Behaving Badly?

Much to discuss in Post-Dallas ranting, it seems, and I’ve had a few moments of putting my feet up to enjoy that rare luxury – blog reading.

*ahhhhhhh* Air conditioning and high speed internet? There’s nothing better!

Most of my feedback about the conference so far that I’ve noted has been directed to the hotel and the manner in which the conference “fit” into the hotel, and what suggestions I’d have for future conference sites. But since this was my first national, I didn’t process and synthesize a lot of what I noticed until I started reading the feedback of experienced conference attendees.

Allison Brennan’s rant on RtB yesterday brought attention to something I’d noticed in the book signings – the mass acquisition of a LOT OF BOOKS.

This is one of the people I saw with a big ol’ cart full of books. Now, if you are this person, and you’re reading all those books, more power to you. I’m using the picture as a sample, since I saw several people with carts, boxes, and suitcases, filling up with books.

I myself took home a suitcase of books, half of which I plan to read and half of which we shall be giving away as bootylicious prizes on this here website. But if I did ask for a book signed as a prize for contests, I always asked the author if that was OK with them.

Brennan’s problem focuses on something I saw a few times – people skipping the line, grabbing two or three copies of a book at a signing, shoving them into their cart, and moving on. Seems these people make no secret of their intention: resell on eBay or in stores. Free books for reselling at entire profit? 

Oh, my. Surely Miss Manners has something to say about that.

So here’s a question: what’s the best way to stop them? Marking the books “RWA Only” so anyone with a book marked as such is fingered as a book snatcher? Would a buyer even care?

In the comments to Brennan’s entry, Walt, master of the CuppaCafe, suggested RFID tags for entrants to control access, though that may drive up the cost of admission to the conference on the whole and create a logistical nightmare for everyone involved. Jane rightly pointed out that volunteers are already thrown into the deep end at times (I volunteered Saturday morning and had someone with me at the workshop booth who knew the answers – thank heaven because I knew none of them) and serving as tech police as to who gets in and who doesn’t would be far, far less than fun.

But even then, the folks I saw loading up the luggage looked like they were conference attendees, and I saw them every day, at every signing – taking one book or more than one without waiting in line to get them signed. So you can’t block attendees from attending, or even getting multiple copies – again, if the line was short and I wasn’t going to be robbing someone else of their copy, I’d ask for more than one for giveaways or for a friend.

So what’s the solution? Aside from tripping them and running off with their crate on wheels?  I know a lot of Bitchery readers are professionals in other fields, and I know I’ve been to tech conferences back in the day where my access was controlled. Hell, try getting into the Democratic National Convention. I practically needed to give them a molar, and I was an intern with a fully-functional, holographed, laser-readable, and watermarked press pass, and that was over ten years ago. What options do you see as viable for discouraging the thievery of books from author tables?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    kate r says:

    I don’t know but I noticed the same thing going on at the two RWA conferences I attended (‘03 and ‘04)so it’s not a new thang.

    You get so many books thrust at you anyway (or you used to)… I guess if an attendee wants to steal more she’d have to bring an empty steamer trunk or haul the loot to the UPS store.

  2. 2

    After attending six conferences I reached a point that I started LEAVING the free books in the room for the maids.  I knew I’d never get around to reading them and I’m too damn lazy to resell them.  I only would get signed books for others who asked me or who I really wanted to read.

    That cart photo you have is really typical of every conference.  I just shake my head and move on.  I mean, doesn’t it cost them a fortune to send all of that home???

  3. 3
    Jepad says:

    The question I have is whether some people filling up carts of books means that others at the conference are finding tables emptied before they get there? 

    I guess I’d be bothered by this behavior if it’s robbing others of their chance at getting some free books.

    I guess you could make it more difficult for them, by not allowing them to bring in crates or giant suitcases to load up. They’d have to keep trekking back and forth to their hotel rooms.  But again, any sort of enforcement will be problematic and likely create lines and delays.

  4. 4
    Teddy Pig says:

    I was gonna say…

    Um how about take away the thing they are using to haul with!

    I do not think any of those people would be trying for more than a few books without the use of a wheeled carry all.

    I have seen on more than one occasion no carrying bags or boxes allowed in the conference to stop just this type of gluttony.

  5. 5
    Jesse says:

    People are like that everywhere.  I work for a nonprofit, and at our last fundraising luncheon, several people who were still there when we were cleaning up came over to the area where we were stacking leftover give-aways we had taken off the tables, and were grabbing handfuls of pencils.  Why on earth would they want that many pencils branded with our organization?  No idea. And these were likely people who had donated hundreds of dollars to attend the event.  Some people go bananas when they see free stuff.

