Tricks of the Trade: Part One (Intro)

A couple of weeks ago, while John Ward and I were wrapping up after the video interviews, he suggested that I write up my suggestions on marketing/sales techniques based on my experience working in publishing.

I liked the idea, and I’m trying to blog a bit more regularly, so here we are. And because ‘Lessons from the World of Sales & Marketing sounded boring, I decided to come up with a snappier  (or at least shorter) title. So Tricks of the Trade it is.

First, the disclaimer: this advice, like all advice, is subjective. It may work for you, or it may lead to terrible frustration and people hating you. I think it’s not likely that this advice will lead to people hating you, but you never know.

For readers who don’t know, I work in SF/F publishing – I’m the Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books, Strange Chemistry, and Exhibit A, covering the North American territory. Before that, I was a commission sales rep with the Wybel Marketing Group, traveling around the Midwest selling the lists of publishers to independent bookstores, small independent chains, and special markets like museum stores. It was a handselling business, built on relationships and the personal touch. And before that, I’ve worked in a bookstore, a game store, and a build-your-own-stuffed-animal store. My retail and business experience has been all about that personal connection, and that informs my approach to sales & marketing even now as an author and a professional.

Based on those years of experience, I’ve developed a fairly solid sense of how I want to present myself as an author and try to make my books a success. In this series, I’ll be sharing these experiences to provide what I hope will be a useful set of ideas and approaches, specifically for selling & marketing genre fiction, and for trying to function well in a social group more broadly.

Here’s Mike’s Rule #1 for applying Sales & Marketing skills to being a successful author:

Be Nice To People

You might think – “Mike, that’s pretty basic advice.”

Well, pretty much all of my other advice stems from the starting assumption of ‘Be nice.’ Don’t be pushy, don’t be arrogant. Don’t dominate the conversation. Listen to others & tailor your approach based on what people give you in conversation.

When I was a sales rep, I was the opposite of the Hard Sell. I talked about the books on my list, foregrounded their features, but I tried to never make a book out to be something I knew it wasn’t. I argued the books’ merits, but I wasn’t That Salesman that says ‘I won’t leave until you take 5 copies of this book’. The hard sell never worked for me when I worked retail, I hate it when people use it on me, so why would I use it when I’m operating as an author?

For me, the Hard Sellis pushy, it’s arrogant, and it often relies on the socialized push to get along to pressure people into buying the Thing just to make a tense situation (the Hard Seller’s pressure) go away.

You can make some sales in the short run with the Hard Sell.

When I started attending conventions and conferences, I was the New Guy. I had a couple of friends who very kindly introduced me around, but I was still the new person, the guest.

And when you’re a guest, you tread lightly, you try not to make a bother, and you listen a lot. The first time I attended the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, I didn’t know how the convention worked. I didn’t know what all was expected. So I listened, I observed, and I tried to be polite. I met people where I could, but tried not to impose myself on anyone’s time.

When you’re the new person, either at a con, in a social circle, or the person someone just met, I think it pays to listen, ask polite, genuine questions about the other people in the situation, and to figure out what you can bring to the situation to make it more awesome for the people involved. With luck, the Thing you want to sell is one of the things you can bring into the situation to make it more awesome. Especially if the situation is ‘a group of people who love books.’

By taking this quieter, more humble approach to a social group, I think it’s easier to learn about what the group’s expectations are, and to them meet those expectations. This lets you move from ‘New Person’ to ‘new member’ more rapidly and more seamlessly, and should help you build trust. And trust, for me, is a great foundation to build a sales relationship upon.


Sneak Preview: Part Two will be about using handselling techniques to make a connection with a potential reader/customer.

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