July 28th, 2008

Attack!

When I was in college, I worked at Kinderfoto. It was a job rife with challenges: how hard is just hard enough to blow in a baby’s face to make it smile? Once you’ve made it smile, how fast can you nip back behind the camera, to make sure it’s focused and take the picture, without tripping over the tripod legs? When the family returns to view the printed photos and choose their package, how do you con them into convince them to buy the biggest one, so you can get Two Whole Dollars in commission?

 

I didn’t really have an answer to that one. So my modus operandi was pretty simple: I laid out all the photos, explained the packages, and then stepped back and let the family discuss among themselves.

 

I didn’t sell a ton of the $139.95 packages (and very, very few of the larger ones!), but I made a fair commission. (Seriously—who needs that many photos? Especially when you’re going to come back in 90 days to take the six-month-old commemoratives?) And one day my manager said to me: “You know, I’m really learning from you. You don’t do a hard sell—you just step back and leave the customers alone. And it works.”

 

Perhaps I should write a fable, immortalizing this little moral tale, to be distributed amongst conference vendors.

 

I’ve been on the far side of the table. I’ve stood there, studiously looking friendly, while streams of people flow past, carefully avoiding eye contact. When that happens, it means they’re not interested. If they pause about a yard away from the table, and glance at your wares but not at you, it means they don’t want to chat.

 

I was at an event this weekend where there were some exhibitors. Some of them observed these unspoken rules, smiling pleasantly, even saying, “Good morning”—but not ambushing.

 

Others, however, are evidently unfamiliar with these rules. One man—with whom I had not made eye contact—thrust a book at me and requested (oh, he had good manners—just not good convention manners) that I at least read the table of contents before I left. (I did. It wasn’t scintillating. But then, in my experience, few TOCs are.)

 

Then there was the Booth of Doom. I paused before it, chatting with my companion and glancing over the book covers on display. Then the woman I hadn’t noticed on the far side of the table came to the near side of the table. Smiling, she pointed at a chart on the wall that had inspired her book series. The MC started to read off winning raffle numbers, and I half-turned away to focus on my mittful of raffle tickets—but the woman came closer.

 

Soon she was close enough for me to smell the tuna on her breath (if she’d eaten tuna, I mean), giving me a plot rundown on each of her five books. My companion melted away. I was trapped. Ensnared. Cornered. And trying to listen to the raffle numbers while appearing to be politely attentive to the Ambusher was making my brain hurt.

 

How did I ever manage to escape, you ask? In a near-tragic turn of events… another convention-goer approached the booth. The Ambusher lunged—I am not exaggerating here—and without so much as a “Thanks for your interest,” I was free once more. My companion re-apparated, and we fled in terror of further run-ins with exhibitors.

 

On the plus side: I did learn a lot about the art of lunging. And what with the SCBWI national conference next weekend… I think I may just be up to attacking approaching a few victims agents.



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