A week ago I had my first experience at NCTE and my first experience with being tied to a specific trade show booth. It was… exhausting. But perhaps not more so than being a strolling trade show visitor. While the NCTE exhibitor hall is teeny-tiny compared to that of BEA, it’s nevertheless capable of inducing the same exhibit fatigue (both mental and physical) as larger shows. I’ve created a list of pros and cons about being bound to a booth rather than being free to roam the aisles. I’ll start with the cons, and put the pros in my second post (the darn blog tool STILL won’t let me combine them into one!) in the interest of ending on a positive note.
The Cons of Being Booth-Bound at NCTE
1. The Endless Repetition.
Quite possibly the most tiring aspect of my booth-bound experience was the fact that I had to say the same things again and again and again to each person who approached our table. "The guy sitting next to me IS actually Gareth Hinds, the adapter/illustrator of these books. The Candlewick edition of Beowulf is type-set and uses a prose translation of the text. Gareth’s self-published edition is hand-lettered and uses a verse translation of the text. His edition of King Lear uses about half the text of the original play. No, he hasn’t done Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet yet. Yes, Gilgamesh is a great idea. He’s currently working on sketches for an adaptation of The Odyssey" and so on and so on, again and again. Now that I think of it, this situation would have been helped by having more titles… All the more reason for Gareth to get back to the drawing table a.s.a.p.
2. Being Charming, Charming, Charming.
That schmooze fatigue—it’s a killer. It’s hard to be friendly and make small talk at booth after booth when you’re a booth roamer. It’s even harder to muster the same enthusiasm when you’re in a booth, though, being greeted by visitor after visitor, because you don’t have the option of doing otherwise, of letting your smile droop, as it were. If you appear indifferent, the visitors to your booth will probably be the same.
3. Being in it for the long haul.
From set up to tear down, several days later, someone has to be in your booth. Okay, they don’t have to sleep there overnight, but during the hours the trade show is open to visitors, someone has to be there to talk about the books and see that they don’t walk away. At BEA I usually hit my trade show limit by the end of the second day. At NEBA, where the floor is considerably smaller, one day is time enough for me to do things justice. In each of those cases I can usually miss the last day of the exhibition hall, or at least break up my time there with education sessions. But when you’re manning a booth? No can do. The saving grace for my weekend was probably the fact that our booth was small enough that we could get away with having only one of us there. That having been said, neither of us liked to leave the other stranded for long, and each time Gareth left I found myself faced with disappointed "customers," all wondering when the adapter/illustrator would return so that they could meet him and have him personalize their books. This meant that I was the one allowed to take the most frequent breaks, which usually involved me dropping in on some author or illustrator’s signing line, in the case of those friends I hadn’t seen in a while or people I’d always wanted to meet. OR it meant swinging by the booth of my publicist pals to see how they were doing or beg them for a favor of some sort. ("We’re running low on $5 bills—can you spare any?")
4. Packing up before going home.
FINALLY the show ends, the exhibit hall closes. Is your work done? No. Before you head back to your awaiting hotel room or (in our case) friends’ apartment, have fun packing up your books, rolling up your banners, folding up your tablecloths, sealing up your boxes. After you’ve done all this, enjoy finding some way to get them out to your waiting vehicle. Or spending a LOT of cash to ship them homeward. Either way, add another couple hours to the end of your day, because all of this is going to take you a little while.
5. Convention Center Food, Several Times a Day
Ugh. Ick. Ugh. My hot tip of the week: eat at the Agape Cafe the next time you’re at the Javits Center. A Greek outfit where the owners work right there on the premises, it offers food that’s actually quite tasty and feels considerably less "processed" than anything else you’ll find in the convention center. My entrepreneurial scheme of the month: set up a business as a Starbucks runner for booth-sitters. Seriously. When I offered to make a Starbucks run for my Houghton Mifflin pals late Saturday afternoon I realized we booth-sitters were all hitting the same wall at the same time and reasoned that someone could easily be capitalizing on that fact. After you’ve been standing on your feet for two days, talking ad nauseum about the same books and smiling to beat the band, tell me you wouldn’t be crying out for something sweet and caffeinated. And if you couldn’t leave the booth to fetch it for yourself, would you not pay someone to bring it to you? I rest my case.
(Where are the pros of being booth-bound at NCTE? In my next post. Read on!)