Friday, September 18, 2015

Guest Post: A Salesman Is You!

This is going to be awesome!

A few weeks ago, we were having lunch our friend (and one of the the Inkshares Sword & Laser contest winners!) G. Derek Adams. Since this was a table full of authors and their SOs, the conversation inevitably turned to book selling, and I inevitably turned into a grump. This is because, like most authors, I absolutely hate trying to sell my book to strangers. HATE IT. Hucking my own work is probably my least favorite part of the author biz.

But when I said as much to Derek (who actually works in sales for his day job), he didn't join in my misery. Exactly the opposite. He came back with what is probably the best and most useful advice I've ever heard about how to sell your stuff to people without coming across as a jerk.

I'm not exaggerating here. This advice was gold. In the month or so since the conversation took place, Travis and I have already put a lot of these ideas into motion with really good (and surprisingly painless!) results. It was a win to be sure, and so, since the whole point of this blog is to share what works, I invited Derek to the blog to tell you what he told us, and he knocked it out of the park.

So, without further ado, here's author G. Derek Adams's post on how to sell your books in a way that actually sells books, but doesn't make you feel like a shyster!

 A Salesman Is You!

Hello, Sir or Madam. I have a Thing. I would like you to give me money for the Thing. But it’s okay, it’s a Cool Thing. And if you act now, I will throw in this Semi-Unrelated Thing or this picture of a wombat with your purchase of the Original Thing. What if I drive over to your house and read the Thing to you? Or chop the Thing up into easily digestible Tumblr posts with clever captions and sick Stephen Universe GIFs? No?

It’s hard to sell things. There’s something in the psyche or moral framework of most sane human beings that cringes when we have to actively ask another human being for money.  It is only those mutants or cyborgs or emotionally stunted nega-people who actively enjoy the task of parting crisp dollar bills from their owners. The faceless wolves who cry for blood and loose change at the Hunt’s trumpet, the soulless robots of commerce that infest every nexus of the world. As writers and creatives and silky-shoed wood nymphs, we despise the salesman ilk and the further we demean ourselves to enact their arcane practices and rituals - the sicker we feel. The personality types are almost diametrically opposed - which is probably why most of us creatives find it so difficult and soul-demolishing to promote our work, advocate for our web presence, or just flat-out ask people for money.

I get it. Probably better than most. I too have a Very Cool Thing That I Find Difficult to Describe Succinctly. And as my day job I sell things to people, quite successfully. You would think that I would be uniquely gifted - that for me self-promotion would be a SNAP? GUESS AGAIN (or rather guess the first time if I have misjudged your guess-count and you’re still on your first one).

It’s hard. It requires energy. It requires time. It is not fun. Not all writers are introverts - but it’s safe to say the vast unwashed masses of us expend energy on personal interaction instead of gain it. And when the interaction is a sales pitch or a plea, it becomes all the easier to avoid or blunt or escape from them instead of buckling down and facing the sharp jagged edges of Potential Rejection.

So, for the purposes of this post I speak only of the Ethos of Sales - how you can successfully and regularly convince people to give you money for things. It’s far easier to sell things that mean nothing to you than the Thing That Means Everything.  Consider these watchwords and guidelines - ways to get into the headspace of self-promotion and sales without feeling needlessly icky.

1. Direct one-to-one communication is best. 

Social media makes us feel like there’s a vast throng of eager eyes just waiting for our message. This is a lie. Think of how many minutes you spend scrolling your feeds - how much content you glaze over. Now insert your carefully crafted blog post or Twitter rant into that. Just think - how much time do I give to posts trying to sell me something?  You actively avoid them right? Unless you have a reason to investigate or already want the product. More dangerously for you, you can work really hard on your social media presence and get lots of ‘interaction’ there, but that doesn’t mean it’s converting into sales.

If you want to make a sale - you need to put yourself in front of people, directly. One to one - face to face. On the phone, via email, all that. Social Media is a necessary component of your strategy and you would be foolish to ignore it - but down here in the trenches, when selling a couple of books a week is a big deal it’s not going to get you anywhere. When you’re starting out you need to proactively engage people about your book - especially those first few local bookstores. It’s easy to say no to a post under my thumb, it’s much harder to say no to a person.

