Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Nasty

I haven't pitched at a trade show since my 20s, and I must admit I have some reservations.  By my count, the Fan Expo is 23 days away, but already I have had it demonstrated to me what the biggest problem is going to be.

War stories.

I'm going to be sitting at a table selling a book about role-playing, but there are going to be far too many RPGamers who will see that as an opportunity to spill their guts about their worlds, their game design, their personal insights and gawd knows what other crap encircling their lonely, unsupported viewpoint of the hobby.

Twice in the last week I have had someone launch into a theoretical rant about what role-playing games are and what DMs need to do - despite their knowing that I've just finished a researched book on the subject.  One very well meaning friend did it just a couple hours after purchasing the Guide . . . but I don't fault him.  People love to talk about role-playing.  So as long as I'm selling the book, I'm not going to be an 'expert,' I'm going to be a confessor.

That is more than clear.

I have met this one type, however, that confounds me.  This is the fellow (I haven't met the girl version yet) who sees the book as a challenge - perhaps a threat.  They want to come over and let me know very clearly that they're a great DM, they know everything they need to know, they certainly don't need a book . . . and somehow it is very, very important that I know all this.

Any time that I have pitched, it has been for other people.  I did sell advertising for a small zine I ran during the 90s but that's not the same as hitting random people in a crowd.  As I've gotten older, I've come to understand a bit better why some of those guys I worked for years ago were such pricks. They had to be deluded about their products.  They had invested heavily - usually too heavily - in product they had to move and they weren't able to view the process from any position except with mixed ambition and desperation.

I am pleased that I am not in a place where I'm desperate.  There's no question I need to sell, but since I find the aspect of pitching the Guide as helpful and positive for the reader, I am not thinking 100% about me and my bottom line.  My bottom line is in a good, comfortable place right now.  People seem to like the book, the content, the look and the ideal.  That's a sound, reassuring mental viewpoint to start from.  I feel confident, I feel ready.

But I am going to have to move those challengers off the reservation when the time comes, because I know they're not going to buy the book.  It's going to be a matter of principle with them.  In the bigger picture, even if they were to buy, after much work, they're going to be a wet blanket for everyone else. For that challenger, the conflict is going to exist between him and me.  He's going to push that conflict, because what he's selling is intimidation, conceit and very much repressed fear.

For me, there is no conflict. I'm right, I did the research, I worked like hell on the book and I can't help everyone.  I don't care if this guy 'gets it.'  I don't care if he buys.  I only care that he takes his conceit on the road.  I've paid for the table; I have to be here.  As he's paid for the privilege of walking through the Expo, I want him to keep walking.

I'm still working on how to make him do that.  I'd like to kick him in both shins, then have a private security guard drag him off and explain life to him somewhere private connected to the loading dock, but that's not realistic.  It will be going through my mind, however.  Any lesser confrontational stance is only going to encourage the guy, so I'll have to be polite.  The right words, however, haven't leapt into my mind yet.  I'm sure I'll get some practice.  I'll figure it out.

It's a pity that the hobby contains so many people who have adopted a "me me, me me me, me me me me me me me" perspective on things.  Were the gentle reader and I to meet at the Expo, the reader would find I'm not prepared to talk about my world.  I'm not prepared to talk about the system I'm using or the recent events that happened in my campaign or even what rules/structure I'm working on at the moment.  I will talk about the Guide.  I'm obviously there to sell that.  But in true form, I will be interested in describing the Guide to the reader from the perspective of what the Guide will do for the reader, not what it has done for me.

The reason salespeople do that is because they understand the buyer isn't interested in anything except the buyer.  It is all about the listener.  Why should you give a shit about my book if there's nothing in it about you?  You shouldn't.  I have to convince you that the book was written with you in mind - and then the book has to make good on that promise, or else you'll have nothing good to say about it.

Good writing is a self-less act.  Very few writers understand that; thus, there are very few good writers.

