105 Ways to Give a Book

How to Work an Event Like a MotherReader

When I told my good friend about my wonderful experiences at Book Expo America, she replied, “Yeah, you do work a convention floor like no one I know.” Her statement made me wonder what precisely I do that helps me make connections, meet authors, and sometimes get me some free stuff. And can I share that knowledge with my readers and fellow convention goers? Well, I’ve been thinking about it for a few days and I think I’ve broken it down to three factors for success.

Be Friendly
It is important to understand that being friendly isn’t the same thing as being nice or polite. Everyone on the convention floor should be polite and frankly nice. But being friendly is a step up. It’s thinking about the other person’s comfort as well as your own. It can be approaching someone because they seem alone or in need. It can even be phrasing things so that the person has a chance to do you a favor and to be appreciative.
Chanukah LightsI really wanted a copy of the promotional piece being done for Chanukah Lights, but I had arrived too late to get tickets. As the line got shorter, I went to the publisher there and nicely asked if there were any way for me to get tickets, as this was one of the only ticketed authors I had wanted to see today. I asked if I might be able to wait until the ticketed participants had gone through, but she was able get me a ticket. At the signing I shared how happy I was to be there and Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda signed the lovely image of an old-fashioned apartment for my Grandma’s 100th birthday, which made everyone feel good.
Be Sincere
In a world of hyperbolic marketing, sincerity comes through. In the above situation, it was true that this was one of my highest priorities, and the publisher could tell. Also it wasn’t as much a hyped author and illustrator as some, and she knew that too. So both my honesty and my delight were genuine. Generally, as I go through the exhibit floor, I comment and compliment a lot. I look through books and tell the publishers specifically what I like about the author, illustrator, or art. If I see a good promotion or swag, I tend to mention it. If I enjoyed a conversation, I say so. I do so without expectations, and yet often leave with books, swag, and contacts. And when I don’t, that’s also fine with me because I shared something that maybe makes their day a tiny bit nicer.
During the last hours of the show, I mentioned to the woman there how much I liked Lulu’s business cards — that I thought they were very eye-catching. The woman seemed unimpressed by my compliment, but a young man leaned over to tell me that he designed them. That gave us a chance to talk about the cards, promotion pieces and the power of good design. The next thing I know he’s giving me a couple of hats for my daughters.
Be Resilient
I thought a lot about how to define this third trait. Was it about being confident? No, because I’m always surprised if people know my blog. Is it about being fearless? No, because I do get nervous, flustered, and embarrassed. But I trust in being resilient. I’m not afraid to do something wrong because it’s the price of often getting it right. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. That’s true, but putting yourself out there means that sometimes it doesn’t go right and you have to let those experiences roll off of you.
Coming out of the stall in the bathroom, I saw a woman wearing a lovely dress. Being friendly and sincere, I told her so. All good. Then she turned around and I said the dumbest thing one can say to a famous author, that being their own name.

“You’re Maureen Johnson!” I said, wisely. I mentioned that I’d met her last year, said my name and blog, and then as she went for the otherwise appropriate handshake, I mentioned how I’d just gotten out of the bathroom and so wouldn’t shake her hand but I’d hoped to see her at her signing but unfortunately it was the same time as Jane Lynch’s presentation so I probably wouldn’t get there on time, but it was nice to see her. And yes, I did that in pretty much one long sentence. She was very sweet, suggested that she might linger at the booth after her signing, and graciously left the restroom. Where I could have now curled up in a fetal position for being an idiot with someone that I admire. But I didn’t. Because good story anyway, even if I look silly. (Photo of author in lovely dress from Alice Marvels, notably not taken in the restroom.)
Does being friendly, sincere, and resilient work? I’d say so. I’ve met people because I was concerned that they looked uncomfortable. I’ve had wonderful discussions from a comment I made. And yes, I’ve been able to turn awkward experiences around into memorable ones. One more example.
On Wednesday, the publicity people were marking down their last hour on the floor. I approached one booth, because the young ladies looked bored, and complimented the title they were featuring. In an effort to engage discussion, I began to leaf through, saying, “John Rocco. John Rocco. What book do I know him from? No, it’s not Wolf! Wolf! Hmmm. Something else...” This went on for another minute before one lady, who was apparently less interested than I thought, said, “Well, the author is sitting right there.”

