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.
The announcement is finally here! Starting Monday, I will be taking up a post as the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.
Official press release here - http://angryrobotbooks.com/2012/08/a-warm-welcome-to-our-shiny-new-bot-mike-underwood/
I’ll be doing the job from Indiana for several weeks, then moving to NYC to work out of the US Osprey office. I lived in Brooklyn as a kid, and have visited several times a year with my sales rep job, and I’m excited to be back in the Big Apple, but not nearly as excited as I am to focus all my energy and experience with one publishing house, serving as a brand champion for Angry Robot, Strange Chemistry (the upcoming YA imprint), and Exhibit A (a Crime/Mystery imprint coming Spring 2013).
I first heard of Angry Robot a few years back, when my dad told me about a new SF/F house that Random House was distributing in the states. I immediately loved the cover design, the clear sense of humor in the cover copy and design, and the whacky range of titles they published from the beginning.
These will be a busy few weeks — but don’t worry, Geekomancy readers, I’m still hard at work on the sequel, and will keep plugging along as fast and as best I can.
Today, I got the first blurb for Geekomancy! And it’s a doozy, if I do say so myself.
“If Buffy hooked up with Doctor Who while on board the Serenity, this book would be their lovechild. In other words, GEEKOMANCY is full of epic win.”- Marie Lu, author of the Legend trilogy
I followed the DAC a bit last year, and have had author friends featured last year and more folks featured this year. I’m excited to participate in this conversation, sharing thoughts about Geekomancy, writing, and whatever else comes up. My presence there is currently slight, since I don’t have a cover or locked-in pubdate for the book. But as that info comes in and I get approval to unleash it on the world, you’ll find it there as well as in all of my other social media presences.
This week, in addition to flailing in excitement over the deal, I’ve been thinking about possibilities for the second book in the Geekomancy series. Adam and I will be talking this coming week, and I’m very excited to chat about future possibilities for the series — I’ve never written a sequel before, so it’s going to be a great challenge to take the same core concept and fun characters which caught so much attention with Geekomancy and take it up to the next level, with new characters, new stories, and new geeky jokes and references.
This weekend, I became a member of the Secret Feminist Cabal, with insidious plans to take over the world and indoctrinate the masses…with Feminism.
I’d been hearing about the awesomeness of WisCon for years, from writer friends, scholar friends, and complete strangers. I intended to go last year, but plans fell through.
This year, I made it a priority and finally reached the nerdy casual halls of the Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club in Madison, WI. I flew directly from having been in NYC for a week (working, including BEA), so I had a wicked-overpacked bag. We had a six-hour delay getting out of LaGuardia, and I was very happy to have my various gadgets and some books on hand for distraction.
I could spend quite a long time talking about how awesome WisCon is, but I think I will start with a bullet point approach.
- Starting off the convention with a writing workshop, getting great feedback on the opening of Shield & Crocus.
- Getting to see friends from far away, catching up with @Teleidoplex, @futuransky, @DougHulick, @CassieY4, @creature57, @rachelswirsky and many others
- A convention where the default level of discourse is high enough that when I ramble about the ideological implications of semiotic paradigms, people nod instead of making confused or annoyed faces
- Bake Sales for Activism
- A riotous auction filled with communitas
- Great readings from brilliant writers.
- Meeting several of my authors (for Night Shade Books and Prime Books)
- Acquiring several books and only having to pay for two.
- Discovering delicious food in downtown Madison, from tapas to pizza to Himalayan food
- My awesome roommates @Keffy and EJ — we all worked excellently together and helped me have a Con Posse despite never having been to WisCon
- Rar and Squee in various amounts across the weekend, with cutting critiques and effusive praise
I’ve decided to re-vise, re-name, and re-launch this blog as “Geek Theory.”
Since I’ve been focusing more on my fiction and my ambitions as a writer of speculative fiction, I’m re-branding this WordPress blog as my personal-professional blog, talking about writing, my life as an independent publishers’ book rep, and other fun things. There will be far fewer reviews and essays, and they’ll be in a more personal tone, rather than my pop-academic tone from before.
First up — a summary post on the awesome that was WisCon 35.