For my first post on BEA 2010, I thought I'd talk about what it's like--and what it takes--to be a book pimp.
book pimp n. & v. slang 1. A person who promotes books at a conference particularly during author signings; now, especially for debut or unknown authors who lack a strong platform (non fiction) or fan base (fiction); an intern or struggling writer willing to work for little to no pay in the hopes of gaining experience and useful publishing contacts.
The View of BEA from Midpoint Trade Books' Author Signing Stand
I've learned a lot since my first foray into book pimping last year at BEA 2009. Most notably, I learned not to feel ashamed for being a book pimp.
This year a man in a suit stopped to say, "You should tell other publishers how to sell their books." I agreed with him--well, insofar as books need to be SOLD. I'm not sure publishers need to hire me as some sort of book pimping consultant, though I'm fond of the idea. What's odd about publishing is that people often forget that it's a business. No matter how gorgeous and genius the writing is, no one's going to read it if you don't tell them it exists. And that requires you to sell it.
So here are some pointers for the future book pimps out there:
1. Nail The Blurb: I find it helps to have 1 or 2 blurbs that you can say easily and in a short span of time. You have to catch people's attention as they hurry past you. I usually ask the author for a blurb and then chop it down from there.
Sometimes I sacrifice accuracy for a better pitch, depending on reading trends that might catch people's attention.
Last year I shamelessly promoted a YA paranormal as the next Twilight, only to discover later that it involved sex scenes and uncomfortable situations that would make Stephenie Meyer cringe.
This year I strove for more accuracy but it still doesn't hurt to bend the truth a little. What's important is getting the book into a reader's hands with enough incentive to read the first page. After that it's up to the author to get them to keep reading.
2. Don't Make Eye Contact: Book people--writers and readers--are often shy. They're attending a conference, not a carnival. I find that it's best to scope out potential targets as they approach. Then I stare off into the distance and say my blurb loud enough for people to hear. Sometimes the target will glance at me, and then visibly relax when they see I'm not looking straight at them.
I'm not guilting them or forcing them to meet a debut author and take a free, signed book. I just happen to be suggesting it--loudly--as they walk by.
If you stare directly at the target, you will often scare them off if for no other reason than people don't like to do things that they're forced or expected to do.
3. Pretend Not to Care: Everyone's ignoring you? The author has broken into a cold sweat and is scaring people with her mumbling? No one has taken a single free copy?
Book pimping is inherently awkward but if you let that show, then you'll just alienate people. Try to stay relaxed, smile pleasantly, stare off in the distance and just generally pretend to be confident about the book you're pimping. People can smell desperation and it will drive them away.
4. Snub the Suits: You've got to narrow down your targets or risk sounding like a babbling idiot, and earning the hate of anyone working in the adjacent booths. Make your best guess as to who (at a conference I focus most on gender) the book appeals to. Then gauge how your pitch is working and make changes if necessary. Alter the blurb, and target different people.
Within minutes you'll discover that the book on brain waves and sales appeals more to middle aged men and the health book attracts women in their 30s.
People (mostly women) who aren't dressed up are often librarians. Target them! I cannot stress how much I love librarians as a book pimp. They are friendly, curious, and willing to take a look at just about anything.
Ignore the stressed out men and women in suits. These are industry professionals, hardened and jaded, with absolutely no interest in your author. Don't waste your perfectly pleasant soft focus stare, casual smile, and polished pitch on these industry snobs.
5. Family First: A family member makes the best book pimp of all. They are endlessly loyal, sincerely proud of the author, and somehow people find them much more approachable than the actual author. At this BEA I had help from several family members.
One wife helped cement the author's relationship with a reader by chatting with the reader after he had met the author and taken a copy of the book. Another woman had help from her two daughters. Their style of book pimping was more along the lines of, "Hi. My mom wrote this book. Don't you want a copy??"
It didn't hurt that the daughters were barely legal, attractive, and shameless. Several older men found themselves in line for a book thanks to those two. Hey, whatever works.
6. The Cover is Everything: A beautiful, professional cover will sell itself. Contrary to popular belief, you HAVE to choose a book by it's cover, especially at a conference.
Authors: do not settle for a cheap cover. It may cost more, but a nice cover can legitimize the book and attract interest. One book I pimped was self published, but the designer did such a great job that the cover and interior made the book look like it came from a big publishing house. Honestly, all I had to do was hold it and people lined up to take it. Do not underestimate the power of a good cover.
And that, with a little practice, is what it takes to be a great book pimp!