Tuesday, April 05, 2016

AWP Pain and Panels, All-in-all, A Fabulous Experience. Part I.

Michael Sedano

AWP: Publisher Marketing Folly

For $875 or $575 dollars, exhibitors secured a hundred square foot booth or a 28 square feet table space at the recently-concluded Association of Writers & Writing Programs at the Los Angeles Convention Center. AWP sold out of both. A wise investment for some exhibitors, an almost total waste of time and resources for a great many.

A major trade show like AWP’s 2016 Bookfair offers publishers a chance to “show the flag” by being seen alongside the competition and making an impression on the thousands of writers and associated literary gente passing up and down the warren of booths and tables.

Beyond the cost of buying the space, each booth or table represents an airfare, lodging, meals, entertainment, and labor of at least one staff member. Measuring the impact of the investment challenges any marketer. More challenging is working the trade show floor effectively. In that, many, if not most, exhibitors fall flat on their face.

I should explain that when I was in the world of work, one of my responsibilities for a major north American manufacturer/distributor was ramrodding the company's trade show program. The firm invested several hundred thousand dollars in national trade shows, tens of thousands in regional shows. Today, when I attend a trade show, the lack of planning and training drive me to distraction.

The wrong way to work a trade show is for staff to sit behind the table and converse with one another. That was the preponderant mode of even the most well-known publishers and literary journals. Staff stared out at passersby with minimal acknowledgement, even when someone stopped to take a hunk of chocolate or an ink pen.

An effective marketing plan requires active engagement. Rather than sit behind their tables, or in chairs of an open booth chatting with pals, each staff member should be on their feet, working the aisle. Make eye contact, greet everyone who passes by name—that’s the function of those two hundred dollar name tags all attendees hang around their neck! “Hey, Michael from La Bloga, do you enjoy contemporary poetry? (or Multicultural literature, or a writer’s workshop?)”

The strategy is called “greet and meet.” Before leaving home, booth staff need to write out a plan that includes at minimum a standard greeting and a list of prioritized talking points. This way when someone takes their time to stop and chat the interaction avoids the desultory and unmotivating “We’re just here to show our back issues and soak up some California sunshine.”

Don’t eat in the booth. Take the time to enjoy the break and that bowl of oniony rice out of sight, and where some pesky customer won’t interrupt lunch and launch into extended conversation while that $12.00 bowl of food grows cold and congealed.

Not that interruptions don’t occur. Among the wondrous pleasures of AWP is the camaraderie of introducing oneself to a stranger (a variation of the greet and meet strategy). For instance, I had a wonderful conversation with Robin Becker when my wife and I paused for a coffee and shared a table with the poet from Penn State. After a bit of chat, including the exciting news of Becker's New Yorker-published poem, Robin agreed to recite a poem for me while I photographed her.

AWP Photographer's Paradise

Photographing public speakers, especially writers reading their own stuff, is my mission in life. I want to capture the perfect public speaker image. Speech means eye contact, an open mouth or lips forming words. Accompanied by gesture and posture, the dynamic moment of eloquence is a joy forever, truly a thing of beauty.

Maritza Alvarez spots the photographer photographing the photographer.
Perhaps that’s just a matter of taste peculiar to being a lifelong speech coach and scholastic debater. Several of the artists I talked to asked me not to share portraits with their mouths open. AWP told me taking fotos would be permitted only if I got permission in advance from the panelists. It’s a good practice for any photographer to do that anyhow.

In coming La Bloga-Tuesday columns I’ll share selected portraits of readers individually--eyes and mouths open, dynamic eloquence in the moment when possible--save those who asked not to appear.

Today, I’ll close with a set of group portraits of some of the panels I sought out.

Firme Tejana-Califas Reading featured Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Guadalupe García Montaño (emcee), Emmy Pérez, Anel Flores, Laurie Ann Guerrero. AWP mover and shaker Verónica Reyes devoted substantial energy to proposing key panels for raza literature, including the outstanding Tejana-Califas panel. That's Veronica on the right, above.

The Latinos In Lotusland panel brought together Michael Jaime-Becerra, Melanie González, Daniel Olivas-Editor, Alejandro Morales, and Reyna Grande.

Poetry of Resistance had a pair of experiences for AWP, an off-site reading at Avenue 50 Studio, and a convention center panel that was such fun that audience members joined the panelists for the group foto.

At Avenue 50 Studio, because La Bloga figured prominently in the Poetry of Resistance collection via our La Bloga On-line Floricanto, I had an opportunity to address the crowd and took their portrait in the process. This gathering includes Con Tinta’s La Pachanga, the annual AWP raza writers’ gathering.

The indefatigable Verónica Reyes (right, above) put together the proposal for Puentes=Bridges: A Queer-Straight Mujeres Reading that included Olga García Echeverría, liz gonzález, Melinda Palacio, Estella González, Karleen Pendleton Jimenez.

Part II next week. If you have a wonderful AWP moment you'd like to share, email me or leave a Comment below. If you have an observation about AWP's organization, mission, site, inclusiveness, email or Comment, please.


Unknown said...

I have pretty much all of the readers on tape. I plan to separate them, title individually, and send them to each performer. They look pretty good. The first I did was the last, actually, Gabriela Gutierrez y Muhs...She was pretty dynamic, a lot of emotion. Anyway, if La Bloga wants to post them...I'll send them to you as I finish each one. The titles are pretty standard IMovie. But, I can drag them into Final Cut and fluff um up a bit...But, I like them just the way they are.

msedano said...

Thank you, John. I look forward to seeing the videos. Have a spoken record of these events add crucial details to history. Several AWP panels were audiotape recorded. Those will be important archives. mvs

Amelia ML Montes said...

Fabulous! Thank you for this important record of our gente at AWP, Em. It was quite a memorable AWP and so good to be with you. Sending you all good energies! Abrazos!

Karen Cordova said...

Thank you, Michael. Having (wo)manned many booths at many trade shows, as well as being in the business of supplying banners, tablecloths, giveaways, etc. for trade shows, I had the same impression that you did. The worst, for me, was beginning a conversation with someone at a booth, at which time a friend of the person with whom I was talking approached, and she completely ignored me. Before leaving, I did say something to her, but I was left with a pretty bad impression. Mostly, I think that people at the booths just need to be educated (over and over), just as you did in your blog. Those who man booths have only several seconds to make an impression to those walking down the aisle, passing their table. P.S. I actually loved volunteering at the AWP Latino Caucus booth.

bloodmother said...

Wish I'd known you were gonna be there, Em.

Kathleen Alcala said...

Thanks, Em -

It was great to finally meet you in person. While I got to visit with a lot of family ahead of this AWP, it was hard to get to the offsite events. My own panel on writing and submission groups, "Never on Your Own," conflicted with the Latino Caucus and the Con Tinta Pachanga. Next year, I will clone myself.

AWP should pay you to give "booth sitting" lessons at each conference. It's exhausting to work a booth effectively, but you are right: sitting there eating while people walk by is not a good idea.

Also next year, there will be a new Latino sf anthology from Wings Press. Thanks for the photos of everyone!