Friday, May 26, 2006

Book Expo Lesson #1: Publishing is a Homely Industry

Where has Kitty been these past ten days? I mean, she was posting like it was her job when she had palsy, then she's back to work, and she disappears! What's the status of her face? Did she stop being totally self absorbed & self obsessed? Did she get a life? Did she drop the blonde project? What's the deal???

It's okay, it's okay! Nothing has gone wrong, nothing interesting has happened, I was simply out of town for a while, on business in fact, at the huge ginormous trade show that occurs for my industry every summer: Book Expo. This year it was in DC. The Mathematician and I then stayed in DC a few extra days, to ogle at lots of white marble and have a delicious, fabulous, expensive dinner a Kinkead's.

And fear not: my trip did not decrease my level of self-absorbedness either. It in fact, only made me more self-obsessed. I learned a lot at this large scale industry event, both about publishing, and about being a blondie.

The first key thing I learned while at the publishing industry's biggest yearly event:

1. Publishing is a homely industry. I hate to say it, but it's true. Sure, there are hordes of pretty, well-bred girls, recently graduated from schools Sarah Lawrence or Bryn Mawr or Wesleyan, or Holyoke banging down the doors of the New York publishers for minimum wage-paying assistant jobs (jobs that will most definitely pay less per annum than a year's tuition at their alma mater.) But as I learned on my trip to DC, the prettiness stops there, folks. What happens? Do these pretty girls all give up and go into fields like marketing & PR? Or is it that because they are assistants, these pretty people aren't permitted to attend events like Book Expo? Then they quit and pursue fields like marketing or PR? In any case, these eyes have never seen a steadier stream of harried, august, bald-spotted gentleman, or brusque, suspicious eyed, Easy Spirited-women than they did while passing out fliers to the masses at Book Expo.

I was exposed to the frumpiness of our field while handing out fliers for a signing at my company's booth. At first I assumed my company wanted me to do the fliering because the event was for one of my books, and after all, it was my authors who were doing the signing. In the back of my mind I thought maybe they were asking me to do it because I am still officially an assistant (though I sign my own projects) and as such, my job continues to entail a reasonable amount of grunt work. And I assumed they asked my friend (who does not have the word "assistant" in her title ) to pass fliers out with me because, well, we do everything together, and she would be quite likely to be a good sport & keep me company.

Boy was I wrong. I know that now. My company asked me and my brunette colleague to pass out fliers because we are young and cute. And it was a humbling experience, that did a number on our self-esteem, and left me feeling less young and cute, more like a big pile of poo.

Why? You see, generally, people don't like useless pieces of paper. Fliers irritate them. Talking to strangers unnerves them. And they are loathe to deal with both, especially first thing in the morning at 9am on their way into Book Expo. And if this is the reaction we got, I can only imagine what it would have been like to pass out fliers if you were as homely as the people we were giving them to.

Google had the right idea. They passed out cookies.

Now, I have had ample exposure, from waitressing and catering, to trying to peddle wares to the uninterested masses (anyone who has ever been stuck passing apps at an event for anorexic models knows what I'm talking about.) My poor brunette colleague has not. She marveled at my unrelenting smile, my perky "Hi, good morning, how are you," shtick. It really made me realize how good I have become at being totally fake, but sounding mostly sincere, thanks to waitressing. In any case, thank go we were in it together.

My brunette colleague/girlfriend and I were stationed at the bottom of one of two escalators that led to the main ballroom area of the show, right as the show opened, at 9am. As such, we were at the perfect spot to interact with at least half of the people entering the show during the 30 minute window of our fliering. We got rid of all of our fliers, and returned to the booth triumphantly empty-handed.

But here's the thing: I don't think a single member the target demographic for the chick non-fiction DATING AND RELATIONSHIP book we were publicizing took a flier from me. It's geared towards women aged 25-45, to help them develop a "fool-proof plan for finding Mr. Right." The Bridget Jones demographic. The Sex and the City demographic. People who are young, hip, and looking for love. Yet almost every person who took a flier from me was male, most of them were 40+, and a good many of them were grey-haired or bald-spotted august gentleman. I couldn't get women in our target demographic to take a flier to save my life. I couldn't even get them to make eye contact with me. And those who did would wave a dismissive, age-wrinkled hand in the air, while spitting out some lame excuse like "I'm busy at 3," or "Uh, no THANK-you," or "I just DON"T want another piece of paper, OKAY????"

To recap: 300 fliers publicizing a chick non-fiction book on DATING, RELATIONSHIPS and FINDING MR.RIGHT placed directly into the hands of most likely already married, slightly crotchety men. And the lonely bitches in my target demographic, the women who actually need a book like this, wouldn't give me the time of day.

Go figure.

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