“That’s a horrible picture of you.” The woman with the frizzy hair pointed up to the large banner with the caricature of me sitting in my Coffee Blog cup. “It’s really bad.”
“Do you think so?” I replied, taken aback. Not only was her manner brusque, but I actually thought the picture was somewhat flattering and I’ve had worse. (First photo after giving birth – not good)
“Terrible. Not good at all. Your hair looks like a wig and your face looks fat.” She looked around. “Are you giving anything away for free?”
I handed her a pair of cotton gardening gloves with the word “MOM” stenciled on them. “Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled sweetly. “It has been a pleasure.”
She looked disappointedly at the gloves as she dropped them in her bag. “My advice – get a new photographer.”
“A real pleasure,” I repeated as I glanced over at Dawn, who was gently peeling a man’s very hairy hand from her arm. “Dawn,” I called out, “can I talk to you?” She looked at me gratefully as she made her way out of the corner in which she had been backed in to. We needed a code word.
Here’s the dealio . . .
Situation analysis . . . BEA – BookExpo America, the largest publishing conference in the U.S., New York City, May 2009. Windy City Publishers was making its debut and I, along with partners Dawn and Kristyn, was manning our booth on the convention floor. The lines to get in were long and we were crazy busy from the moment the doors opened and a brave librarian threw herself across the entrance threshold, determined to be the first to get Fabio’s autograph. No one had the heart to tell her the Harlequin icon hadn’t been there since 1995.
My friend, Debbie, who helps run the show, was kind enough to garner us a booth in the middle of the action, a stone’s throw from Random House and Simon and Schuster. This gesture was testament to her willingness to let bygones be bygones as earlier this year my husband had gotten into a heated discussion with her. The debate had concerned some ridiculous provision in the contract for the booth space, and we almost didn’t go as he told me, “You can’t sign this, it’s too one-sided.” But the threat of divorce can be a serious one and he quickly changed his tune and made nice with Debbie. “I understand,” she told me apologetically, “he’s a lawyer.”
Don’t judge us by our junk!
Authors, publishers, book sellers, book buyers, librarians and anyone who was willing to pay the piper roamed the two floors of the large convention center. Our goal: to get as many of these fine folk to stop by our small 10 x 10 booth and listen to our pitch. The hook? Junk.
Last January a local warehouse outlet store was going out of business and I struck a deal with the manager to take cases of the cheesy merchandise off her hands for, literally, pennies. The thought at the time was to hand out the Speed Racer tire gauges, rulers that said “girls rule”, gardening gloves (see above), Rubik’s cube erasers and a number of other “gifts” as bait to lure the folks hustling by into the WCP booth.
But Dawn and Kristyn did not share in my excitement. They didn’t find the charm in the golf balls that said “dear dad” or the lighted magnifying glass shaped like a dog. “I’m not sure how to tie that in with publishing.” Kristyn, ever the marketer, told me diplomatically. “They don’t even say Windy City Publishers.”
“It’s just the fact that they’re free,” I said. Thoughts of my cheap relatives passed quickly through my head – had I unknowingly become my father? “Everyone likes something for free.”
My argument did not convince them and we struck a deal. I had one hour after the show opened to make my case. If the gifts did not perform as I expected, the Ice Age II bouncy balls and Harry Potter stickers, along with the other treasures, would be pulled and stored behind closed doors. We could then join the ranks of the sophisticated other vendors who were above such nonsense and hopefully Windy City Publishers would have enough time to earn back the respectability that such a stunt might damage.
The Big Bet
Dawn was so confident they were right, she offered to kiss a certain large part of my anatomy for a year if I was proved wrong, and Kristyn joined in the bet, both women convinced that I had relapsed and the bizarre voices in my head had returned.
It could have been the fact that I stood in the aisles shouting “free stuff” or that I practically stalked the patrons walking by, but within minutes it became obvious that the pink lava pens were a hit. Say it with me, friends . . . we like free junk! I know I’ll take anything (two if it’s small) of whatever you want to give me, even if I have no need for it, no place to store it or don’t even know what it is. I actually bought 1500 of the Rubik’s erasers, knowing that I would have at least one item for birthday gift bags for all the foreseeable future.
But people pushed into our booth, jockeying for position. We overheard librarians claiming that we gave out the best chotchkies and they would pass on our location to their friends. The booth was busting at the seams, folks spilled out into the asles and we couldn’t keep up with the crowds. We did manage to spread the good word of our company and collected hundreds of business cards in addition to talking non-stop for three days. We met some really great people (hi to Ray, Barbara and Peter) and some really interesting people (translation: strange).
I’m not one to rub it in, but WCP was the buzz of BEA, partially because of our swag, partially because of the scantily dressed models we had hanging out (I’m just pulling your leg – Kelly and Leslie aren’t models). I may slightly exaggerate, but we were very popular. The “gifts” proved to be excellent bait, and I’m happy to report I have a year of special lovin’ coming my way from two of my very favorite people (That would be you, Dawn and Kristyn).
Now if anyone is interested in a Rubik’s cube eraser – have I got a deal for you!
A special thanks to our good friend and design expert, Jeff Comeau, (IntuitDesign) for all his hard work, on both his design work and his manual labor at the show. P.S. Jeff, my leg is fine, the bruises have healed nicely!
My mother exaggerates more than anyone else in the whole world. This is not just my opinion – ask anyone who knows her and they will attest to this. It is impossible for her to state just the plain facts and it is one trait, I’m happy to say, that I was fortunate enough not to inherit.
I don’t hold this against her. Years of shock therapy and a minor lobal proctonomy have taught me that this is her way of communicating. I just needed to learn how to divide down to the lowest common denominator. It sounds technical but it simply means that one needs to take what she says and divide by the first number out of her mouth then add one.
Let’s do the Math
Example: If she mentioned that she got over a million calls regarding the neutering of Bob, her cat, then you would take one million and divide it by the first number she mentioned (one million) and add one. Since I am an accountant, I will quickly do the math for you and come up with the correct number of. . . 2. My mother received approximately two calls concerning the removal of Bob’s testicles.
Now, being overly critical of her, I would venture to guess that this was a gross exaggeration and she really received only one. Probably the vet calling to make sure Bob had moved his bowels.
Pete, my step-father, already had a vast understanding of my mother’s affliction long before we did and is proficient in this language. He is also kind enough to translate her verbiage when numbers aren’t involved, but an accurate assessment of a situation is needed. Case in point: when she called me to tell me that their car blew up and Pete and the four dogs barely escaped with their lives, the call went something like this.
Claudia: This was the most horrific thing that has ever happened to us. He’s lucky to be alive – I could be planning five funerals right now. I don’t how Pete sensed that something bad was going to happen, but he did. It was like he had a sixth sense about it. The phone has been ringing off the hook, everyone has called… it almost made the local news. It’s been crazy around.
Me: Can you put Pete on the phone?
Claudia: Let me see if he’s up for taking calls. Pete! (screaming on the other end)
Me: What happened? How are you?
Pete: I’m fine. My toe hurts a bit.
Me: From the truck fire?
Pete: I accidently kicked the leg of the sofa.
Me: No, I mean how are you holding up after the fire, you know, barely escaping with your life and all.
Pete: Oh, that. I saw a bit of smoke coming from under the hood, so I stopped and pulled over. The engine had over-heated and the paper boy gave me and Buddy a lift home.
Me: You’re alright?
Pete: Except for the toe.
Mental illness does run in my family so you can certainly understand how we have learned not to call her out on these stories. I did this once when I was young and foolish, and the treatment and medication required to repair the damage was so extensive that it cost close to a million dollars. I kid you not.