Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Writers, Start Your Sales Pitch

You're a writer. Why should you need to know about sales?

At a recent writing convention, I moderated a panel about publishing, and asked four editors the question, "What is the difference between an author who does nothing and an author who actively tries to sell their own books?"

The answer: Night and day. A self-promoting author may sell twice as many as a wallflower.

But yet, so many authors are inadequate at making sales. It's embarassing, or beneath them, or uncomfortable, or not their job.

The fact is, all authors should learn how to effectively sell. In fact, you (or someone on your team) has to sell your books six times before you get paid. First, you sell it to an agent, then your agent sells it to an editor, the editor sells it to the publisher, the publisher sells it to the sales team, the sales team sells it to the book buyer, the book buyer sells it to the customer.

If someone isn't buying somewhere in that chain, the book will fail.

Now get ready to hit your print key, because here is the key to successfully selling your work:

The secret to sales is to not make it selling.

Huh?

Concentrate on value, and what you have to offer. Focus on the experience you're giving, not the cost.

Sales isn't about looking for buyers; it's about finding the people who are looking for your product even though they don't know it yet.

Be funny. Be confident. Be genuine. Be memorable. Be enthusiastic.

In person, I've found the best trick to sales is listening to the customer. Not only their needs and wants, but what they had for breakfast, how their brother in Duluth is doing, and what their favorite TV show is.

Pitch your book like you'd recommend a movie to a friend. This is what it's about, and why you'd like it.

Which is more effective:
  1. This is a book about a guy named Bill who goes on a journey of self-discovery while battling an evil force that's invaded his home town.
  2. Did you like the Matrix? It's like the Matrix written by Stephen King, with giant flesh eating monsters and an ending that you'll NEVER see coming.

Whenever I sell a book, I always use the line, "You'll like this, I promise." This assurance takes the uncertainty out of a purchase, and makes the customer feel like I'm doing them a favor, rather than they're doing me a favor.

Lots more detail about selling is available on the TIPS section of my website.

On the Internet and through snail mail, I've found the best selling tool is to offer freebies---advice, information, stories, signed stuff, and laughs. Give the buyer a reason to keep reading. If it's just an ad, you'll be ignored. But if you're giving them something they want, they won't even realize it's a sales pitch.

So many small presses email me, thinking that a long synopsis will make me rush out and buy their books. They jump right into it: "Here's a excerpt from the latest release from BuyMe Press."

Where's the romance? Where's the foreplay? Where's the sense of fun?

When I send out newsletters, the majority of the text is about giving. Here's a contest you can enter. Here are some free books. Here are some people I'm naming characters after. Here's a free short story. And finally, here's where you can find out about my new release.

In my library mailing, the libraries received content. An interview with two well-known authors. A signed coaster. Reasons why their patrons will want these books, and an easy way to order.

Look at this blog. Look at my website. How much of it is devoted to promoting my writing, and how much of it is devoted to informing and amusing people?

But yet, I'd bet that practically everyone who visits here knows the names of my books.

Is that good selling? You tell me.

32 comments:

E. Ann Bardawill said...

Many, many, MANY years ago at a convention, I nearly breezed by a guy promoting his self-published comic.

I chatted with him a bit, and he took my note book and drew the main character for me. He was very personable and polite.

I picked up the comic a year or so later on the basis of that meeting, read it, got hooked and have bought every book he ever published.

The comic was Dave Sim's Cerebus.
Amazing work.

For anyone interesting in self-publishing, he is a success story worth investigating.

For anyone who likes comics, Cerebus is a masterwork.

Adam Hurtubise said...

Not only do most of the people who visit your blog know the titles of your books, Joe, but I'd bet most of the people who visit your blog also own copies.

So, yeah, that's good salesmanship.

Adam

jamie ford said...

Another great self-marketer is T.L. Hines. He still has the day job so he can't promote his book full-time, but he's a marketing guy by day and has taken a marketer's approach, creating a “Be a Publicist” promotion.

And of course Joe is a fantastic promoter. The fact that we're all here is evidence.

I think the same rules apply to most creative fields. My wife is a fine artist and she gets more commissioned work from networking than she ever does from gallery showings.

Mark Terry said...

I hate you.

Okay, not really. Generally speaking we're on the same page. But I find this hard--for fiction. For my nonfiction, it seems like second nature. I don't know why that is.

