Becoming a Better Salesperson

How_To_Handle_Rejection_400x265February is staring me in the face like Punxsutawney Phil, the angry Pennsylvania groundhog about to be jettisoned out of his hole to predict the weather. A whole month of 2016 has flown by, and I still haven’t made much progress toward setting up my book-selling goals for the year. I have some, I do. Nebulous, dreamy-eyed plans to get more eyeballs on my work. It’s what every indie author wants. If I were a beauty pageant contestant, I might be rhapsodizing about world peace right now. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

One thing I have learned about goal setting and goal keeping is that those aspirations need to be specific and achievable. And I’m usually pretty good about that. I make plans, I fill in spreadsheets, and I even look at them once in a while. But so far this year, I’ve stayed so far in denial I might as well hunker down with Phil.

I think part of my avoidance is that the market for books is changing and I haven’t gotten my “sea legs” yet. You might have seen this by the flood of book-bargain emails in your inbox. There’s more competition than ever—for your attention, for advertising slots, for pretty much everything. Having a good sales plan is more important than ever, and deep in my little introverted heart, the word “sales” makes me want to barricade myself into my writing room and watch kitten videos until my pulse returns to normal.

But I am a grownup (mostly) and I have chosen this business, so I made a commitment to learn how to become a better salesperson.

To that end, I asked Mama Google for assistance. She gave me an article about the biggest ways salespeople fail. What’s the most common reason for going away empty-handed? Failing to actually ASK for the sale.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Get acquainted; offer a pitch; transaction made. So why the disconnect on the transaction part? I know, as an author, many factors in the promotion arena are out of my control. Book bloggers are busy people, marvelous people who write about books for the love of them, but they have lives that don’t stop because I want them to pay attention to my work. Also, no matter how much advertising spaghetti I toss at the wall, for any number of reasons my books won’t always connect with readers exposed to them. And of those wonderful, wonderful readers who do choose to take a chance on me, only a small percentage will write a review or tell their friends. But I like to think I’ve been paying attention to all the advice I’ve heard over the years about spiffing up my book descriptions, writing more engaging newsletter posts, and generally doing a better job of connecting with potential readers everywhere I happen to find them. And, you know, finding them.

Then it hit me: I could be a better salesperson if I actually started ASKING for what I want!

Yes, sometimes it’s tough for me to get bold and ask for help. I want to be able to handle everything myself, otherwise I’m afraid I’ll look needy, and who wants to play with someone like that? Then I had one of those facepalm moments: I actually AM a salesperson! In the past, I’ve sold my own skill set: I’ve convinced various employers to hire me, even when they didn’t have specific jobs advertised, and they were happy with my results. I’ve asked for things and gotten them.

So, if I could ask total strangers to hand me actual cash money for my labor, what was my problem with asking for a little help to get the word out? Granted, there are nice, polite, professional ways of doing these things. But it can be done. I’m doing it. Not everyone says yes, but most do. And all I had to do was ask.

Now it’s your turn: What are you not asking for?

Authors Behaving Badly: The Desperately Seeking Attention Edition

MonkeysToday I read a column in a newspaper I won’t name about an author who trashed book clubs in general and in particular, the group of women who had invited her to visit their meeting and talk about her book. I don’t get it. If a book club decided to read one of my books and wanted me to speak with them, I’d be honored and thrilled. I’ve done it before, and I’d definitely do it again. After passion for writing, connection with readers is one of the biggest reasons I’m in this thing. So I didn’t understand this woman’s behavior. And then, sadly, I did. File this one under the clickbait folder—a provocative headline designed to entice you to click on over and get outraged enough to share it with your friends. And share, and share, and share.

I’m not playing. Not my circus, not my monkeys, as the wise old Polish ladies used to say. All that article did was invite me not to share that author’s article. Or buy her book. I’ve already forgotten her name.