  6. 6
    nina armstrong says:

    A sf/f conference I attend regularly that gives away a fair number of books dealt with this by simply forbidding anything in the area that cannot be carried. RFID chips won’t solve this-I’m sure it is attendees.

  7. 7
    Shayera says:

    I’ve never been to an RWA, but this sounds exactlly like BookEspo behavior. They forbid the wheelie carts, but there are always a few people who get them through.
    I always swear to be discriminating and not pick up more than I think I can read. But I always end up with tons. This year I shipped home 57 pounds of books. Just books. And most of them are autographed.
    I always see people grabbing two or three copies of thing. Sometimes right from the hands of the publisher’s rep. And I always hear the reps sating, “they’ll take our books, but they never stop and talk to us.”
    Those grabby jerks make me sick.

  8. 8
    Jen C says:

    I wasn’t there, but here is what I am picturing: tables with the author behind the table covered in books, with a line of people asking them for a free copy that could be signed?  Right?  Well, rather than tags, why not just… keep the books behind the table?  So if Lisa Kleypas has a table, she has boxes or shelves behind her, and everyone has to stand in line to get her book.  That seems easier.

  9. 9
    Tracy says:

    I agree with those that mentioned the conference not allowing the wheeled carts.  I love to read but I could fit PLENTY of books in a shoulder tote bag. 

    If someone is caught with a cart~the cart, and everything in it, should be confiscated.

  10. 10
    P.N. Elrod says:

    There’s always gonna be greedsters at any event, but thankfully they are in the minority.  The few paltry bucks they might get on eBay for signed copies won’t cover their expenses for attending.

    They’re being rude, but there’s no cure for that.

  11. 11

    This was my first conference so label me niave. I picked up lots of books, autog’d to me. I wanted them. To me, I wouldn’t want to sell anything like that. Call it respect. Call it whatever you want. I did bring home one or two books that I already had on the shelf. I will keep the signed copies, and the unread new books will either go to a friend or will be used for contests and promotions.

    I don’t know how to control something like that from happening, but picking up mulitple copies blindly… Let’s just say my mama taught me better than that. I did pick up a few authors’ books who had more than one release and I ASKED if I could get both. Most allowed it.

    I drove so the decisive cut off at weight or quantity wasn’t an issue. The whole eBay thing is annoying. At least do the publisher and author the honest effort of buying it properly before some Jane Doe makes an extra wad on it.

  12. 12
    Gabrielle says:

    What Jen C. said—keep the books behind the table. And maybe get volunteers to hand over 1 copy per person as the person is at the table. I think there’d be plenty of volunteers happy to assist an author for the hour or so of the signing.

  13. 13

    I didn’t realize people were grabbing books when the author was seated and signing.  The only ones I “grabbed” were the ones where the authors were not in attendance, and that was like two books.

    So great meeting both of you, btw!

  14. 14
    LDH says:

    First off, I agree that those people who take books gluttonously as a means of profitting off of them are turds.

      With that said, though, I can’t denounce people who, when at an annual Romance convention, in which they are surrounded by free books, wouldn’t want to load up with them. It’s like a kid in a candy shop where everything is free.I do, of course, agree that full courtesy should be paid to the authors/ rep’s, and that you shouldn’t take more than one… except for that occasional one for a friend. No one likes a douche, but let’s not hate the bibliophiles. (I myself confess to being a RAGING bookslut. When the library has a giveaway, I haul them away. It’s not malice- it’s compulsion.)

      Also, it seems strange that people are critiquing the wheelie carts when earlier the message board was full of suggestions to bring along a wheelie suitcase.

  15. 15

    Our Friends of the Library booksale had to ban carts.  Too many people were racing through, filling them up with books and then later going through them and willy-nilly discarding the ones they didn’t want, leaving them in piles on the floor.

    The behavior of people in a setting like this never fails to astound me.

  16. 16
    Charlene says:

    A cart that size – it would likely take me three months to read all those books. Possibly less. As to resale, 99% of people are not going to know what a RWA is when they buy a book on eBay or half.com, so big ol’ notices aren’t going to matter.

    I’ve never been to that kind of convention, though. You’d think that the writers would do something if they minded, though.

