A Publishers Life…
“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!
It all started with a stone. A Petoskey stone, to be precise.
For all you non-Michiganders, the Petoskey stone is the official state rock of Michigan. Michigan is one of the few states that actually has a state rock, and for those of us who have resided there at one time or another, the Petoskey stone is a continual reminder of just how special this mitten-shaped state really is.
Petoskey stones are a valuable commodity, partly because so many have been snatched up by tourists and eager entrepreneurs, and also because they are very difficult to spot. When dry, they look like any other gray rock, but throw some water on them and the mottled net of veins that wrap round the stone magically appear—truly an amazing geological experience.
It’s not as easy as you think.
My stepfather, Pete, has an eagle eye for spotting these stones. He walks his four dogs daily on the beaches near Point Betsie, where you can find the gems, and he rarely returns home without a pocketful. My mother carefully washes the rocks and then runs them through the tumbler in their garage. The end product is a consistently shiny, lovely stone.
My parents have Petoskey stones piled in large pots on their deck, gathered in water-filled glass vases on the windowsill, artfully displayed on platters on their coffee table, and heaped in a clear cookie jar in the guest bathroom. They enjoy handing out their rocks as gifts to visiting out-of-towners who are awed by the stones but don’t want to fork over the big bucks it takes to buy one (no kidding—large stones can sell for as much as $100!).
Pete and my mother, Claudia, are opposed to selling their stones, but have no problem giving them away to their friend, Bob, an entrepreneur, who is not. Bob makes Petoskey stone lamps, picture frames, and bird houses, and is working on a Petoskey stone mouse pad (don’t ask).
This, my friends, is where my story really begins.
Last summer, as I always do, I visited my mother and Pete in the quaint little town of Frankfort on Michigan’s northwest coast. I was excited not only because I got to visit my parents and their four very large special dogs, but also because Frankfort was having its yearly Art Fair/Garage Sale. This year was extraordinary because, in addition to the usual booths of Petoskey stone pictures, Petoskey stone puzzles, and Petoskey stone animals, there was going to be a real, live local author who had self-published three books.
Now, I had just finished writing my first novel (available this spring!) and I was beyond thrilled at the opportunity to rub shoulders with another writer—especially one who had been published. I left my mom and Pete in Bob’s booth and anxiously searched for the local celebrity.
I found him sitting high on a chair behind a table of neatly stacked books. I casually picked one up, pretended to leaf through it, looked up, and said, somewhat nervously, “I just finished my first one.”
“Congratulations. You read your first book.”
His sarcastic comment threw me off. Normally, I would have chuckled and made some smart-alecky reply, but his unkind tone and my nervousness did not encourage such playfulness.
“Uh, no, I meant writing it.”
“Oh.” He glanced away dispassionately.
I was flabbergasted. How could he not be overcome with curiosity? He was a writer, for Pete’s sake. Wasn’t he the least bit interested in this woman, who had, by the way, spent the last whole year writing? Writing before everyone got up. Writing on my laptop in the car while the boys took tennis or swimming lessons. Writing while the laundry sat in piles or my husband took the kids to Mickey D’s . . . again.
I wanted so badly just to converse with this man that I ignored his rudeness. Maybe we had simply gotten off to a bad start. I tightly clutched the piece of paper on which I had written out the questions I wanted to ask and started over. After the third monosyllabic reply, I finally gave up. My feelings were hurt, I was tremendously disappointed, and I had never felt so strongly that the club I wanted to join was not accepting my kind.
I set the man’s book down slowly and wished him luck. As I made my way back to Bob’s Petoskey stone booth, I contemplated arson, and bodily harm and childishly regretted that I hadn’t made some nasty comment to him, or come up with a devastating put-down, or even said something to the effect that his books looked incredibly boring and amateurish.
But the truth was, they had not. I would have bought all three if he had humored me, or even just said good luck. But he hadn’t. He had lost not only a sale, but also the respect of another human being, another writer, who just wanted to share war stories.
Drowning my sorrows . . .
It took me a couple of banana daiquiris and some old Barry Manilow songs to get over my funk, but the will to live did return. Soon I will continue this exciting saga, and next, tell of my tumultuous rise to mid-level accounting manager (it’ll have you on the edge of your seat!). Or I could just skip to the moral of this story . . . which is – don’t judge a rock by its cover.
I bet you thought I was going to say something like “have faith in yourself” or “never lose sight of your dreams” or “don’t give up”. But sometimes you just have to connect with a person, or catch a glimpse of a half-wet rock, or be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you just have to be lucky.