I want to add a point here, though. It has to do with self-confidence. Joe, you've got it. Or you fake it real well.

With my nonfiction, I have that confidence. I know what I'm selling.

I'm not quite as confident of my fiction. And I think I need to be in order to sell it effectively. Tough, tough biz. And of course, it's a Catch 22. The reason I'm confident in the nonfiction is I've sold hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles and book reviews, etc., and been paid thousands of dollars for the privilege. Fiction's been more of a struggle.

So good advice. Excellent, disturbing, important advice.

Best,
Mark Terry

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

Speaking of your newsletter... when are you sending your next one??

Christa M. Miller said...

Joe, you seem like an extrovert - or at least someone to whom dealing with people is second nature. Although, in general, I try to jump into social situations with both feet - many times I still say something stupid, or it comes out the wrong way, or I do something else that may as well stamp an "L" on my forehead. That seems like a huge price for jumping into a sales pitch with both feet. What do you recommend for people who just have no social skills?

JA Konrath said...

?What do you recommend for people who just have no social skills?"

I recommend getting social skills.

Take a public speaking course. Join Tostmasters (all towns have them.) Practice your sales pitch until it's smooth.

Writing is no longer a solitary business. You need to get out there and meet people.

Fear is a good thing. It gives us something to conquer.

Next newsletter coming in March...

JSilverman said...

Have you ever considered the print on demand publishing industry (POD)? It's a good start for any first time authors. You don't need to hire or find an agent. Therefore you can eliminate one of the times you have to "sell" your book. Your book will be available for customers to purchase on popular retail sites like Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com, plus customers can go to retail stores and place orders there too. It does take a proactive author who has a plan and direction for what they want to accomplish. There are quite a few companies out there. Check the Author House out too, at www.authorhouse.com.

JA Konrath said...

"Have you ever considered the print on demand publishing industry (POD)?"

Thanks for sharing! I actually blogged about this very topic a few days ago. Perhaps you can read that thread, and then repost your advice there.

I'm curious to see if you have anything to add.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

What is this authorhouse thing? Should I be looking into it?

:)

Michael Snell said...

>> Whenever I sell a book, I always use the line, "You'll like this, I promise." This assurance takes the uncertainty out of a purchase, and makes the customer feel like I'm doing them a favor, rather than they're doing me a favor.

This is hubris..., but of course. However, the only uncertainty this would dispell for me is if I would bother listening further.

JA Konrath said...

"However, the only uncertainty this would dispell for me is if I would bother listening further."

This is a perfect example of the type of people you'll sometimes run into while selling.

Should you hide your head in shame, never to push your books again?

Or should you shrug it off, realize it's his loss, and look for the next customer?

Some people don't get it. Some people won't buy it. Some people won't like you.

But some people will.

Your goal isn't to please the whole world. Your goal is to please some of the world.

And if you don't have enough faith in your work to believe that others will enjoy it, you shouldn't be writing.

If snide remarks, insults, or brush-offs can stop you, you're in the wrong business. Become a musician. I hear they have it easier.

Jim Michael Hansen said...

Joe, since you mention your library mailing adventure, I have to ask, How's that going? What's your hit rate so far?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

It could be worse. You could be sitting in a room with six people, pitching your latest story in hopes that they'll like it enough to hire you to write it.

Or you could be there to discuss a script you've already written, having to justify to these people why they should invest time and money into it.

Not to minimize Joe's hard work, but selling your book is a piece of cake compared to what those poor, unsung screenwriters have to go through to get a job.

Jude Hardin said...

I loathe sales gimmicks and, like my dear old friend Holden Caufield, hate phonies.

Christa: Love your work and do your best to get it out there. Do it sincerely and from the heart. You're not selling used cars. You're selling your creation.

Yes, go at it with a target market in mind, but always be true to yourself. You might want to think of it as an investment strategy for your soul: Pay yourself first.

We can't all be Tony Robbins (or even J.A. Konrath). What a boring world it would be if we were.

You can hand somebody a manuscript and say, "I know you're going to like this," but, even as you say it, you'll know it's not the truth.

Maybe they'll like it. Maybe they won't. If they don't, maybe the next person you hand it to will. Gotta keep trying.

If your work (and your pitch) comes from the heart, and if you're sincere in your dealings, they'll remember you for that.

