study it or seek it out. Oh, I saw the standards they show in the introductory film classes, like Un Chien Andalou, which can’t help but be fascinating, and other classics of the early years such as Ballet Mécanique and Berlin, eine Symphonie der Großstadt. But they never made me feel anything; they were simply there, strings of images, assuredly attached together with some meaning, some relevance which lay unfortunately beyond my ken. Perhaps therein lies the truth behind my lack of interest; the fear that perhaps I simply didn’t – or possibly couldn’t – understand. The musical, the rhythmical, which are so often central, I uncovered with ease, but the cinematic remained out of reach. And why music, why rhythm? Simply to create an experience? What was the purpose for which these works were made? What were the questions to which these films were an answer?

And so it is with some trepidation that I am introduced to Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21. I learn a little about art, a little about Richter and his connection to Eggling; I learn that despite the title the film was not made until 1926. Is this significant, perhaps a clue? I am asked to watch. I comply. I see boxes. Not even real boxes; something more like cardboard cut-outs which resemble on screen the wooden blocks I used to play with as a child. Even to my amateur eyes it appears crude; not primitive, but simplistic. Shapes simply move across the screen – left and right, screen forward and screen back. I am reminded of Meliès who so long ago created the impression of camera movement by moving his moon closer to the camera. Why do it here? I search mentally, desperately, through every narrative analogy I know. Perhaps that is my mistake, for still it lacks significance, still it means nothing.

The movements are mechanical; most of the shapes square or rectangular. I think of the machine in Germany in the twenties; I think of Metropolis. I think of modernity and industrialization, but there is no image of the machine such as we see in Ballet Mécanique, no pistons pumping or metal grinding, detached from the guidance of human hands. A greater abstraction? For the human is missing here as well. And the movement is non-productive, too; makes no pretense of utility; portrays only useless linear shapes on a dulled screen. But the pattern is perhaps not entirely linear. There is a third dimension; it exists coming toward and moving away from the onlooker. In this way it almost seems to become a part of the viewer, an extension, perhaps, of the viewing eye or body…

And then I do have a vision, a perception; I see something in it to which I have been blind. There is a meaning – and it may not be the “right” one, but that hardly matters, because it’s mine. I have given it to the film; have endowed it with life, for me, and perhaps for me alone, but at least I have not walked away with nothing. In the last segment of the film, the screen is occupied by two blocks: one small, the other larger, both rectangular. They move in alternation, forward and back, so that they seem to grow and shrink, in a peculiar rhythm, to a beat which I recognize, for it moves within me as well, within all of us. It is the beating of the human heart. And perhaps it was the progression, the slow coming to life of LIFE in those mechanical wooden squares, that constituted the Rhythmus of 21. And perhaps the question the film sought to answer was how to find that heartbeat residing within the abstracted concrete forms of modern life.

Italians vs. Puerto Ricans: In Which Racism Exposes Its Ludicrous Side

When I was growing up in Western Massachusetts some thirty years ago, there were two main racial groups in town: the Italians and the Puerto Ricans. Now, I can’t tell you what or even if the Puerto Ricans thought about the Italians, but I do know that the Italians, at least the ones I knew, hated the Puerto Ricans. You even pronounced it differently, as if it were a swear word: PortaRican.

Now, my mom was American-born and didn’t speak Italian, but her grandparents had come from the old country around the turn of the century and that was sufficient to qualify us to be at home among the Italians, so quite naturally we lived in the Italian neighborhood. With my second-generation Italian friends I celebrated the Italian holidays, worshipped Sylvester Stallone, the Italian Stallion, and tried to pick up the art of swearing in Italian from the native speakers. But I never could figure out why I was supposed to hate the Puerto Ricans. I mean, it sounded really stupid. Both groups seemed to me only slightly different shades of white, and among the older generation, both spoke equally incomprehensible foreign languages.

“It’s because they’re so poor,” my friends would sniff. “Look at where they live.”

I did. I didn’t have to look hard; their neighborhood was directly across the street from ours.

“They shop at Kmart,” they sneered. Back then this was the refuge of the very lowest classes. You did not want to be seen walking into or out of a Kmart. But we knew that they shopped there because we often saw them in the aisles when we were trying to pick out our shoes and shirts for school.

