Norsk Høstfest, pure Scandimonium
Emily C. Skaftun
Norwegian American Weekly
They told me it wouldn’t work.
NAW has attempted to market the paper at Høstfest before I’m not even sure how many times. Last year we simply sent a box of papers to the illustrious Larrie Wanberg to hand out to visitors and vendors, but before that John Erik Stacy and Gary Erickson had both given it solid tries with little success. The previous record for new subscriptions obtained at the festival was one.
This year, I launched an all-out assault on Høstfest, with an attractive booth, lots of handouts, the technological ability to sign people up on the spot, and of course papers. My incredible assistant Molly is more than capable of minding the store for a week while I gallivant about the country, and I have a husband and another pair of friends who thought this sounded like fun and gamely came with me on what turned into more of a working trip than perhaps they’d envisioned.
My (lofty) goal was 60 new subscriptions, which was the rough number I figured that would pay for the trip (within the year—renewals would be all gravy under this calculation). The math on that number is of course complicated and approximate and leaves out a bunch. But hey, I needed something to aim for.
Before I tell you how many subscriptions we sold, I need to say this: Høstfest is amazing! I didn’t get to see most of it, due to the need to keep the booth staffed 11 hours a day and also to a stomach bug I picked up on Thursday (uff da!), but what I did see was overwhelming. Entertainers, vendors, chefs, authors, craftspeople, and costumed apparitions filled the halls of the North Dakota State Fair building with seemingly limitless energy and enthusiasm for all things Scandinavian. There was so much to buy, to eat, to see, and to hear, that one would have trouble getting to all of it in four days, even if four days sometimes seemed a long time from our little booth. I could fill several issues of this paper with story ideas gathered there at the festival, if I had time to write them all. If I go again, I hope I can take an army of writers with me to interview a tiny percentage of the fascinating participants.
My hands-down favorite part of the experience was finally meeting people I’ve only known as a name on an email, colleagues like Allen O. Larson of Scandinavian Press, partners in crime like Rolf Kristian Stang (dressed as Hans Christian Andersen in a fantastical hat) and Deb Nelson Gourley (who I only briefly met, as we were both stuck at our posts most of the time—but hi, Deb!), most of the authors we featured in September, Høstfest VIPs like Pamela Davy (whose support has been much appreciated!) and the Swenson twins, and more fabulous vendors than I can count.
I also gave interviews with the Minot Daily News (www.minotdailynews.com/page/content.detail/id/626540/Skaftun-represents-America-s-only-Norwegian-newspaper.html) and Prairie Public Radio (www.prairiepublic.org/radio/mainstreet?post=63762), the latter of which was a nerve-wracking but wonderful experience. (You may not be aware of this, but most editors are not natural extroverts. If we were, would we choose a career that primarily involves sitting alone at a computer?)
All of this is invaluable. Oh, and we also sold 19 subscriptions and counting (one came in over the phone), shattering the previous record. We may not have hit my goal, but every subscription helps. (Hello, new subscribers! I hope you’re enjoying the paper so far!)
The true value of endeavors like this one can’t be measured in numbers alone, and certainly not so soon after the event. We handed out several hundred papers, and we will never know how many of them were read, how many were enjoyed, how many were passed along. We will never know how many of the subscriptions we receive this week or in the next few months are as a result of those seeds that were planted.
Call me an optimist, but I think it’s working.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 16, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.