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I never cease to be amazed at some people’s inability to use their imaginations and, for one moment, put themselves in another person’s shoes. It’s not that I expected my previous post on this topic to obliterate the habit, really, I just continue to find it surprising.

A gentleman came into the gallery this afternoon to show me his wildlife photography (he failed to adhere to rules 4 and 6 of the previous post, but did okay with the rest). Besides seeming a bit self-important, he was a friendly enough gent and proceeded to tell me about a particular photo he had taken at a to-remain-nameless national park. He explained that, after he returned from his trip and saw how amazing his photo had turned out, the first thing he did was get on the phone with the folks at the national park, to see if they were interested in it. Then, rather grumpily, he told me that he wasn’t let to speak to the man in charge but could only talk to the man’s personal assistant. “She wanted me to send her the photograph,” he huffed, giving me a knowing look. “I said, I’m not sending you nothing.”

“What did you expect them to do for you without letting them see the photograph?” I asked.

He was afraid of them stealing his image. “And, anyway, if I’m going to do business with them,” he said, “I’m going to do it in person and not over the phone.” He felt that  she wasn’t the one he needed to be talking to. He wants to talk to her superior. The one who makes the decisions.

Not sparing his feelings, I laid it out plain for him.

“Why should they give you their time when they don’t even know if the photo is any good or not?” I asked. “Maybe if Ansel Adams was calling they’d be a little more receptive, but they don’t know you from anyone. And treat that personal assistant with respect. She’s the gatekeeper; it’s her job to work with people like yourself, and if you want your photo to go somewhere with the parks you’re going to have to jump through their hoops. You should send the picture. If you don’t feel comfortable sending a digital file, don’t. Send them a printed 4×6 if you’re really afraid of them reproducing it.”

How can an artist expect to even discuss their unsolicited work with anyone without being prepared to show their work? Even if he had been let to speak with Mr. Man In Charge, did he think he would get anywhere just by saying that he took a great photograph? Is Mr. Man In Charge supposed to take him seriously just because he says so? It would be like if I called up a literary agent to ask if they would represent me, bypassing the querying process, and, oh by the way, Ms. Agent, I won’t send you my manuscript until you sign me, but trust me it’s good.

I don’t think so.

If you want to be treated like a professional, you’d better act like a professional, people! And treat others with respect. What makes this fellow think he is too important to talk to someone’s personal assistant? The fact that Mr. Man In Charge even has an assistant means he’s too busy to talk to you, and if you offend his gatekeeper you may find that she’s too busy to talk to you too.

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Through my work I’ve been exposed to things I’d never have guessed at in my formative years. I’ve gone to bookselling tradeshows and met some of my favorite authors, leaving with bags and bags of free books, many of them autographed (squee!). I’ve had my portrait photographed with my twin sister for being local filmmakers, as part of a local artist series that was purchased and donated to our Museum of Arts and Culture. And, most recently, my husband and I were able to attend the 25th annual Works from the Heart art auction last night, thanks to my boss sponsoring a table there. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to bid on anything (I wish) but it was a fun reason to dress up, taste some new fancy foods, and chat with the artists I work with at someplace other than the gallery.

There were some truly stunning pieces there. I decided that I would imagine I had more in my wallet than a punch card to Taco del Mar and choose the five pieces that, in an alternate universe, would be mine.

No.5   “White Trail Road” by Kim Wheaton

I had never seen Kim Wheaton’s work before, but this painting was so beautiful in its simplicity, I felt that I could merely glance at it and feel at peace.

No.4   “Garden Tree” by Mason McCuddin

Mason McCuddin won me over with his “Yellow Brick Road” hanging sculpture last August, and “Garden Tree” didn’t disappoint. A photo can’t do it justice, because the motion of the piece and how it changes from each angle are part of the charm.

No.3   “Country Charmer” by Dean Davis

Though I’m not usually a fan of photography printed on canvas, it did seem to add something to this moody print. In fact, it seemed like you could just fall into the canvas.

No. 2   “In the Grass” by Dara Harvey

Dara Harvey’s whimsical paintings always delight me, but this is my favorite of hers so far, though I may be biased by the subject matter.

No. 1   “Chardonnay” by E. L. Stewart

Elsie Stewart’s painting was my favorite of the evening, no question. Her layers of color, varied texture, and unique composition were masterfully done, and the subject matter is timeless. I must be content to lock the image in my memory, as I’m sure it found a home last night.