2. Sales is ruled by data - not personality.

Avoid like the plague those dude-bros who are convinced that they are the ‘Great Sales Phallus’;that they can silver-tongue their way through any customer’s defenses by pure Charisma points alone. That method is quaint and cute and a nice sop to people bereft of any other interesting qualities.

People buy things based on data. How much does it weigh? How long does it take to get it? How much does it cost? Will the green sofa fit through my front door and also match my seafoam drapes?

For a book - what’s it about? What genre boxes are you ticking? How much does it cost? How many platforms can they get it on? Is your ebook DRM free? Does your book feature a neon-swilling arch-lich?

Don’t feel like you have to be the most likable or the most smooth or the most greasy - just present the information! Serve up the data cleanly, clearly, and often! If you feel like it’s a game of ‘Who Likes ME?’ then it’s easy to feel like you’re in danger of losing often and always - focus on the data, and focus on finding what is the important data about your product.

3. Don’t try to hide the sale or that you are the salesman.

I know you’ve seen this sort of activity. People ‘aw shucks’ing their way through a Tumblr post or wringing their hands, thunder clouds of pity and defeat wreathing their heads. ‘I’m sorry to bother everyone, gosh gee willickers! But wouldn’t it be awful nice if you maybe thought about perhaps looking at this Thing over he-ah?’

Or worse - posting non-stop about some unrelated event or project they’re working on - then from the rafters swings in some surprise dollar signs and awkward eye contact.

People understand being sold to. They are not going to be offended by you trying to sell your Thing to them. Just approach the encounter honestly - don’t try to couch it as a ‘friendly chat’ or a ‘coincidental Twitter mention OH I JUST REALIZED blah blah’. If you’re going to sell somebody on something - approach them as the salesman, give the pitch, then move on. Respect the customer’s time and intelligence - they know that you are just streaming old Rugrats episodes because you want to bring up your Tommy Pickles AU fanfic that’s up on Smashwords.

You are not doing anything immoral or worthy of Dark Side points. Again - you are just presenting information, the customer will decide based on the data - not the packaging. So, keep the packaging clean, simple, and direct.

4. Customers are won through repeated encounters - not one brilliant, inspired move.

This one is dangerous. Because this sounds like I’m advocating for those feed-cloggers who post endless links to their book on Amazon or Tweet one line of their novel at a time or any other of the tiring, boring, tone-deaf ploys I’m sure you’re all familiar with. That is not what this is.

You want to ‘touch’ the customer - make an impression. It can be a funny Twitter post, an insightful blog, some fanart you’re sharing, an appearance on a podcast, etc. This is where that social media presence can be really effective. I’m just trying to debunk the notion that you need to lock onto someone  - and SELL THEM NOW. And if you don’t SELL THEM NOW you failed. This is not the case at all. Sales organizations track this and the rule of thumb is most customers need 10-12 touches or interactions before they will buy. That person who keeps <3-ing all your Tumblr posts - you’re just wearing them down, my friend.

5. The System is God. You are not clever.

You need a system and you need to worship it. Rachel is like the platonic ideal of this currently, so take note. Make a plan of when you update your blog, how many times you post on Twitter, what days of the week you update your Facebook fanpage, what days of the week you make calls or work on queries. Make that plan - then worship it. 

The human heart is fickle. There are going to be times that you don’t feel like being clever or don’t have the energy to promote your stuff. Cram it, and OBEY the System. All those eyes out there in the ether - if you’ve been building up a head of steam, building an expectation for your presence - you blow it all if you miss a day. It’s going to take you a long time to find the One True System for you, and you’re going to keep tinkering for a long time - but stick to it.  Marketing strategies take days, weeks, months to pay off - you can’t change tack or fumble a move because your tummy hurts or whatever.

This is to, once again, remove ego from the equation. You don’t have to be clever or charming or witty every single moment, every single interaction - just keep to the System and let it do a lot of the work for you.

