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?

A Tale of Two Book Signings (and what I learned from both)

I miss Bob and Betty’s Bitty Bookstore (not its real name), a small, independent bookstore that thrived for years in a nearby college town. With the advent of the mega-bookseller and the Internet, the prime real estate occupied for decades by this merchant is now a Venti-sized Starbucks.

Aside from fulfilling my desire to support locally-owned, independent stores, Bob and Betty also brought a string of “big name” authors twenty minutes from my home so I could come hear them read from their books and hopefully grab a moment of conversation or a sliver of writing advice while they signed my newly-purchased copy.

Even though I was not a published author back then and had not yet put on my first book “event,” I was apparently soaking up knowledge from watching these authors, tucking it away for my first release.

Author A had been published in the New Yorker when I was still learning the proper usage of the semicolon. He rarely landed on bestseller lists, if ever, but had and still has a motivated fan base. He was a college professor by day. He had also made it his personal mission to breathe life into what was often a deadly dull exercise: the marketing of the literary novel. Therefore when he hit the road and took the improvised stage at Bob and Betty’s Bitty Bookstore, he dressed less like a college professor and more like one of his students, and one who was barely hanging on by his polished-black fingernails, no less. When he read, he performed, with no trace of that studied, sing-song-y lilting thing that normally put half the audience to sleep and made the other half perturbed that they missed “American Idol” for this. During the Q&A he was engaged, interested, and gave thoughtful answers. He made eye contact. He gave each signer personal attention. When I left with my signed book, I felt important, and not just because I put a few dollars in his pocket.

Author B, a skilled and experienced writer, hit it out of the park with her first published novel. Her quirky love story plucked a nerve with the tender thirteen-year-old that resides in every woman and some men, and quickly rose to the top of many bestseller lists. Word had it that a movie was in the works. Gaggles of excited women (and the men they dragged) queued up around the corner and down the street to see and meet her. But she seemed tired. Too many cities, too many interviews and her anecdotes were shopworn. At Bob and Betty’s Bitty Bookstore, she did that sing-song-y, lilting thing, but mainly sounded like she’d rather be home in bed. She appeared uninterested in the audience during the Q&A, and worse, at the signing desk, an appointed minion hustled people along. I got to ask one question and she brushed me off. When I left, I felt like something she scraped off her shoe. If not for the signature inside my book (Did she spell my name right? I wondered), I would have returned it and gotten my money back.

So…when I was preparing for my first book event (unfortunately, Bob and Betty had moved on, but I had the great luck to be supported by Tina’s Tiny Bookstore, a new local venue, and again, not their real name), I did not want to be Author B. But I didn’t have the experience in front of an audience to look and feel as confident as Author A. Regardless, this is what I hoped to accomplish:

1. Show up rested. I meditated and did some deep breathing before I left for the bookstore. It helped me cope with the inevitable things that would be out of my control. For one, the venue’s fan was just behind where I would be reading. No big deal; I’d have to talk a little louder. Imagine how Author B might have responded to that.

2. Show up prepared…but allow spontaneity. I rehearsed. I rehearsed again. I rehearsed some more. But when the task started feeling tiresome, I stopped. Okay, when I had the floor, I was still nervous. But I did it without wetting my pants.

3. Show the audience why they’re there. They didn’t come to hear me flub a word or two. (Or a couple dozen.) They came to see me and buy a signed book. I vowed to try to be like Author A in this respect, and not make my audience regret missing “Minute to Win It.”

Most importantly, I wanted to simply show up. Be present. This was harder; staying in the moment was like herding cats. Would we run out of books? Would I forget my character’s names? Would I forget my own name? Mess up a signature? Oy. At some point it occurred to me to just enjoy and focus on the one thing in front of me. Sign a book. Answer a question. Smile. Much better.