Last weekend I had an experience worth sharing with anyone who wants to promote his or her book. It’s worth sharing because it’s exactly what you do NOT want to do, a perfect example of how to generate a negative impression of yourself.

I was one of the many volunteers working our Sisters in Crime booth at a local book festival. In honor of the Halloween party to launch our Make Mine Mystery book club, I was dressed as a witch. (Typecasting? Maybe! All I know is I was dressed all wrong for an unseasonably warm October day.)

How Deals Get Made

A variety of readers and other authors stopped by our booth. My “sisters” and I chatted with folks, including a writer who handed us his business card and a postcard of his work. He was complaining about the fact he wasn’t getting any traction in the book world. Being a helpful sort, my SinC friends and I encouraged him, invited him to a meeting.

A little later, a journalist walked by—a woman who I admire and whose friendship I would like to cultivate. We started talking, and the journalist decided to introduce me to the program director of local library several booths over. Seems the library wanted a class on writing for its patrons. Of course, I was thrilled. I’ve taught writing to the executives of State Farm Insurance, to employees of the EPA, at Illinois State University and online, so this would be a great way to promote my work and my new mystery Paper, Scissors, Dead (Fall 2008, Midnight Ink).

The journalist sang my praises to the program director at the library. We were discussing how a writing class might work when—a hand waving a business card appeared two inches from our faces.

“Here! I’m so-and-so,” said the owner of the business card. “This is my card! I’m a writer, too.” It was the man from the booth, He Whose Career Wasn’t Going Anywhere. And he pressed his card upon the program director.

I’m More Important Than You—and I’m Here to Prove It by Interrupting

The program director and I both blinked in astonishment at the interloper. He Whose Career Wasn’t Going Anywhere chatted on merrily about his books. Getting no reaction, other than a polite “thank you” from the librarian, the interrupter shut up. I tried to pick up the conversation where the program director and I left off.

Again we chatted, making plans and working on details. But we hadn’t gotten far when—

“I forgot! You need this! It’s a cover of my book!”

Once again, He Whose Career Wasn’t Going Anywhere stuck his marketing materials in our faces. And he blabbed on for a couple of sentences about what a great book he’d written and did the library have a copy? Eventually He Whose Career Wasn’t Going Anywhere wandered off.

I did get the chance to talk to the program director, and we’ve since followed up. I’ve learned from another friend that this rude man acts this way all the time. And I’m still steaming as I write this. It didn’t help that my witch costume was acting like a sauna. Where did he get the idea that his work, his presence was so much more important than mine? Why hasn’t he realized that his stunt made him look bad? That his behavior has caused others to EXCLUDE him rather than helping him?

A Short Course in Business Manners

In case, you’ve missed my point, let me be clear:

  • Never interrupt other people when they are trying to put together a deal.
  • Stand politely to one side, not too close, and not near enough that you intrude upon their personal space.
  • If you want to follow up, do so AFTER the deal has been concluded or their conversation has clearly ended. (Key—if neither of them is facing you, if they are facing each other, they aren’t done. When they are, someone will undoubtedly acknowledge your presence. Until then, keep your mouth shut.)
  • Never wave your marketing materials in front of someone’s face. (Trust me, your materials are NEITHER that important nor that grand! I tossed He Whose Career Was Going Nowhere’s marketing materials in the trash—and I noticed others had, too. His postcard blinked up at me from a layer of empty water bottles.)
  • Especially when attending a conference or gathering, watch your manners. Your reputation will precede you and follow you. (Believe me, I won’t forget how rude this man was. Not ever. I was dressed as a witch that day for a very good reason!)

Business opportunities pop up where you least expect them. However, if you push yourself on others, if you ignore common courtesy, they will also disappear faster than you can say, “Here’s my business card.” And if you ever try this stunt on me, I will turn you into a toad. Trust me, I didn’t stumble on my costume by accident.

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