When I moved away from Springfield and met other Italians it became clear that Italians in general had no particular grudge against Puerto Ricans; indeed, in most parts of the country neither group is numerous or dominant enough for racial conflicts even to exist. And that’s when it finally started to make sense to me. The Italians of my old neighborhood didn’t hate the Puerto Ricans because of how they lived or because of anything specific they had done. They were simply the other big tribe in town. Natural enemies, if you will. And very likely the Puerto Ricans were equally unfond and distrustful of their Italian neighbors.

To my mind, racism, like many other isms, is inherently flawed in concept and therefore doomed to eventual failure. It may have been sustainable as long as the whites stayed in Europe and the Asians in Asia and the blacks in Africa and the Latinos in Latin America, but today’s society is so incredibly integrated that this simply can’t be the case anymore. As much as you can’t talk people out of their convictions, you also can’t talk them out of their sexual desires, and as long as people of one color continue to think that people of other colors are hot, there are going to be interracial babies who will, in turn, make more interracial babies. And at some point it becomes ludicrous, trying to carry a prejudice against people who are the same color as your grandkid or your best friend’s live-in boyfriend or you after a summer in the sun or a winter without it.

It’s difficult to detest groups that are so ill-defined. It’s even tougher to feel threatened by an ethnic population that doesn’t outnumber you and that has no more power than your own. I mean, who in the U.S. really hates the Irish anymore? When was the last time you saw a fistfight break out between an Episcopalian and a Presbyterian? It is both the burden and the beauty of cultural diversity. Many reasons to hate other kinds of people and many more reasons not to.

So the real question is, when racism at last draws to its timely end, will that mean universal peace and cooperation? Will we enjoy a Golden Age in which all peoples are appreciated and respected, in which cultures of every kind live in utopian harmony?

I doubt it. Because if the Italians of Springfield could find reasons to hate the Puerto Ricans, then people everywhere are always going to be able to find some irrational reason to despise their neighbors. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the hate crime of the future involved sports fans being beaten to death for supporting the wrong team. Or gang warfare between those who like country music and those who like hip-hop.

It will still be an improvement. If we’re going to hate people for no good reason, at least it ought to be for a cause that’s under their control. Much more fair than holding them accountable for some characteristic that was passed down to them before they were even born.


In Which I Make My First Attempt at Crowdfunding – and Other Tales of Terror

So today I have launched my first IndieGoGo campaign. (Yes, I know they don’t actually capitalize the Gs, but I really feel that they should. I think they’d raise more money for their vacations if they had the beat, but maybe they prefer to keep their lips sealed about it).

But, of course, IndieGoGo is not about spelling or proper capitalization or even 80s female rockers – those subjects about which we writers know so much – but about selling ourselves, about which we know so little.

I have ideas. At least a dozen very solid, potentially even achievable ideas regarding my books and my writing. I just don’t have the time, money, or capacity to make them happen.

It’s been a very strange time for me. A few years ago I was a confident and healthy young woman with my whole life ahead of me. Suddenly I’m a middle-aged lady who has no idea what she’s going to do for money during whatever life remains. It is not a pleasant feeling.

My year of disability runs out in June, which means I will have no income except for what I make from my book and eBay sales, neither of which is enough to shake even a short, skinny twig at. The irony is that I’m even more incapable of working now than I was a year ago, what with the frozen shoulder and all.

Oh, right, did I forget to mention that? Well, after several weeks of physical therapy following my shoulder dislocation, I still hadn’t made much progress with my range of motion – I had maybe forty-five degrees in a couple of directions, and close to zero in others. When I next saw the orthopedist, he diagnosed frozen shoulder, which is a condition in which calcium deposits build up around the joint following an injury. It’s more likely for this to develop when the shoulder isn’t moving – like when you’re in a sling for six weeks. Oh, yeah, and it’s also more common if you have other joint problems to begin with – which makes me wonder whether immobilizing my arm for so long was really the best course of treatment for a person like me. Because now instead of a six-to-twelve week recovery, it’s going to be six months to a year, during which I and my physical therapist attempt to break all the crap that’s grown in my arm. After which I may still need surgery. So nice to have something to look forward to in the new year!