We didn’t stay for the live auction (I could only torture my husband for so long), but the quality of art and the amount of wine being consumed promised that it would be a successful fundraiser for the museum. Though I left without any art, I had tasted my first caviar and hadn’t spilled anything on the dress I borrowed from my sister, so I count the night as a success.

Consider the following scenario:

You’re strolling the aisles of a grocery store, looking for an elusive bottle of gluten-free soy sauce when you notice a young employee in a red vest strolling toward you, straightening items on the shelves as he walks. He sees your empty basket and worried expression and asks if he can help you with anything.

“Can I speak to your manager or someone who knows about food?” you ask.

The young employee does a double take and adjusts his vest, an indignant look on his face. “Maybe I could answer your question. What do you need?”

You then doubtfully explain what your looking for — slowly and deliberately since you’re sure he won’t possibly understand — and the now-much-less-friendly grocery clerk responds deftly with the item’s exact location since, SURPRISE!, that’s his job.

The behavior above could be classified as simply rude or self-important, but in another environment it can be interpreted as something infinitely worse: unprofessional.

In my work at an indie art gallery and bookstore, I get this kind of unprofessional behavior all the time. No doubt thinking they come off as “in-the-know” by asking to speak to the gallery owner before even exchanging a hello with me or my coworkers, artists and self-published authors don’t realize that they were already speaking to the ones who could best help them. When approaching a business with your wares, you would do well to keep the following ideas in mind:

  1. It’s like going to the doctor; you don’t have anything we haven’t seen before. Believe it or not, you’re not the first person to approach us because you’re an artist or a writer. Don’t be nervous, but don’t expect us to treat you like a celebrity either.
  2. We’re not fooled. When you come in and ask to speak to the owner, it’s pretty obvious you’re not her best pal coming for a lunch date. You don’t even know her name! In what way is it professional to march into a place of business and ask to see the owner without introducing yourself or stating why you’re there? Of course, we know why you’re here, but the point is you could be an ax murderer. So be polite. Introduce yourself to the people who actually work here, because if by chance you do actually get your wares in here we’re the ones you’re actually going to be working with.
  3. And what makes you think I’m not the owner? I actually had a girl come in one time, march right up to the counter, and ask to talk to “my boss.” I could be the boss for all you know. Treat the person you meet at the counter as though they’re the one you need to talk to. If they aren’t qualified to answer your questions, they’ll direct you to the one you need to talk to.
  4. Put some thought into what you’re going to say. This is a business pitch. Come up with something better than “what does somebody have to do to get their stuff in here?” as though it’ll be some arbitrary challenge like picking the right number out of a hat. Another common one is starting with “I’m an [artist or author]” and then pausing for an uncomfortably long time as though I might break into applause. And for god’s sake don’t start with “boy, I got something to show you you’re gonna like.”
  5. Come in prepared but not demanding. If you’re just stopping in without an appointment, don’t expect the world to come to a halt for you. Ask whether you can leave us with a CD of images of your work or a copy of your book for us to review on our own time, and actually have the CD or book on you so you can actually leave it (common mistake). You don’t need to bother the owner to put it in her hand, it’ll get to her when she’s got the time to look at it.
  6. Be fairly sure it’s a good fit before you start taking up people’s time. Don’t pitch a gallery on your abstract paintings if they only sell western art, and don’t bring your self-published memoir to a bookstore that only sells contemporary fiction. Most galleries and indie bookshops run on a small staff and we can tell if you’ve never set foot in the place before. That’s not necessarily a deal killer, but it’s polite to show some knowledge or at least interest in the business you’re asking to take an interest in you, the business we dedicate our daylight hours to.

The biggest lesson here is that politeness goes a long way. When you assume that the person working the counter is chopped liver and you need to talk to someone more important, the only one you’re hurting is yourself. They are the gatekeeper, the one who actually makes the place run, and the one that you actually are talking to, so make your words count.

Mallory Battista’s Blog

Notes from an aspiring author, artist, and occasional gluten-free cook.

Storytelling isn’t just a thing to do, it is a way of seeing the world.

I am a storyteller. I live as though I am a hero on a quest and I strive to treat every person that crosses my path as the main character of an equally complex and exciting story. I find joy when their paths overlap with mine, and though some encounters are fleeting and others last a lifetime, I see the importance of each one to the continuation of Life's plot. I am grateful for the adversity that is set before me, as it makes me a more well-rounded character and adds challenge and excitement to my journey. And I always, ALWAYS have faith in happy endings.

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