How To Be Inappropriate: A BookExpo America Guide

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3572524025_054410c5e5The first step in the modification of any behavior—inappropriate or otherwise—is to define said behavior. The purpose of this monograph, then, is not to advocate nor caution against any behavior for participants and exhibitors at BookExpo America, “Where the World of Publishing Comes Together.” Rather, its purpose is to outline which behaviors qualify as inappropriate and are most effective in the context of spending three days inside the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center.

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Selected Factor Loadings of Specific Inappropriate Behaviors of Four Inviolable Proscriptive Norms at BookExpo America

Comments, Sexual and/or Non-Predatory

Q65 “Creepy” brush of hand atop young publicist’s buttocks:  skirt.
Q66 “Hug-and-Tug” atop the oblique depression above young publicist’s buttocks.

Inappropriate Remarks/Blatant personal disregard/
Maladaptive behavior

Q23 “When I touch here my [name of body part] disappears.”
Q213 Repeating question such as “Can I have a taffy now?” or “Will Jesus come as a thief in the night?”
Q80 Any verbalized anxiety about state of publishing industry.

Intrusive Interpersonal Behavior

Q77 “Close talking” with coffee breath.
Q78 “Close talking” without coffee breath.
Q79 “Close talking” on microphone at plenary discussion; see Q81 Plosives.
Q101 Use “Colonel Klink accent” exclusively in International Rights Center.
Q129 Leave freebies from publisher A on publisher B’s table.

Negligent Endangerment of Others

Q22 Publicist locking eyes, smiling excessively at conventioneer.
Q23 Writer with promo brochure stepping on, breaking ankle of Barnes & Noble rep.
Q24 Aggression toward interns and/or security staff (see Q345-Q355 Naomi Campbell)

Follow Up With New Contacts Immediatelyist2_1257555-telephone-woman1

It is received wisdom in dating that one should wait a few days before contacting one’s prospective mate.  This wisdom is wrong, however, while attending BookExpo America.  Before you even place someone’s business card or information in your wallet or organizer, well before you enter that information in your wallet or organizer, well before you enter that information in a Personal Digital Assistant (or PDA), one should follow up that connection with a phone call.  Nothing pleases a foreign rights associate more than a call on their cell phone from a self-marketing author who is walking the floor.  The call you make doesn’t “distract from doing [his/her/my] job,” as one often hears.  Calling minutes, even seconds after the exchange of information solidifies the relationship; young female publicists especially see this behavior as establishing a “safe zone” in which the relationship can grow.

The same applies for how often one should call a new contact.  “Never call someone more than once a day unless they reply,” the website TopDatingTips.com tells us. “Desperation and instability are huge turn offs.” Again, this is not applicable at BEA. One should not only call contacts early, but often.  Calls get dropped, calls are forgotten, voicemails accidentally erased.  Only through saturating follow-up calls can you force the question of whether that co-marketing scheme could work out, or if that editor still has that unsolicited manuscript you handed to him, then emailed, and then FedExed.

Whenever possible, you should have crackers, pieces of candy or breath mints on hand so that you and your new contact may ceremoniously “break bread” with each other.  A small-sized box of Wheat Thins, Graham Crackers, or Saltines kept in a side pocket of a messenger can make sure a “bread” is “broken.”

Regarding Learned Helplessness at BEA

We know from the literature that mice, when placed in a Zero Maze, experience an increase in thigmotactic and locomotive anxiety levels. Recent research indicates that manipulating the D2R and D2L dopamine receptors play a prominent role in mediating emotional response to novelty and inescapable stress.

In a similar way, conventioneers wend their way through the Javits Center or are placed in eight-by-ten-foot booths experience a “learned helplessness”—a kind behavior that can be broken down into the categories of “desperate looks” and “grooming deterioration.” Therefore, it is recommended, then, that conventioneers administer some sort of dopamine-manipulating medication, such as crystal methamphetamine or a milder amphetamine, to assist their performance while attending BEA (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Author, publisher, and book buyer levels of learned helplessness, desperate looks, and grooming deterioration, pre- and post-administering D2R and D2L dopamine receptors.

Nasty and/or Attention-Getting Comments

Unlike other industries, where the practice is regarded as inappropriate, “out of line,” or “bad for sales,” the use of nasty comments at BEA can help business. Although not officially sanctioned by Reed Exhibitions, the company with a majority stake in running BookExpo America and BookExpo Canada, the use of nasty comments can increase market share and garner media attention.

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Figure 2. Nasty comments on three successive days at BookExpo America 2003.

The 2003 BEA nasty comment-filled feud between political authors Al Franken and Bill O’Reilly at an author breakfast proved to be an effective publicity-magnet for all concerned. As Figure 1 shows, successive nasty comments can have diminishing returns, however.  A solid stream of nasty comments tends to reach “white noise” level by Day 3 of any professional convention.

