Boy, nothing like a day spent meeting members of the public to measure character – yours and theirs – as I discovered when I appeared wearing my deux chapeaux, as WAG editor and author of the new novel “Water Music,” at the recent Hudson Valley Gateway Experience in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.
First, a big shout out and thank you to Chereese Jervis-Hill of Events to Remember in Mount Kisco, N.Y.; Deborah L. Milone, executive director of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce in Peekskill, N.Y.; and The Mansion at Colonial Terrace in Cortlandt Manor for a truly terrific day. Some 500 guests milled about the antebellum manse, with its Doric columns and brocade wallpaper, savoring carrot-ginger soup, gluten-free crab cakes, mango ice and sweet potato tartlets. Attendees saw cooking demonstrations; got a chance to meet authors like young Claribel Ortega, who’s on her way with the teen witch novella “The Skinwalker’s Apprentice” (more on her in my upcoming women warriors post); and received freebies like the sweet plants provided by Manzer’s Landscape Design and Development and the smart, sturdy canvas bags from Entergy. Who doesn’t love free stuff?
But most of all, I’m grateful for a wonderful lesson in salesmanship, which is very different from writing and editing. Indeed, the event reminded me of what Norman Mailer told me when I interviewed him after the publication of his novel “Tough Guys Don’t Dance”: He had two jobs, he said – writing his books and selling them.
I think writing is the easier. It’s one thing to do a reading in front of friends, family and colleagues as I did at Bloomingdale’s in White Plains, N.Y. March 13. It’s quite another to present yourself before a general audience. That’s where the rubber meets the road as I learned immediately.
I suppose I wasn’t surprised – indeed I half-expected it – when a twitchy man in a baseball cap, perusing the jacket for my novel about four gay athletes, asked me disapprovingly if I knew what the Bible said about gay people. I smiled – too tightly – and said, “Actually, it doesn’t say much.” He then told me he had worked with some gay people who had mistreated him. He muttered something about my having a good day as he moved on and I wished him well. But then I met women and gays – some of whom even identified themselves to me as such – who had no problems with my sales pitch or buying the book.
And this taught me a valuable lesson that I share with you: Know your audience and understand your audience, too. Not everyone is going to like you or what you have to sell. You’re just going to have to cowboy up and take it. By the same token, and continuing with the western metaphor, there’s no point in beating a dead horse. Learn to target your product. I’m focusing on women’s get-togethers, like the Sassy Ladies Shopping Night Out April 11, and the LGBTQ community, because I think they’d be the most interested in what I have to say. (Although I’m not writing off the sporting set. One man wanted to know why I didn’t write about football. Sir, hold out for my second novel in “The Games Men Play” series, “In This Place You Hold Me,” about a quarterback’s search for identity in the brutal, beautiful world of the NFL.)
Other insights: It helps to have great signage. People loved the cover of my book blown up to poster size and they responded to the big WAG logo and our motto, “Where Class Meets Sass.” (That the authors were near the entrance of The Mansion at Colonial Terrace didn’t hurt. Location, location, location.) And it helps to have an intriguing name. People liked the title “Water Music.” And they wanted to know what WAG stood for – particularly a recently relocated British couple, who mentioned that on their side of the pond it means Wives and Girlfriends (of sports celebs). I told them we like to think it means “Women Are Great.” Most everyone liked that a lot.
But not everyone. One guy dismissed WAG as a women’s magazine. But I told him and others that we are a sophisticated, cultured, thematic lifestyle magazine for all. And that leads me to my next point – Be prepared to talk to everyone about everything. I talked to guys about the Jets releasing Mark Sanchez, who, I explained, appeared in the May 2012 WAG. And to women about Princess Diana, as they fondled the June 2013 issue with Prince Harry and Nacho Figueras on the cover. And when guests ran by me, exclaiming about the fabulousness of the gluten-free crab cakes in the next room, I pointed toward the copies of August 2013 WAG with Novak Djokovic on the cover. (Has anyone done more for the gluten-free diet?)
“Eye candy,” one woman said to me, smiling as she picked Nole up and waltzed off with him.
And that leads me to my final and perhaps most important point: In the end, it’s not about you. It’s about the people you’re trying to reach. And those people don’t just want to hear what you have to say. They want you to listen to them, to validate them. Many of the people I met – mostly women who were nurse’s aides, prison librarians and, in one case, a prominent politician who shall remain nameless – were in search of a day off. For them, WAG and “Water Music” were going to be guilty pleasures, beach reading in a season that afforded them very little in the way of warmth. And it was my privilege to provide them with such.
What I – Chatty Cathy that I am – learned from them and others is that sometimes the best sales pitch is silence.
I’ll be appearing at the “Sassy Ladies Shopping Night Out” April 11 from 5:30 to 10 p.m. at The Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Tarrytown. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. For more, contact Chereese Jervis-Hill at (914) 396-7664 or email her at CJH@EventsRemember.com.