If you're a walking infomercial, full of hype ("hype" being the nice word for what I'm really thinking here), they might remember you.

Probably not fondly, though.

Joe: I think you're sincere in what you do, and I respect your efforts. You have a personality geared toward sales. That's you. I think it's unrealistic to urge someone to reinvent themselves to fit that mold, though. We all have our special talents, and I'm content to live with myself the way I am. If I never sell a book, at least I can say I'm not a phony.

Not being a phony means a lot to me. It means more than sales.

JA Konrath said...

"Not being a phony means a lot to me. It means more than sales."

Believing in yourself is believing in your work. That's not being a phony.

We're not endorsing some prescription medication that we know causes birth defects. We're endorsing the fruits of our labors.

If selling your writing means you have to learn some new skills, embrace that, don't shun it and say, "Sorry, it's not me, can't do it."

I'm not telling anyone to kill baby harp seals. I'm telling them to learn to speak in public, treat this profession like a business, and figure out how to pitch.

It's easy to say, "Well you're good at it, I'm not."

I didn't pop out of the womb writing and touring. These are learned behaviors.

The less you leave to chance, the greater chance you'll have at success.

Jude Hardin said...

Nature vs. Nurture.

It's a debate that volumes have been written about.

I firmly believe that people are born with certain personalities. That doesn't mean that one is better than the other, or even more likely to succeed. It just means that we're all different.

Perhaps introverts are more successful in some ways than are extroverts. Perhaps they're better listeners. Maybe they have keener insights into human nature. These skills are also important for success as a writer. It's not all about being the best salesperson.

Johnny Carson was painfully shy. Standing before millions of TV viewers five nights a week didn't change that fact. He found his element and thrived in it. But when the lights went down, when the show was over, he was still essentially an introvert. Yes, he popped out of the womb that way, and he went to his grave that way. I'm pretty sure he never took a public speaking class.

"Believing in yourself is believing in your work."

Absolutely. No argument there.

But everybody isn't geared toward shaking every hand in the room. Everybody isn't a quick wit, with a joke for every occasion.

Some people are gifted in public speaking. Some aren't. The ones who aren't can work on it, but they'll never be as good at it as the gifted ones.

Does that mean they don't get to succeed?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Joe...I'm still learning from the Konrath machine...and writing it down!

Anonymous said...

Joe,

Can you talk a little more about what you specifically do when you are 'selling' your book? For instance, in a bookstore where you might be signing, in addition to talking to those who approach you, do you also approach customers nearby and try to sell them on your book? If so, what kind of reaction do you get?

I'm especially curious because I recently went to a Borders and a local mystery author was chasing customers and waving flyers in their face, saying "I know you will like this book."

As it turned out, I'd read one of his books, and didn't care for it, so I just smiled, took a flyer and walked away.

Next week, he was back, chasing me again, and it was a turnoff. I saw him coming and left the store.

Just wondering if I'm the oddball here, or if this is effective on his part? When I go to a bookstore, if someone is signing, I'll usually check out their book, and if it's of interest, I'll buy it...but I can decide if it's of interest without being chased.

Christa M. Miller said...

Jude gets what I was getting at: "But everybody isn't geared toward shaking every hand in the room. Everybody isn't a quick wit, with a joke for every occasion."

I actually have no problem with a formal speech or with giving a reading, or even with limited small talk at a signing. It's the mingling that strikes fear into my heart. I have no poker face, so people know right away whether they are fascinating, boring, or scaring me. Frequently I take social cues from others, and it still doesn't always work out for me. Observing comes naturally for me. Mingling does not.

What I really need is a finishing school, but I suspect even it would give up on me...

Jude Hardin said...

Anon,

If you're an oddball, then so am I (I've been called worse, by the way).

I hang up on telemarketers in mid-sentence.

I say "not interested" and slam the door in the faces of door to door solicitors.

I shred direct mail without ever opening it.

I consider all these tactics rude, and an invasion of my privacy.

In my opinion, your local writer was making a nuissance of himself. If I walk into a bookstore to browse, I certainly don't want someone giving me a one on one pitch of their book. If that became the norm at that store, I just wouldn't go there anymore.

There are many ways for an author to self-promote and get the word out that his book is available. Chasing people around in a bookstore shouldn't be one of them.

That kind of aggression is a big turnoff for me, and I suspect that most readers would feel the same.