  17. 17
    KellyMaher says:

    Being a librarian who is committed to at least the next three ALA conferences and a few other besides, has attended three in the last 6 months, has attended 3-4 BookExpo America conferences, and a romance writer who has attended about 4 RWA National conferences, I can say that I have become *very* discriminate about what “free” things I pick up.  I do my absolute best to limit myself to one medium shoulder tote full of things per exhibit hall day (if not less) at the librarian conferences and the same at publisher giveaways at RWA.  The reason I do this: I’ve got enough books in my life (today my boss claimed I have a bookstore in my office…let’s not even think about what I have at home) and I don’t want to pay the shipping costs for mailing that stuff home.

    This kind of behavior is sadly endemic to any kind of conference I’ve attended whether as the attendee or tagging along with one of my parents.  Thankfully, it’s a limited few who engage in it, but they usually do it with such bombast it’s hard to ignore them.  The more conferences I’ve attended the more I’ve made a point to talk with exhibitors and publishers and thank them for their largesse.  Yes, at the librarian conferences, they’re usually trying to sell me something, but it’s a courteous thing to do if you want that oh-so-fab tote bag (of which I also own way too many).  I’ve gotten to the point at conferences where I try to graciously refuse the goodies because I don’t want more, but often the exhibitors/publishers don’t want the expense of shipping themselves.

    I think I’ve gotten a bit off point, mainly because this kind of behavior is a sore point with me, especially as the librarian conferences specifically ban the wheeled contraptions and they still show up on the exhibit floor.  My ultimate tip for the free goodies: if you can’t carry it yourself, you don’t need it.

  18. 18
    KellyMaher says:

    Oh yeah, forgot to mention that at RWA in New York a couple of years ago, I got to see Jo Beverley shut down one of those line hoppers graciously, but very effectively.  I want to be just like her if I ever find myself on the other side of the signing table.

  19. 19
    Jude says:

    I agree with the books behind the table idea, so that anyone who wants a book, signed or unsigned, has to wait in line with everyone else. If they want two copies, they can stand in line twice.

    I don’t care whether some people take every free book they can get or some people only take the books they are most interested in, but it does bother me that my conference and membership fees subsidize a system wherein some booksellers with no love of the genre use the opportunity to grab as many books as possible in order to make a profit.

  20. 20
    Walt says:

    What options do you see as viable for discouraging the thievery of books from author tables?
    Large men with machetes. THWACK!

    There’s normal greed and then there’s abuse.  If you have a legit badge, you have a right to be in line for free books.  I’m sure that publishers don’t care how many books you walk away with, but picking up more than one book should be done only by the permission of the author or her rep.  Grabbing books because the author isn’t there is a no-no, but multiple books from a missing author’s table is theft. 

    Look, educating the authors and the publisher’s assistants is the first step here.  Educating the RWA members themselves with a polite sign

    “Removing books without permission of the author or the publisher’s rep is punishable by death, to be enforced by ‘The Black Swan Of Kenyon’”

    might work as an additional step. 

    But yeah, the other way is no in-outs.
    And the machete dude.

  21. 21
    RB says:

    One thing I have learned in life is that many people have a different perception of what is good behavior.  Some people may think it is acceptable to do this, with the attitude of “They want us to take the books!”  I think education is key as you are doing here.  Perhaps a nicely worded sign that says “One book per person, and please wait your turn in line.” 
    I also think preempting the behavior by placing the books behind the table is a good idea.  Frankly, if I were the author I wouldn’t want them to wait in line for an autographed book and thus increase their profit margin.  Of course, I would also be the type to leave some out for grabs that were conveniently missing th first chapter.

  22. 22
    Claudia says:

    I like the idea of keeping books behind the tables and not putting them out before authors arrive. The goal is is to lessen or prevent early and big hauls that can leave even a signing author with no books to give away. If ebay sellers and their minions wait like everyone else, more power to them.

    I’m bringing a rolling cart to my first National next year, but also plan to volunteer and don’t know how much “collecting” I can do…
    Nearly all will be promotional giveaways and I won’t bother getting anything but my faves signed, if I do even that.