6. You are Clever.

You are charming. You are interesting. You wrote a book! Never hang your head and apologize for wanting to talk about it or wanting to sell it to people. And, as an addendum. you’re going to come up with wacky, interesting ways to promote it - things that seem dumb to mere mortals. Do them! Remember, sales requires energy - it is okay to pump yourself up and have a little swagger if it gives you the energy you need.

Be natural, be fun, be the person that made that Thing! That’s who people want to meet - and that’s who customers want to buy from.

7. The sale is not you.

People aren’t buying. That is okay. That is always okay. It doesn’t mean that you are stupid, or unpopular, or any other mean, twisty word you could say to yourself. People avoid putting themselves in sales and self-promotion scenarios  because if people ignore the pitch or outright say ‘NO’ to the pitch - it feels like a very personal rejection.

You have to divorce yourself from that feeling. I pretend I’m a robot with a laser saw-arm and a heart made of broken Nintendos. If you let each failure feel like a personal rejection  then you are going to stop.  You are going to lay down and ignore your System and let your book sales go fallow. And sadly, if you stop, ain’t nobody coming after you to start.

Learn from the bad sales pitches - adjust your marketing and outreach as you see what works and what doesn’t. But don’t tie your ego into it. You are a robot carrying out a program - things work, things don’t, but your Positronic Feel Center stays green and glowing, protected by the adamantine walls of your purpose.

8. Never need.

Nothing less attractive than desperation. Nothing more off-putting than naked lust or raw thirst. If you need the sale your brain is going to flood with endorphins and drug-seeking behavior and adrenalin and bad 80’s movies - none of which is useful or benevolent to your long-term mental health.

So play it cool - no one sale or interaction is your live-or-die moment.

9. Don’t be a weasel.

This one is easy. Just imagine any sales encounter or promotion you’ve wrinkled your nose at - -and don’t do them. Don’t pester people, don’t hound them into their private inboxes unwelcomed. If you send a reviewer an email - and they don’t get back to you, it’s totally cool to email a follow-up. Not cool to spam them, or stalk them on Twitter, or other platforms. Don’t batch email your entire Friends List on Facebook. Moves like this are spawned from desperation and they are very, very, very not effective.

This is why many people avoid sales like the plague - you feel like you’re going to morph into one of them. You’re going to be hawking cars on public access wearing a black and white checked blazer any minute now. Avoid the ego, avoid the sleaze - just put your message out consistently, cleanly, and without damaging your interior unduly.

10. Protect the Pen.

And the final bit - the most important. If you’re reading this - you are a writer. That’s your job - your first job, your best job. If anything I’ve suggested or exhorted makes you uncomfortable or darkens your spirit or interferes with your writing. Do not do it.

Our interior apparatus is delicate - especially the writey bit. The lens or your ear or your third eye or your paint set - or however you visualize the part of your head that makes the Thing. You have to protect it above all other concerns. If this means you don’t sell as many books, good. If this means you don’t sell ANY books for now, good. Because you know what sells books? Awesome books sell books. You writing and becoming a better writer always and forever is the most important thing.

Get out there and push the goblins and fairies and cyborgs this week. Or the ripping bodices or the clever sleuths or the dastardly demons. I can’t wait to buy your Thing.

Do you...want to Thing?

G. Derek Adams is the author of two commercially unsuccessful books and is a fan of irony. His next novel Asteroid Made of Dragons was one of the winners of the Sword & Laser Collection Contest and will be published by Inkshares - a crowd-sourced publisher.  Please come Twitter-frown at him: @gderekadams. He has also written about the emotional damage of self-promotion before on his own blog.


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Daniel Sidrat said...

A very well written article about the joy of sales when sales aren't your actual job.

From the information given, I can see how selling something if you believe it comes down to data doesn't change when it's your own work or a mcGuffin from someone else.

Stick to the data information and concentrate on getting better at producing the product the information is based on.

Thanks for the guest blog and guess what, you can buy my stuff from, no not really I don't have anything to sell except my ideas and thoughts and I give them away for free.

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