But on the plus side, I am improving. I can wear most articles of clothing now – although I put on a dress last week and almost get stuck inside it. I can even drive a little – as long as I don’t have to make that big reach for reverse. I’m a long way from risking the freeway, but at least I can get myself to the grocery store and even the ice rink. Man, it feels good to skate again, and I feel so much better for the exercise. I put on eight pounds in the first two weeks following my injury, which wouldn’t be that big of a deal except that with my condition, every pound is a big deal.

That’s the up side. On the other end of things, boy, am I f***ed. There wasn’t a heck of a lot I could do for work when it was mostly my hands that were messed up, and there’s even less now. I can think of a few career positions that wouldn’t be agonizing – except that I might prefer to starve to death rather than spend the next twenty or thirty years doing them.

But that’s a problem for another day. In the meantime, I have a lot of ideas for my book – really cool ideas that I think could actually prove to be socially beneficial. But all of them involve investing money I don’t dare to spend on projects that may pay off in pennies rather than dollars, and not very many of those. This must be how it feels to be retired and on a fixed income. Draining your small amount of capital is somehow far more daunting when you know you can’t just go back to work.

Hence, the IndieGoGo campaign. I have several of these in mind for various projects I have in progress, but this one is the first, and so far, my favorite.

You see, a couple of weeks ago I got a five-star review from a psychiatrist who suggested that my memoir ought to be on the reading lists of high schools and colleges. Now I had already had the idea of trying to get speaking engagements at the high school level because, even though I wouldn’t expect to get much (if anything) out of that financially, I think that in today’s environment, in which mental illness has come to the forefront of social consciousness, students might appreciate hearing my story. Well, of course, not being able to get around killed that idea, and will likely make it impractical for a month or two more. But when I read this review, I thought – wait, that’s even better than what I was thinking. What if I approached a number of teachers and professors – which I would need to do by mail, anyway – and see if they were interested in teaching my book?

The more I pondered this idea, the more I loved it. In fact, it’s the perfect complement to arranging speaking engagements because then the audience will have read my memoir ahead of time. And since I could make bulk orders available quite cheaply (about $5/paperback copy) to anyone who was interested in using it, it would actually make for a very practical supplement in a course on psychology. No, I wouldn’t make much money on it, but at least it would get my name out there and, more importantly, it would get my story out there – and in the fall semester, when I should be up and about again. Will anyone actually take me up on this? No idea. It seems worth a try.

But this is the kind of project that doesn’t just take time, but also money. First I would need to order a large number of printed copies – I’d like about a hundred – and then I would need to pay to ship them. All in all, it would take close to six hundred dollars that I might never get back. Not such a big deal in the old days when I had three jobs – very scary now.

Now I want to make something clear right from the start. I’m going to post something here on my blog each time I run one of these campaigns because it only makes sense to do so. But I do not expect and, in fact, I will feel very uncomfortable if those of you who are my regular readers start contributing to these campaigns. Most of you have bought my book, and that’s enough. If you’d like to help, I’d be delighted if you share on social media or with parties whom you think might be genuinely interested, but let it end there. Nothing will make me want to stop fundraising faster than feeling as though I’ve created a sense of obligation, particularly when I have several other projects in mind.

With that being said, if you get a chance, go and check out my campaign and let me know what you think. I’m particularly interested in your opinions on how I set up the perks, which was tricky because you have to account for things like shipping and IndieGoGo’s fees – not as good a deal as it might be otherwise. In fact, I estimate that if I reach my goal of $750 that I will only net enough to send out eighty copies after the cost of perks. But of course we’ll see how it goes. Or should I say Go-Gos?

Take the 3-Question Ad Results Survey

Author and blogger Nicholas Rossis is conducting a survey regarding the effectiveness of different ad campaigns. Contribute your data and make sure we never spend another dime in vain!

Nicholas C. Rossis

Call to Arms PosterFiguring out where to advertise your book is worse than standing in a betting shop, five minutes before a race. You have money in your pocket, but a limited amount of time in which to select a guaranteed winner, and the odds are not in your favor.

I have already posted my ad results online. But I need more information. So, please send me your precious data. Where did you advertise, how much did it cost you and how many books did you sell as a result?

I will use this data to inform you of the best ways to invest your precious, limited advertising budgets. Also, I promise to share my own sales and ad results with you. With your help, we can reach thousands more – just share, reblog and share some more. Let’s help each other navigate these treacherous waters and make sure we don’t spend another dime in…

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