Booth-Bound at NCTE, Part 2: The Pros

Alison Morris - November 26, 2007

(Pair this post with the one that precedes it, about the cons of being tied to a booth at the Nov. 2007 NCTE convention.)

The Pros of Being Booth-Bound at NCTE

1. Being able to sit down.
This gets big points in my book. Those concrete floors are murder on your feet, your knees, your back. Lengthy opportunities to rest your aching dogs are a trade show rarity for those expected to stroll the aisles.

2. Being unencumbered by totebags.
As gratifying as it can be to get great loot, it’s grueling to schlep it around, even for short stretches of time. I did acquire some books this weekend but was grateful that each one made the short trip back to our booth without having to dangle first from my shoulders. The tendency to overload one’s carrying capacity wasn’t quite as evident at NCTE as it is at Book Expo, probably because at BEA most books come for free, or for the price of a small (usually $2) donation. At NCTE books must be purchased, though books at author signings tend to be inexpensive ($2-$5 for paperbacks, $5-$10 for hardcovers), and by the end of the weekend large (and large-ish) publishers are selling off all the books in their booth for a song. It was great to see teachers loading up on fantastic new titles for their classrooms at prices often as low as $2. The most expensive rate I saw books going for by Sunday afternoon was 50% off. The men and women taking full advantage of this clearing house are the ones I saw experiencing the worst shoulder fatigue. I can’t imagine how they managed to cart so many books out of the Javits Center, let alone all the way to their homes, but I suspect their methods involved spare suitcases and/or empty automobiles.

3. Gaining shelf-satisfaction.
This is the same high I get from handselling books in our store—it is so gratifying to see customers’ enthusiasm for books they hadn’t previously known, and even more gratifying to send them home with those books, knowing that they’ll be gifted to some grateful soul or put to regular use in some classroom somewhere. I never got tired of watching people get excited about Gareth’s books. (And I hope I never will!)

4. Avoiding the pitch.
I don’t like being "sold to" in the obtrusive, pushy sense of the word, and wearing an EXHIBITOR badge meant I didn’t have to worry about this. Folks at the pushiest of booths (of which there seemed to be relatively few at this show) didn’t bother trying to corner me or hand me bookmarks promoting their products, which was nice, as I find it tiring to repeatedly smile, say no thanks, and dodge my way quickly out of danger. Thankfully I didn’t see one costumed character at this show, which also helped matters.

5. Feeling the love.
When you’re in a booth and people are repeatedly coming by to marvel at your books, remark about how much they love them, and hand you cold hard cash with which to purchase them, you can’t help but get high from the experience. Time and again teachers came by our booth with praise for Gareth’s Beowulf graphic novel, explaining how much their students loved it and how much easier it made the task of enticing them to read full-text versions of the book. Many others came by having not yet seen Gareth’s books and most of them were thrilled with what they saw. This was especially gratifying because so many of them are purists—Shakespeare and Beowulf afficionados if ever there were. Watching these folks be won over by Gareth’s talents was deeply satisfying.

And then there was the teacher who came by the booth looking visibly moved. She said she could hardly believe that Gareth was there—that she’d been wanting to meet him in person for a couple years now, to tell him that he’d literally saved one of her student’s lives. This kid had been a gangbanger, she said, who was pretty well lost to the streets and completely uninterested in school. After she noticed him doodling on the pages of his notebooks on several occasions, she went looking for something that might interest him artistically and get him hooked enough to take some interest in what she was teaching. An online search brought up Gareth’s self-published edition of Beowulf, which she then ordered multiple copies of for her class. The student she’d been trying to reach was impressed enough by Gareth’s artwork to go looking for his web site, where he read that Gareth had created some of the art by modulating his freehand drawings on the computer. Computers + art. Apparently it was a combination this kid hadn’t heard about before. "You saved his life," this teacher said. "He went on to study computer science."

There wasn’t a dry eye in the booth.

It was worth being booth-bound all weekend just to meet that one teacher and hear her story. Working in a bookstore I have daily contact with customers and get to hear their "this book touched my life in this way" stories on a regular basis, but sitting at NCTE last weekend it occurred to me that my colleagues tied to neighboring booths probably don’t get to hear those as often. This leads me to believe that there’s a great deal to be gained (and learned) from being a regular booth-sitter.

Seeing as how I have these conversations on an (almost) daily basis, I’d still choose to roam the floor over having to remain stationary. I’ll happily do the latter at future trade shows, though—especially if someone’s willing to bring me the occasional cup of overpriced coffee. And a Greek chicken pita sandwich or two.

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