The fellow who collars you to tell you about what happened to him and his last session is the worst storyteller imaginable.  His story is all "me me me."  It has nothing to do with you or me, the listeners - because in no way can we relate to whatever the hell he's saying.  Almost immediately, he's describing some rule the story turns on that we think is dumb or with which we don't play, or which we find makes the story obvious and pedantic - as in, "Well of course, you idiot, did you never have that rule play out before?"  We have nothing invested in his story.  We want him to just stop.

To tell a story, you must begin from the premise, "What does the listener wish to hear?"  To do that, you must have some understanding of why the listener is here, what the listener's agenda is, what the listener is looking for, who the listener is and how the listener wishes to be addressed.  All of that demands subverting the self.

Someone will say, "Alexis, you are the biggest asshole in the RPG community. You're a conceited fraud!"

Am I?  Or have you read this far because you haven't been able to help yourself.  Because this has all been about you, or people you've met.  Has it angered you because I'm selfishly speaking about myself, or has it angered you because you're the subject?  And isn't that what I've been saying?  To make the story about the reader?

I haven't said, be kind to the reader.  I've proposed that one must be aware of, and directed towards, the reader.  And I am.  On the blog, I'm abusive because that's what this community needs.  A good shaking.  A bit of life explained on a loading dock.

But only a fool thinks this is the only way I can write, or the only subject I can write about.  The Guide is about improving your game.  That's all the Guide is about.  The blog, on the other hand, is about improving the world.  Demands a completely different writing style.  The Guide will only be bought by the curious, the affluent, the connoisseur.  The blog is read by anyone whose bored.  Completely different audience.  A completely different approach is needed.

Ah, well.  I was talking about people telling war stories.  And how annoying that is.  And how in 23 days I'm going to be standing in front of a table full of my books and listening to some boring, narcissistic fellow prattle on and on about how his world is a mixture of four different systems I consider to all be shit.  And I will look at him, and do my very best to point out that the book is non-genre and non-system specific.  And that as long as he's here at the Expo, he really should consider picking up a copy.  Then I will push a passage or section on him, and then when it's clear he's totally ignoring me so he can talk more about his world, I will pitch at a random stranger walking by or turn and ask an unrelated question of my daughter, to make it clear to this schnook that I'm not his utility. With luck, he will get the hint.

I wouldn't want having to get nasty.


UPDATE:

Hm.  I have just had a moment of clarity, thinking upon what I wrote earlier this morning.

I know, gentle reader, how volatile I am.  I know how hard I can be.  How rigid.  How unpleasantly certain.

I was only just thinking that the number one complaint about this blog, if one will go read condemnation of me elsewhere, is the accusation that I don't allow disagreement from commenters. That isn't true, as the comment field attests, but that is nevertheless the accusation - and the accusation, I believe, says something about the accuser.

Why, precisely, is it that people become so irate when they perceive they are not allowed to enter into someone else's space in order to disagree with them.  I'm not disallowing anyone to disagree with me; I'm only disallowing them to do it here in a particular way that I find reprehensible.  I disagree with people all the time, I write it quite openly, I don't feel any limitations on my freedom of speech and I'm certainly heard when I attack others - because they come HERE and read me.

Is it, perhaps, that they don't feel as certain that I will go THERE and read their anger?  Is it that they need reassurance that they can control the dialogue on this space, specifically, in a negative way?  That is, after all, their stated agenda: they wish to disagree.  They demand to disagree and to be allowed to disagree where they will!  Damn it, nothing less will satisfy them.

I find that intriguing.  Why should they care?  Why does it matter to them?  Why is it that their 'freedom' hinges upon their right to be negative?

Well, I think I know.  I think the reader knows, too.

8 comments:

Tim said...

Sounds like you should have the comment guidelines posted at the booth.

At the risk of exposing how much of an excitable student I am, I will admit that I prepared questions for Fan Expo about world-building and whatnot. I hope you don't mind. I would have happily paid to just see you give a lecture (which makes me think, how are there not lecturers about roleplaying game theory or science? There are whole books and TED talks about more recent pastimes, like MMORPG philosophy and behaviour...)

Dave Cesarano said...