I admit that getting attention—the good kind—is tough for an author. Look at all the things books are competing with: video games, binge-watching Orange is the New Black, social media, actually going out and spending time with other human beings. Some days I feel like the short guy at the end of the bar waving my five-dollar bill in the air—I’m attempting to make some noise, but I don’t think I’m ever getting my beer. So I can understand the temptation to do something a little crazy to get a few eyeballs. Desperation can lead to some pretty terrible things. (Believe me, I’ve binge-watched Orange is the New Black, too.) But I don’t want to do anything to risk alienating that connection.

It’s not a good look. Plus I’d probably feel the need for a shower afterward. So I’m not going to wrap myself in Saran Wrap printed with my book cover. I’m not going to accost people on the street and tell them my fictional children are starving. I’m not going to comment on critical reviews. I’m not even going to put one of those “ethical author” badges on my website. Nothing against the authors who do that—I completely believe in being ethical, and I like what the movement stands for. But when I see one of those, I can’t help hearing my father’s voice in my head: “Never trust a guy who says ‘trust me.’”

Maybe it’ll take a little longer to get my beer, but I’m sure it will taste a lot better.

What do you think about these kind of ploys? Fair game in a competitive, do-what-it-takes world? The fast train out of author-ville? I’d love to have a chat about this.

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Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels with another on the way. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. See what’s on sale this month here.

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Stealth Book Promotion

A sobering fact of promoting your small press or independently published book is that it can seem like bookstore owners would rather endure a simultaneous tax audit, bikini wax, and colonoscopy than pepper their folding-chair-stuffed “conversation” areas with your latest work and, well, you. Nothing personal; as an unknown, they often consider you too great a financial risk. The bookstore doesn’t want to commit personnel or promotional funds on an author that might not draw a crowd or get stuck with a bunch of books they can’t return. It sucks, but that’s the way the world works at the moment.

Therefore writers have to get crafty about annoying everyone you know promoting your book sans retail establishments. Here are a few “outside the brick-and-mortar” ideas that just might work, or at least would be amusing to try.

Bookstore Ninja. This is fun and requires only a copy of your book, a camera, and an accomplice or two. Have an accomplice distract the salesperson by requesting an obscure book about the mating habits of the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach while you place your book on the shelf of your dreams and snap away. Post photos, like the one above I took at a certain large bookseller that shall remain nameless, on your social media. Feeling totally reckless? Leave it there.

Tricks With Tablets. This is another amusing attention-getting device which probably cheeses off the guys and gals at the Genius Bar and Geek Squad. If you’re in a store that sells tablet computers and e-readers and foolishly puts samples out for you to play with, casually pull up your book page and leave. Yeah, I know it reverts back, but if the traffic is heavy, some folks who might not normally see your book will get a glimpse.

Trainspotters. It’s so awesome to see people reading your book in public. When I do, I want to run up and hug them, if not for that nasty business with the restraining order. Know any regular commuters? Give them a copy of your book to read on public transportation. If you’re traveling with companions, sneak them a copy and take their picture as they read. Voila! Instant promo.

The Waiting Room Game. I’ll take “Two Hours of My Life I’ll Never Get Back” for $200, Alex. The doctor’s office. The dentist. The chiropractor. The DMV. A hospital library or waiting room. Slip a copy or two in with the magazines. Think of these copies as seed money. Even if someone walks off with your book, that’s still a reader, and a reader who might pass on your name to their friends. Bonus points if you tailor the drop-off location to your audience. Does Lassie save the day? Drop a copy off at a local pet groomer or vet’s office. Teenage mutant zombie/vampire apocalypse? Try the pediatrician’s waiting room. Comedy? Anywhere people are awaiting a stressful procedure. Try your local IRS or waxing salon.

Public Speaking for the Terminally Introverted Author

I was recently a guest on a “Meet the Authors” panel in New York with ten other women who had been published in the last few months. We spoke about how our books came to be: the initial idea for the story, the publication process, and our marketing efforts.

As each woman took the microphone, the passion for her work came out clear-eyed and full-hearted. How she navigated the publication process clearly struck a chord with the fifty-odd women in the audience, each hoping to see her own work in print or pixels one day.