Blackout And yes, not four feet away, probably hearing his name repeated three or four times, was John Rocco. And yes, I could have run. But at this point, I decided that I might as well introduce myself, ask what book I might be thinking of (it was Moonpowder), and talk about his stunning new title, Blackout. He even signed a poster for me, and was all in all quite congenial. (Hey, Jules at Seven Impossible Things is talking about his work with a bonus interview with the man, so check that out.)
So at your next convention, conference, or colloquium, work that event like a MotherReader. And let me know how it goes.

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MomsChoiceAwards said...

The best post-event post I've read! What a great way to frame your experience ... and get me to reflect on mine. It was great to see you on Friday and chat Cybils, too.

Terry Doherty said...

Helps when I remember which identity I'm logged in as ... ah Cybil (LOL)

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Blackout is one of my favorites from this year thus far. I think it's the PW review that says, "Rocco gets everything right in this book." Indeed, he does.

Jen Robinson said...

This is great advice, Pam. I'd call it a must-read for anyone (especially introverts, who struggle more with these types of events) prior to the next event. I'm going to bookmark it for a refresher. Someday, I'd like to go with you to BEA....

MotherReader said...

Terry, thanks for the kind words! Always good to see you.

Jules, what I don't mention is that if I had run... I was grabbing the book Blackout and taking it with me!

Jen, oh yes, you must join me on the floor of BEA someday. Having a wingwoman makes it easier for both parties, I swear it.

Sherry said...

Thanks for the reminders. I know these things, but they're not natural for me---on a convention floor or in the blogworld, where I think they apply, too. Friendly, sincere, and resilient works just as well for relating to other bloggers, and it has the advantage of being just kind and right.

flashlight_reader said...

You are spot on about being friendly. I was at the IRA conference this year and started chatting with a lady about something random. We started talking about RL Stine and how the line to see him was impossibly long and hard to navigate. I mentioned something about how disappointed my son and one of my students would be because I promised I would meet him and get books signed. Turns out the lady was his publicist. I got to meet him before anyone else AND got a picture with him. =) Plus, she showed me where I could buy already signed copies of his books so I wouldn't have to stand in line. It was awesome.

Alex said...

I will definitely keep these in mind for next year. Most of the time, I felt like I was walking around in a daze. I have to agree with your friend. On Thursday, I was amazed by you as we walked around the exhibit floor, and yes, I did notice the three factors you describe here. Thank you for this advice.

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

I reposted to our facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Pen-and-Ink-Blogspot/209573925731957

Our own Hilde Garcia is also the queen of schmooze.

I think you both agree on the important points: Interest in your fellow attendees and kindness.
Thanks for the post.

Abby said...

Great post, thanks for writing this. I will certainly take these points to heart when I'm on the floor at ALA later in the month! (And yes, I heartily agree that wing men make things like this much easier!)

Rebecca Reid said...

What a great post. I really need to try again sometime, since I really didn't know what I was doing this time.

Madigan McGillicuddy said...

Oh my gosh, that run-in with Maureen Johnson sounds mortifying! ...and totally like something I would dorkily do. My sympathies!

Katie said...

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Sondy said...

This is beautiful, Pam! And I will keep it in mind at ALA! In fact, thinking about last year's ALA, it was precisely the encounters where I was friendly and sincere and resilient that were the most wonderful. Definitely good to be reminded!

Melissa said...

It also helps to be wearing The Best Scarf Ever (i.e., your letter scarf! :)

Loved having a chance to meet you and chat for a bit after the Niche Blogging panel.