Last Saturday and Sunday my friend and biz partner April and I joined amazing author and inspirational speaker Simon Calchavecchia at the University of Washington's 40th Annual Street Fair. I was selling my book Just A Thought (click here) and Simon was selling his series The Adventures of Frank and Mustard. I think we need a little back story before I carry on.
I met Simon back in December on 2017 at the Kitsap Mall where he and his illustrator Art (yes, his name is Art) joined April and I as we sold books before Christmas. Simon is, for lack of a better term, straight up inspirational. As you can probably tell he is in a wheelchair but he did not start life that way, in fact, his first 19 years he not only walked but was a pretty good rugby player. At 19 (I reserve the right to be off by a year or two) he broke his neck playing rugby overseas. After some tough years he started to tell his story to people, schools and more. He realized that he didn't see a story of a kid in a wheelchair so he got to creating his series. His first book Stuck in the Mud is based on when he got stuck in the mud in his wheelchair. His second Differently Awesome is based on how he was included or not included because of his disability. He speaks at schools and motivates people by being simply a great guy, a joy with kids ,motivated worker and, like I said, an inspiration. Check out the link above to get more on this guy. It will be worth it.
In any case, when Simon invited us to join him at the street fair I said lets do it. I had never done it before and he had only done it the year prior. This would be our first real event together. Full disclosure I did not sell a ton of books at this fair. Just numbers wise it was ok in that I believe I broke even or just a bit better for overall expenses. Luckily for me though I do not look at it just like that because, although money is great, I like to change lives if I am able. This event would solidify that and then some for me and April. I can't speak for Simon but I am sure him too.
On day one we were set up next to a pretty aggressive vendor group. By aggressive I mean they were really pushing to get people into their area. Nothing really wrong with it except it caused many people to pass by our booth without ever making eye contact with us. In short, it hurt our sales or, even more simply, our ability to talk to people. One of the reasons I like to work with
Simon is that he has a great following around these parts. He travels all over the West Coast talking at all levels of schools. People see the smiling guy in the pimped out wheelchair and run up to him. It is odd not being the biggest person at the table but this dude earned his reputation and then some. In any case, I stand and speak to people. Simon does the same. April does the same. A great deal of folks just pass by looking like they aren't into anything at all. There are happy people and angry people all over. Simon is doing pretty well but, self admittedly, doing a bit slower than the year before. It is odd for both of us, if I'm honest, because we both have great personalities that people gravitate to but here we are struggling to get consistent connections. It is part of the business that we cannot fully account for that being peoples interest in what we have to offer.
As the sun started beating on us we got more people to talk to us. Simon was, as usual, doing pretty well but I was still not having much success. The first thing that would change my day happened at this time. A young girl name Hamdi came to our table and asked about my book. I told her and she opened it. As I joked with her friend she went from one passage to the next. She talked to April, then her friend. She excitedly gripped my book and proclaimed, "I love this book it is so inspirational. With all I have been going through these past few years it is just what I needed to read." Now, I thought I definitely had a sale. April was smiling. I was feeling good then she said she couldn't get it at this time. We hear that a lot in our business to be frank. Most people never get the books but some buy it at first chance they can. Hamdi lit up as she spoke about my book and what the 3 or 4 passages she read meant to her. She told her friend they needed to get it soon. (Now, I have to break into this story to say that when we unpacked I found a book that had its first two pages not sealed in the binding.) Simon says to her that if she really wanted it she could probably talk to the author about it. The light in her eyes and the smile on her face was enough. I reached over and grabbed the book. I said, "If I give you this you have to read it and tell me what you think. You also have to make her (the friend) get it too!" You would think she won the lottery with this one gesture. I am literally smiling writing that because it was so authentically genuine. She promised to do it all, in fact, she swore she was going to write long messages to us. After thanking me twenty times the two girls walked away. April stood their with her Mom-Smile being proud of me again. I was proud too.
This young girl made my day and time completely worth it. I didn't make a sale but I changed a life. Yes, I want people buying my book. No, I will not give it away every time someone says they like it. I will, however, always stay true to myself. This young lady gave me a friendly reminder that sometimes you have to simply do the next best thing for someone else. She made my day. I wound up giving 2 books away that day. The second was to a young homeless man who wanted to know if he could ride the bus to the public library in Port Orchard to read my book when it got there. From Seattle to Port Orchard just to read my book at a place he could afford? Wow. I gave him my book and he put it with the other book he had in his pocket already.
Day one was a success because I helped people. Yes, I sold some books and had great conversations doing it. I wore peoples glasses as we talked, posed for photos and joked with anyone who would talk to us. I told April that, "these people need a hug" which would bring us to day two.
Two very different things happened on day two. The first, Simon got us permission to move across the street from the spot we were on day 1. This provided us some distance from the more aggressive group. The second as you can partially see in the picture we offered Free Hugs to anyone who wanted them. When I say that one gesture changed an entire weekend I really mean it. Simon, April and I hugged well over a 100 people from little kids to the elderly. One girl hugged us both and simply said, "you have no idea how much I needed this today. Thank you!" Now you might think it was a gimmick to get people to buy our books. Actually it was and it wasn't because we hardly talked about our books to the people we hugged. If they asked then we talked about it. Some asked while others got their hugs and kept going. It wasn't just a gimmick it was, to be clear, amazing. Yes, amazing! We were changing peoples attitudes with one gesture.