My copy just arrived in the mail yesterday. I've flipped through it a bit and read the first few pages thus far.

But anyway...

You wrote:

They want to come over and let me know very clearly that they're a great DM, they know everything they need to know, they certainly don't need a book . . . and somehow it is very, very important that I know all this.

...and then wrote...

But I am going to have to move those challengers off the reservation when the time comes, because I know they're not going to buy the book. It's going to be a matter of principle with them. In the bigger picture, even if they were to buy, after much work, they're going to be a wet blanket for everyone else. For that challenger, the conflict is going to exist between him and me. He's going to push that conflict, because what he's selling is intimidation, conceit and very much repressed fear.

If I were in your position and knew exactly this, I'd basically tell them this verbatim to their faces.

Imagine, if you will...

"So, you want to come over and let me know very clearly that you're a great DM, you know everything you need to know, and you certainly don't need a book and somehow it is very, very important that I know all this. Fine, I know it now. So if you're not purchasing the book, please move along and give room to people who might like to peruse and perhaps even buy a copy."

No amount of nerd-rage or flying spittle will be able to resurrect the demolished ego of your interlocutor and will just result in them demonstrating just how much of an insecure man-child they really are. Indeed, if I witnessed such an incident at an expo or convention, I'd probably be convinced by the encounter to buy your book then-and-there.

But that's just me.

Someone will say, "Alexis, you are the biggest asshole in the RPG community. ...

You are. It's one of the reasons I keep reading your blog. Being an asshole is only bad if you are an asshole that knows nothing. Knowledge and reason combined make a person an elitist asshole by necessity. It's amazing the arguments I get into with people about history and historical study, events, the nature and experience of warfare, and all sorts of other things of which thousands of hours of hard work, reading, mastery, research, and money earned me an advanced degree. I get slammed for being an "elitist" and an asshole. "Wonderful, pal, you're still an ignorant moron spouting off rhetoric from a position of ignorance," is really the only possible response.

People hate being wrong. They feel threatened. Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man was wrong about history ending but right about the last man. There's no real adults in the world anymore, just insecure children.

But anyway, if you weren't an elitist asshole I wouldn't be here.

"You're a conceited fraud!"

Yeah, no, you're not a fraud and I don't know you personally well enough to say whether or not you're conceited. But anyways, if you were a fraud, your ruminations on DM theory wouldn't have encouraged me to get your book in the first place and it wouldn't have challenged me to be a better DM.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Tim,

I've talked to many, many people who have told me to bring a book. So it looks like I will have plenty of time. I'd love anyone who wants to talk about the game. Please, no war stories.

Alexis Smolensk said...

LOL, Dave.

Hey, I agree with you, but they will still say so.

Funny you suggested that particular response for the challenger. That is, in fact, what I tried. Didn't play out so well. He wound up hanging out all night at our table for the fundraiser, trying to get something started with me or with the other two salespeople working. Apparently, when you emasculate someone, it just makes them addicted.

Barrow said...

Out of 100, how many people do you think are going to tell you war stories?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Judging by the ratio thus far . . . about half?

Jomo Rising said...

If your daughter, or someone else, is going to be there with you, any chance you could just excuse yourself for a minute, to go do some important stuff? Or would the war storior still be there when you got back?

Barrow said...

The 50% is a cringe worthy amount. So much pent up nerd needing to be released. You could try to focus that array of war stories through activity. A suggestion: As soon as someone starts to spout off, provide that fellow with a clipboard so that he may jot down his war story. If he were to give a single detail, encourage him to push his parchment through a submission box. Remind him you are the judge of the competition and a single detail force biases into your determination. You could offer a swanky T-shirt (I am thinking this picture) or some juicy relevant piece or prize. Or you could offer something that the fellow really wants, his story immortalized. You could transcribe his story in a short using your writing chops.

One other suggestion is to coordinate the nerd releases. Have an unfortunate assistant engage the wet blankets, letting them wring out at the far edge of your table. You now have to fend off fewer of them and you have the breathing room necessary to talk to people about the book.

Nothing is free, not even peace of mind.