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?