A table spread with photographs and a fishbowl in front of me, three seven-foot banners dwarfing me from behind, I prepared myself to meet hundreds of writers over three days at Boston's Park Plaza Hotel with a 50/50 mix of exuberance and uncertainty. This scenario lay before me earlier this month when I had decided to take a stab at being a sponsor/exhibitor (party of one) at the Muse in the Marketplace writers' conference organized by GrubStreet, one of the nation's leading creative writing centers (and where my show, the Boston Authors Project, resides). My expectations were fairly low-key; connect with writers, and see how I could help them prepare their book jacket and publicity photography for their upcoming releases.
In truth, I wasn't sure what to expect. I generally work with folks one-on-one, with the exception of gallery openings and speaking at events, so I was equal parts hesitant and excited to take this on. For the first time, I had put together a fishbowl-type of raffle for an author to win a portrait sitting, which was a lot of fun and led to a full fishbowl (won by the lovely Kelly Ford - expect a blog post of Ms. Ford in the soon future). There were photographs in place for people to pick up and examine, a large screen with a slideshow of author images for attendees to peruse, and the requisite marketing materials (livened up by the fabulous faces of past clients).
The wonderful thing about authors as clients is that they uniformly have interesting lives to draw from; at the Muse, I met writers who were art historians, writers who were vets, writers who were professors, writers who fundraise, and writers who work at bookstores. Fiction writers, poets, business writers, all who had come both to get inspired and to learn the intricacies of how to get a book out into the world. While many of the folks I spoke with were from the Northeast, I met a good handful who had certainly gotten their frequent flier milage in - some from California, the Midwest, one from Ireland, all happy to take in as much as they could in three days.
Many of my conversations revolved around the following points:
- Are you a writer? (Not really, unless maintaining this blog counts. And academic articles.)
- What made you want to photograph writers? (Answer: here.)
- Jokes with the punchline being that I only photograph people who hate to be in the spotlight. (It's mostly true!)
- Tell me about how the publicity process works when a book comes out. (I did, very happy to help with that, as it can seem a bit overwhelming, especially to newly-published authors.)
- Where are the photos you create used? (Book jackets, book publicity, editorial/magazine use, webpages, social media.)
- Do you photograph anything but portraits? (I specialize just in commercial/editorial portraiture.)
- Your work is beautiful (Thank you - who doesn't feel good about hearing that?!)
Some of the highlights of my time:
- Seeing beautiful artwork by an author/collage artist
- Reconnecting with past clients and current friends, like the glorious Lara Wilson and Rita Zoey Chin (who also spoke about the essentials of dialogue and is one of the kindest human beings on the planet), and the super-delightful Whitney Scharer
- Stopping by the panels of distinguished writers Jennifer Haigh (Topic: Building the World of the Novel - who is also lovely and a fantastic writer - check out her newest novel), and new-to-me writers Anjali Mitter Duva (Topic: You're the Boss! Taking control of your book promotion plan) and Crystal King (Topic: How to use social media for self-promotion and not be annoying) - though sadly I couldn't stay long, as I had to get back down to the exhibitor's room
- Buying books at the Porter Square books table, run by the delightful and wickedly funny Robert Smyth
- Getting hugs from GrubStreet staff and friends like Eve Bridburg and Sonya Larson, who with Christopher Castellani did a wonderful job running the event
- Making connections with the other vendors - I kibitzed with the beautifully-named Jana Van der Veer from Lesley University, and Jenn Scheck-Kahn of GrubStreet and Journal of the Month
- Eating matzoh behind my booth as I finished out Passover in the most crumbly manner possible
All-in-all, it was a delightful way to meet some fascinating people! I slept well afterwards, too.