Used in a shrewd and prudent way, however, nasty comments at BEA can still create buzz.  The perfectly placed “That [Name of Prominent Press Editor] is a complete know-nothing cunt” will garner buzz on the Javits floor.  The days of the blanket nasty comments, the so-called “nasty blast,” have passed.  In this niche-driven marketplace, you need to offer nasty comments to a select few, people who you trust, who will carry that message over to another select group.  This “permission nasty marketing” method will ensure you get the nasty comment message out to those who need to hear it.

Selected Factor Loadings of Specific Inappropriate Behaviors of Two More picture-43Inviolable Proscriptive Norms at BookExpo America

Public and Private Flatulence

Q11 “Crop dusting” Left Behind Books/or Tyndale House Publishers booths.
Q12 Exclaim “Fame’s posterior Trumpet has blown!” after letting one rip in front of publisher to elevate conversation, as an allusion to Fourth Book of Alexander Pope’s 1743 work, The Dunciad (lines 71-72).

Inappropriate Remarks

Q222 Urge to insult other people.
Q234 Insult colleagues in your mind without actually saying the words.
Q267 Have regular urges to make socially inappropriate remarks.
Q268 Find self fighting the impulse to yell “fire” in a public place such as the Javits Center.
Q269 Try to cover up your inappropriate action(s) by carrying out another action that is not inappropriate.

Streaking and Other Forms of Public Nudity

Sometimes nasty or attention-getting comments is not enough, either to market your publisher or your own title, or to promote your public library.  In those rare instances, then, it is customary at BEA to resort to the use of public nudity.

The critical literature bears out this tendency.  In a national study of the 1974 “streaking” fad on college campuses, a group of social scientists set out to find patterns and classify observed instances of streaking. (Aguirre B.R., Quarantelli, E.L., and  Jorge L. Mendoza. “The Collective Behavior of Fads: The Characteristics, Effects, and Career of Streaking.” American Sociological Review, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Aug., 1988), pp. 569-584).  The research team at Texas A & M mailed out a 24-item questionnaire to deans of student affairs at various colleges and identified 10 attributes of streaking events for which there was numeric information:

1. Length of streaking incidents.
2. Total number of streakers
3. Location of streaking.
4. Number of places streaking occurred on campus.
5. Units in which streaking occurred.
6. Time of day.
7. Gender of streakers.
8. Whether streaking was done to establish or break a record.
9. Whether nonstudents participated in the streaking events.
10. Whether “mooning” (baring the buttocks) occurred.

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The researchers concluded that public nudity is at its most pervasive when exams and other stress-inducing events occur. At events such as BEA, where so much product is being sold and the state of publishing causing stress in perpetuity, one way to reach those “Big Mouth” bloggers and Twitterers who will talk up your new title is to exhibit flesh. Baring buttocks or hiking up skirts or even khakis may work in lieu of head-to-toe nudity.

Giveaways/Candy/Third-Party Punishmentadvise7331

Handing out free items at a publisher’s booth is common practice at BEA.  It’s a publisher’s way of reinforcing/creating a brand in the minds of the Book Buyer, Reviewer, or Fellow Publisher.  When you receive a piece of candy, you are designated a “Big Mouth Marketer”—someone who will spread the word of that brand once you leave the Javits Center.

But inappropriate behavior can solidify this exchange and offers a more sustainable model.  If, for example, candies associated with a title are placed on the table of a publisher, do not simply pick up the candy and walk past the table.  Rather, as you pick up the piece of candy, propose to form a “Candy-in-the-Butt Club” or “Candy-in-the-Cleavage Club” to bond with your fellow publishing insider.

One variation, the so-called “Kinship and friendship in a trust game with third party punishment (TPP),” involves the placing of candy inside a third person’s cleavage and/or butt, and is especially effective in establishing a relationship with colleagues.  Drawn from research conducted in southern Namibia (Karas) and the bordering northern South Africa (Namaqualand) by Björn Vollan and colleagues at University of Mannheim, researchers found that “kinship is the baseline behaviour when no other features are available to humans.”

A personal exchange among friends, such as candy placed up butts or inside cleavage, in which a third-party observer is punished plays an important role in solidifying cooperation among friends.

A Closing Note from the Author of This Guide

The term “inappropriate” can mean any number of things in any number of social situations. There is inappropriate dress, inappropriate acts, inappropriate words, settings, interactions, touches; abnormal, unsuitable, unbecoming, unfitting, unseemly, unbefitting, incongruous, ill-defined; to be out of place or keeping, inapt; the manner in which a clergyman touches a woman’s leg or the content of a congressman’s homoerotic text messages; an Australian opposition leader caught sniffing a woman’s chair; late night talk show host Conan O’Brien’s skit, “Heavy Metal Guitar Legend Clive Clemmons’ Inappropriate Response Channel.” Through the bank-and-pile and torrent of manners and human custom, “inappropriate” has come to mean anything aberrant, odd, out-of-place.


Daniel Nester is the author of How to Be Inappropriate (Soft Skull Press 2009). His first two books, God Save My Queen (Soft Skull Press, 2003) and God Save My Queen II (2004), are collections on his obsession with the rock band Queen. He co-edits We Who Are About To Die, lives in upstate New York, and teaches writing at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. More from this author →