  23. 23
    wavybrains says:

    I loved my free books at Reno (The last RWA I attended) and I saw this happening there too. Reno limited you to one trip through the goody room. I think that was an excellent thing! I think with your name badge, you could get one goody room pass and 8 signing passes (or however many signings were scheduled). You’d have to give your signing pass to someone at the door in order to get in. That would curb non-attendees and people bringing “helpers” to help them load up. Also, at Reno, a number of authors dealt with the problem by keep all books at their feet, and just putting one copy out on display. If all authors did this, people would be forced to talk to the authors to get a copy, and the authors could decide if they wanted to give unsigned or multiple copies. These are two very simple, low tech solutions that could curb a lot of the problem. It’s a lot harder to be greedy when you have to talk to each author and decide if you want to stand in their line or not. Signs could be posted too, and volunteers could be educated about what behaviors to watch for and which ones to police. Stamping books “not for resale” might help curb the ebay trade a bit too. While many will go ahead and list, their buyers may flag them for selling the books. I’ve flagged a number of sellers who have sent me ARC’s and not-for-resale products. The signings and free books were my absolute favorite perk in Reno, and I’m looking forward to SF. I took home 3 boxes of books from Reno, and I’m pleased to say that I read them all over the course of a year and half. I discovered so many wonderful new authors and genres this way, and I went on to purchase more books from my favorites and to recommend them to friends. Keep the signings but police the greedy profiters closely!

  24. 24
    wavybrains says:

    Oh yeah, and I totally agree with all who said no carts or wheeled carrying devices. I got a huge number of books in Reno with just my conference tote bag. That would be an excellent low-tech, low-cost limiter on greedy behavior!

  25. 25
    Angela James says:

    Well, rather than tags, why not just… keep the books behind the table?

    That was going to be my (reasonable) suggestion. But then I got to Walt’s suggestion and it involved machetes and…well…his idea is better!

    I don’t mind the rolling carts, I understand the idea of wanting to save your back. I gathered a lot of books and I told every author who didn’t autograph it specifically to me that it would be going either to the moms in my local playgroup or for giveaway on my blog. I knew I myself wouldn’t read a great portion of the books I got, but the moms I know locally love to read and don’t get the opportunity to attend these conferences. I can share the love, it only costs me shipping. It’s a way for me to spread my passion for romance, for books and for certain authors.

    That said, I saw behavior like this at RT, BEA and RWA. Some people just feel a sense of entitlement that nothing the rest of us say or do will moderate.

  26. 26
    megalith says:

    Hmmm. I’m afraid I can see both sides of the issue. I’m not supporting the rude grabbing of multiple copies for resale on Ebay, but I can picture circumstances in which I’m interested in reading something but have limited time to wait in line. Let’s say there are ten authors signing, and three or four of the well-known authors have humongously long lines. I’m interested in reading all ten authors’ work, but don’t have enough time to wait in line to get all ten books autographed. Do I ignore the new authors’ books, costing them a possible new fan?

    I think the publishers would say that it’s better to have a few avaricious boors abuse the privilege than to prevent getting copies to as many readers as possible. The decision has already been made to give the books away for free, right? It’s the autograph and talking to the author that is the privilege you’re waiting for. Why not have an alternate booth with copies of books available upon presentation of your badge. They could swipe your badge to confirm you’re authorized, or simply use their discretion as to how many books they give you. The printing industry conventions I attend ask to swipe your badge for everything, then send you promotional material. You either agree or don’t agree to this, depending on whether you’re truly interested in more info or just window shopping.

  27. 27
    megalith says:

    Er, so what I’m trying to say is: If you restrict access to the books by placing them behind the signing table, I think there should be an alternate, controlled way to quickly acquire a copy of a book(s) if one is forced by time constraints to sacrifice the privilege of an autograph and author contact. Or am I missing the point of the books being given away?

  28. 28

    I do keep my books behind the table, as a mark of respect to the people who take the time to wait in line.  I hate when I’ve had a dozen people patiently waiting in line for as many books, and some grabber cuts the line and snatches a book or 2 and runs off.  It’s unfair to the people who had the courtesy to wait their turn.  So I’ve learned to only put a few books in front of me – close in front of me – at any one time.  And I also call out “only 6 left” if the line is stretching out and I know I’ll run out before the people at the end will get there.  My way of returning the courtesy.  I love RWA booksignings as a way to give new people the chance to try my books for free, but courtesy is always good.

  29. 29
    Jenny Crusie says:

    I don’t give a book to anybody who hasn’t waited in line.  I always run out at the free giveaways, so I’m not about to hand one to somebody who reaches across.  I also almost always have to tell somebody who wants two to get back into line because it’s not fair.  I’ve never had any trouble doing this, but then I’ve got a rep as a real bitch, so that helps.

  30. 30
    megalith says:

    Okay. So it sounds like the lines operate less like the lines at author signings at a bookstore—to attract/reward readers as well as allow for author/fan contact—and more like a first-come first-served prize giveaway. In which case, I can understand why everyone who managed to get in line in time would be mighty pissed by line-jumpers and multiple-copy snaggers.

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