But as for marketing and promotion, they were less enthusiastic. I heard a distinct note from several of the authors. Marketing and promotion sounded like a distasteful but necessary chore, like emptying the litter box.

Then one panelist stood up and voiced what many of us had been thinking. “Face it,” she said. “We are writers. Most of us would rather hide in our rooms behind our computers.”

A natural introvert, I could really relate to that. But in today’s literary marketplace, even with social media allowing us to stay at our computers, we can no longer completely hide—not if we want to be treated as professionals. We can’t equate marketing, especially face-to-face marketing, with taking out the trash, either. It’s a vital part of being an author, making sales, and generating interest for your next book. So, what do you do if even thinking about speaking in front of a group makes you want to upchuck?

1. Forget the clichés about imagining the audience in their underwear. Frankly, depending upon the audience, that would horrify me even more than speaking in public.

2. Remember why you are there. You arranged this event, or agreed to speak at it. You invited these people and they chose to show up. Now, what are you going to do for them? Reframe your presentation and your attitude toward helping your audience. Do you have important information to relate to them? In my case, I wanted to help aspiring authors by letting them know what to expect during and after publication. This took the focus off me and put it on what I could do for them. Therefore, since it wasn’t really about me, I didn’t have to worry as much about what people would think of me.

3. Preparation really is the foundation. Yes, you’ve been living, breathing, and sleeping your latest project for years. You’ve memorized your hundred-word pitch. You know everything about your protagonist down to her choice of toothpaste. But don’t, do not, if you’re nervous about talking in front of a group, try to wing it. Write out your entire speech if you need to. Keep within the time constraints you are given, if any. Practice. Practice. Practice again. Ask a trusted friend to listen to your speech and give you feedback. Or practice in front of a mirror. You might not notice a nervous tic that needs taming or a habit of saying “um” between every other phrase. When I rehearsed with my husband, I learned that I needed to slow down and pause between sentences. Revise your script as needed, and practice until you are comfortable looking away from it (audiences like eye contact) or even not needing it, except for a few key bullet points.

4. Get comfortable in your venue. Arrive early, to get a sense of the space and settle into it. Bring your notes. Bring those little items that make you more comfortable. My mouth gets dry when I speak, so I always have a bottle of water and my favorite lip balm. I fidget less if I’m holding onto a pen, so I bring one. Whatever you need to keep you settled and to reduce your fears.

And, finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if public speaking truly terrifies you. Check in your local community for a branch of Toastmasters, so you can practice speaking in a safe environment and getting constructive feedback. Once you get comfortable and know your material cold, there’s no limit to where you can take it!

Are you confident in front of a crowd? What helps you the most? Any public speaking nightmares you’d like to share? (Don’t worry; we’re all friends here!)

The Joke’s on Me is Here!

Yes! Beating my personal deadline of having a novel published by a significant birthday, The Joke’s on Me is here and, like the hot tomatoes on the cover, ripe for the plucking.

I’m taking this show on the virtual road with my “Summer of Love” blog tour, which begins Wednesday, July 20. This promises to be lots of fun as I pop around the Internet visiting various lovely and gracious bloggers and talking about the novel, about writing, about the story behind the novel, the cover, and my fascination with tomatoes. Come visit, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or the libation of your choice) and join the conversation. We may even have a giveway at the end.

Blog Tour Schedule for The Joke’s on Me

Wednesday, July 20: About the book and writing, with Karen Cioffi at http://www.karencioffiwritingandmarketing.com

Thursday, July 21: About what inspired the book, with Rashmi Srinivas at A Book Blogger’s Diary at http://abookbloggersdiary.blogspot.com

Friday, July 22: I’ll answer a few interesting questions from Stephanie Burkhart at Romance Under The Moonlight. http://sgcardin.blogspot.com

Wednesday, July 27: Spending some time with Penny Ehrenkranz at http://www.pennylockwoodehrenkranz.blogspot.com

Monday, August 3:  I get to hang out all week with Shelley Workinger and talk about food at But What Are They Eating? http://bookfare.blogspot.com

More dates to come!