Some Suggestions for “having a table”

So, I am possibly the most socially awkward person on the planet, and I am more likely to offend people than not. Every lesson I know about etiquette and how to comport yourself in public I’ve learned from friends of mine who were civilized when I met them and I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. Just so I’m clear about this–if I’m putting suggestions out into the stratosphere about manners, it’s because I have learned hard and embarrassing lessons of my own and I want other people to not have to do the same.

That being said, some things have occurred to me about public comportment when you’re at a booth or on social media that I thought I’d pass along, because, like I said, I’ve violated these at one time or another and regret it deeply.

In the end, nobody wants to be an asshole, right?

So some ideas if you’re in a booth or presenting your work to other people:

*  Just like with reviews, not every book is for every person. If you are with a group of people who have a wide appeal, try to find out what your customer’s favorite flavor is–and then sell it, even if it’s not your book.

*  There are some events that are not for you–and you’ll end up there anyway. Don’t stop smiling and engaging customers and being positive with your peers. Even if you don’t sell a single book of your own, you are building a public bridge that you might want to cross at another time.

*  If you are in a group situation, remember your group goals. If you’re selling books for your publisher, and they have a promotion, even if this person wants nothing to do with your books, be sure to mention the publisher’s promotion to them, because they might be interested in that. When your publisher is doing well, they have more money to help you promote, and you do well–even if it’s not at this event.

* Some people really appreciate the all-in, high energy approach. Some people just want to browse without you talking in their ear. Take a look at your person and know when to step back. Sometimes gentle silence is just as important to letting someone choose you as active chatter can be.

*  If you are in a group situation, try not to take up more than your share of the table–this is only courtesy. You all put in for the booth and you all should get the benefits.

*  Also, in a group situation, even if your own personal promotion is fantastic, try leave room for your fellow booth-dwellers to engage other customers. That’s only polite.

*  If someone else sponsored the booth–a publisher, a writer’s collective, a friend who had more money than you did at the time–show your sponsor a little love.  Yarn! Magazine and Dreamspinner Press both helped to sponsor an event I was just in at BookLover’s con–you can bet I didn’t shut up about both the magazine–they sent a sample from Australia–and the book bags, which were awesome–because I was grateful. Generosity isn’t necessary–it really reflects well on you if you show public gratitude when some comes your way.

* Celebrate everybody’s sales. Not just yours. Again–some events just weren’t for you, but it’s not your buddy’s fault or your co-worker’s fault that they got lucky this time. Give them the win with a free heart. It will be your day eventually. Also, if you are having a sort of crap day in sales, celebrating other people will help you feel better–it’s totally true.

*  If you’re leaving for a break, clean up your stuff. I know this sounds like, “Derp,” but sometimes we get so caught up in the overload that we tend to just leave. This is counterproductive on so many levels. For one, your stuff might be mistaken for swag if you haven’t clearly labeled it and put it somewhere. For another, leaving your stuff strewn over the table makes the table look sort of crappy, and that reflects badly on the people who are still there, and that’s not fair. And finally, unless it’s your house and you can leave crap wherever you want (and I do!) it’s just sort of rude.

* Don’t snipe other people’s customers. If someone at your table–or even the table next to you–is talking to someone, don’t grab the customer’s attention and holler, “Hey! What you’re looking for is right here!” That’s flat out uncool– and it’s also abrasive. Odds are good you’ll lose the customer for both of you because you’ve made that person uncomfortable.

*  DO make eye-contact with passersby and see if they’re interested. Develop a quick pitch–“Hey, do you like romance?” or “C’mon–isn’t this cover awesome? You can admit it!” Smile, be playful, engage–but don’t make it all about you. It’s about the customer and what they want.

* If what your customer wants isn’t at your booth, but you know where they might find it? Give them directions. That customer might not want what you’re selling NOW, but they might the next day of the con, and now they remember that you were kind and helpful. That’s a powerful thing.

* If you’re scheduled to set up or break down, make those times. If you’re NOT scheduled, but you happen to be there, by all means offer your help. A group endeavor depends on a GROUP–if you’re part of that group, pitch in.

* And if they don’t want what you’re selling–don’t be hurt, and DON’T be a jerk. Human engagement is your goal. Put a bookmark or a piece of swag or a pen in their hands and make them feel like they were glad to have met you. Even if they never come back for what you’re selling, you’ve made your booth a happy place, and that’s attractive to people who DO want the exact thing you’re trying to put into the world.

So, if you look at that picture above, with Jeff Adams, myself, and Mike Lopez, you’ll see that Mike is wearing a SpongeBob costume with a rainbow flag.

Mike didn’t have to wear this costume, but he wanted to have fun, and he went out in front of that booth and engaged people and he sold every author sitting behind the table.

And people saw his books of poetry there and they went flying off, because such a fun, awesome guy talked to them, and they loved him.

Very often, professional success comes down to karma. This guy has the best karma in the world–and he worked hard to spread that around.

So there you go– these are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the last few years of being on a vendor floor or at a booth or a signing. The main takeaway here is to be as generous as you can–and you will always be happy with what you get in return.

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