Adam Hurtubise said...

"I actually have no problem with a formal speech or with giving a reading, or even with limited small talk at a signing. It's the mingling that strikes fear into my heart. I have no poker face, so people know right away whether they are fascinating, boring, or scaring me. Frequently I take social cues from others, and it still doesn't always work out for me. Observing comes naturally for me. Mingling does not."

Christa-- You make an excellent observation.

I think Joe's point is that some people are gifted at sales, gifted at being extroverts. Others are not, but have succeeded by learning various forms of extroverted behavior, whether or not they ever became true extroverts.

I know in my own experience, I was painfully shy.

Now I do PR for a living. I have to mingle at parties. I have to call reporters, blind, all day long.

I had to learn how to do all of it, and it was very difficult. Still is difficult sometimes. My point: It didn't come naturally to me, but I learned how to do it. I'm more comfortable with most of it than I was.

Even if you're not a born salesperson, you can learn how to sell.

Adam

Jude Hardin said...

Christa,

I'm not a good mingler either.

I love to perform, and spent a good part of my life doing that. I can speak or sing or play drums or guitar in public, but I enjoy the distance from the audience that a stage provides.

Put me alone in a room full of strangers, and I'm lost.

Many artists are the same way, even some very famous personalities.

So don't feel bad. You're in good company.

JA Konrath said...

"Can you talk a little more about what you specifically do when you are 'selling' your book?"

http://www.jakonrath.com/tips6.html

Rob Gregory Browne said...

You can learn to do all the things that Joe suggests and still be yourself.

You simply adapt them to your personality. Some will work, some won't.

The point is that you can't simply sit at your desk and hope your books will sell. That MAY happen, but the odds are against you.

Christa M. Miller said...

Actually, what I'd really like to see is more discussion about how to adapt sales techniques to one's own personality.

I've spent 30 years saying and/or doing the wrong thing--often just when I think I'm doing well--and frankly, I would not want to risk book sales like this.

I've been thinking about what types of marketing I would feel comfortable with, and I realized the idea I like best is structure. Adam, reading your post reminded me of that. I've freelanced for five years. I botched my first interview terribly, but I didn't want to go back to my old job, so I watched Peter Jennings for interview style and went from there.

Now, I really like interviewing and PR work. But I think I'm successful at it because there's a structure - a set list of questions to draw from (whether or not I have to use them; depends on the source). Also, it's just one person at a time, not a group.

So how does that translate into a book tour? Not really sure. Is it feasible to have someone come with me to "interview" me in front of groups? Any other ideas on how to achieve structure with these things?

Anonymous said...

The topic of promotion is being discussed this week at M.J. Rose's blog: Buzz, Balls, Hype:

http://mjroseblog.typepad.com/buzz_balls_hype/

"I know some writers feel that going on tour means you have to press the flesh and talk up your book to everyone you meet, but I’ve never been able to do that. I know a lot of writers who can’t. But I think you can still find readers for your work without being relentless about selling it and yourself."

JA Konrath said...

"The topic of promotion is being discussed this week at M.J. Rose's blog: Buzz, Balls, Hype"

And, coincidentally enough, MJ just posted my touring advice.

Can you sell books without pressing flesh? Sure.

Will you sell as many? No.

And in the case of book signings, in many cases you won't sell any, unless you get off the chair and meet some customers.

Anonymous said...

Well...

All I gotta say is you shouldn't do what Brenda Coulter did. She created a ton of buzz for her...rather rude treatment of readers at http://www.alisonkent.com/blog/?p=1479 and http://brendacoulter.blogspot.com/2006/02/why-there-is-no-such-thing-as-free.html

Carol Davis Luce said...

Tony Hillerman blurbed my first novel and it went into a second printing weeks within its release, and later a third printing. I was, and am still to this day, grateful for his time and generosity that, IMO, gave it an extra push and resulted in the reprints.

BTW, I met him at a writer's conference at the cocktail party, where I shamelessly approached him and took hold of his lapel.

Carol -- a first time poster. Love your blog, JA. I found it through Tess's blogpage.

Karen Syed said...

I have met Joe several times now, and never cease to be amazed by his enthusiasm. As a publisher (Echelon Press) I could only hope to have authors as committed as Joe, but hope is not a strategy, so I will send them the link to this blog and enjoy the success.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks for the kind words, Carol and Karen!