by Tosh McIntosh
(Originally published 10/29/12)
With another day at the festival under my belt, for a total of 13 hours in the booth, I can report that except for what John Candy in the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” called “barking dogs” in referring to his sore feet, the experience was positive and enjoyable. One unexpected benefit turned out to be multiple opportunities for practicing my spiel when someone asks me what the story is about.
Writers are advised to have ready at a moment’s notice what is called a “30-second elevator pitch,” a term derived from the following hypothetical scenario at a writers’ conference, and which assumes that the writer’s goal is to obtain an offer of representation from a literary agent:
You didn’t get a one-on-one consultation with your dream agent, so you’ve studied a photograph well enough to recognize him or her no matter how out of date the glamour shot happens to be. Throughout the conference, you’ve been on the stalk, watching, waiting for an opportunity that never seems to come.
You’ve seen the agent from afar a few times, surrounded by concentric circles of pushy writers all clamoring for the agent’s attention. The conference ends in a few hours, and you’ve all but given up. One last panel discussion you’d like to attend meets on the fourth floor in five minutes, and you’re rushing to get there.
The elevator door opens, you step inside without making eye contact with the only other occupant, stab the button labeled “4” and glance at the person beside you to offer a casual greeting and Holy Toledo! It’s your dream agent come true.
Panic seizes your tongue, sweat instantly covers your brow, and all you can do is stare at the elevator door even though you know that this is it, the one and only time you’ll probably have to pitch your novel to the agent you are convinced will love it. And without that pitch ready, forget about it.
Standing in the booth at the festival, however, visitors are coming to you, and you have an opportunity to give it your best shot at generating in a complete stranger sufficient interest in your book to result in a sale. By the end of the festival, I had it down pretty well and felt comfortable with how it was being received.
Practice means little, however, when dealing with some folks. Here are some comments:
- “So, this is a novel?”
- “Have you read —– by —–? It has a lot about airplane accident investigation in it.”
- “A friend of mine runs a salvage company specializing in aircraft wreckage. He knows all about aviation accident investigation. I’m sure he’d be glad to help you out, and I’ll give you his contact information if you’d like to talk with him.”
- “I read this book that said there are always five pilot mistakes leading up to any accident.”
- “Well, you know, once a pilot gets over about 350 hours of flight time, he usually has enough experience to avoid making mistakes.”
Spare me, please. But I didn’t say that, of course. I smiled, nodded, and played like the little dog in the rear window of a car with my head bobbing in agreement.
We author attendees talked a lot about the booth layout and came up with a number of ideas for the future. With limited space and four authors hovering about, we have to carefully consider what the visitors can see to attract their attention, how they approach the booth, enter if they need to and exit, hopefully after having made a purchase.
And although we’re convinced we can do better, we received evaluations from others noting that the poster display on the free-standing grids at the rear of the booth was extremely effective, and we appeared to have more visitors hanging around and talking than many of the other booths. I have no idea if that’s true or not, because as reported in my Texas Book Festival halftime report, I never left the booth to see what other writers/publishers had done. My objective was to promote my books, and I couldn’t do that while absent from the scene.
All in all, the festival experience was well worth the time and effort, and we’re talking about not waiting for October, 2013 to attend our next one.