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.
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.
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.