Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I'm the greatest

Raise your hand if you like to sell. I mean, sell anything—cookies, your book, a product you've created, or yourself.

My hands are by my side. Not a good posture in today's world of 24/7 marketing and promotion.

For authors, it's essential to keep our names out there, they tell us. A recent article in a popular writers' magazine suggests that authors doing signings at bookstores start by "easing a copy" of their book into the hands of anyone who seems curious, and tell them what a "terrific book" it is and how "people are talking about it."

Here's how I started my sales career.

In the early 80s, I formed a company around products I made. The idea was to put images and quotes from scientists and engineers on common items such as potholders, mugs, note cards … anything that had a design. I wanted to replace the mushrooms and butterflies that dominated kitchen towels with an educational theme.

One of my first products was a calendar of dates in science and engineering. Pre-internet, it took nearly a year of evenings and weekends to come up with at least one entry for every day. For June 8, for example, I typed in Francis Crick, b. 1918; patent for the vacuum cleaner, 1869.

I thought a good market might be the many bookstores around the UC campus where I lived. I made a list and ventured out. (Pre-internet, remember.)
I walked into the first bookstore, stepped to counter and said (and this is pretty much verbatim), "Excuse me, I hate to bother you. I have something here and you're probably not interested. It's a calendar and I know you already have a lot of them and maybe don't want another one."

The response was something like, "Yup. No, thanks."

I was shocked when the business failed.

I've gotten a little better in promoting my books, but the phrase still has a slightly grating sound to me. I don't like people who promote (anything) aggressively; I don't want to be like them.

P. T. Barnum, a pioneer in the art of promotion said, "Without promotion, something terrible happens … nothing!"

I do love to talk about my books, my writing process, and my publishing adventures. I love especially to talk to readers, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to call anything I do "the best" or "the greatest" or even "good" without blushing. Should I pack up and leave the field?


Anonymous said...

Your work speaks for itself. No need for you to shout it from the rooftops if that is not your style. Let your publisher and yes your readers do that. Word of mouth is how I have stumbled upon most of my favorite authors.

Camille Minichino said...

How nice, Annette. Will you be my editor?

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Dear Camille, if you leave the field there will be a big, empty black hole in our universe.

Yes, it's hard to promote. I grit my teeth. (I know, you might not believe it, but I do.) And I tell myself it's part of the job.

It's lovely when readers stumble upon us, but in today's world, we must be in a visible spot so readers can find us easily.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I worked in advertising and PR before I became a lawyer, then a published author, Camille. I didn't know how much promotion would be necessary when I finally got published--but it was a lot easier to do PR for others than for myself! I learned with experience that it's necessary, and often even fun.

Camille Minichino said...

I've often wished I had a background in PR or sales, Linda!

And Joanna, thanks for the vote of confidence.

Betty Hechtman said...

I'm with you, Camille. I am not good at pushing my books on anybody. Every time I go into a bookstore and offer to sign stock, I have to get myself up to do it.

I'm sure promotion helps, but it still comes down to people liking our books.

BTW I was in the Borders in downtown Chicago today and they had all of your books.