I meant to have another post published yesterday (08/14/2019), but I didn’t put it up in favor of writing a different post which is, I’m sorry, pretty darn long. Not to worry – the original post is coming in a few days.
In the checklist I put together at the outset of this series, I noted that you should be prepared to approach local book shop owners to see about signing events. I also said that you need to be prepared to talk about your book. When I said that I was thinking about going beyond your pitch. That’s just the thing you do to quickly communicate what your book is about so you can efficiently identify potential readers and not really offend or bother people who aren’t interested. Tackling someone who isn’t interested just sort of looks desperate and it’s pretty awkward. However, it’s just as awkward to not be able to chat with people. I had planned on setting this particular post later in the series, but seeing as how I’ve got a book signing event on Saturday, August 17th at Black Birch Books in Wasilla from 2-4 for Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I felt now would be a pretty darn good time to talk about these things.
At face value, talking with book store owners and talking about your book aren’t really super related. In fact, they could be two different posts. However, these two things make a point, which is, as an indie author you’ve got to be ready to sell yourself. As I said, the pitch is only the introduction and the seed for your Amazon or Goodreads ads. However, in the event you’ve found someone interested, they’ll ask you questions and might want to talk about other books, reading and writing in general. You need to be prepared to do this. It takes quite a bit of social courage, just like it takes courage to call your local bookstores and see if they’ll list your work or host an author event. Some will and some won’t. Either way, this is where these two topics are related. You have to talk to people you don’t know about a thing that is very close to you and wound into your ego like nothing else.
On Saturday, I’m going to need to turn up in what I consider ‘business mode’. I’ll have on my biggest smile, and be absolutely ready to be sociable while focusing on making sure I’m watching for social cues. If you take anything away from this post it’s thinking about social cues. Not everyone wants to talk to the author, some are there to see if they’ve got a book by _______ for their _______ or some such (in any other setting this holds true, and a lot of people aren’t readers keep that in mind). You need to start by looking for body language. If a person doesn’t want to deal with you, they’re not going to make eye contact and they’re only going to spare the briefest glance at your table. You might get a smile, but then that person will make a lot of obvious signals they’re off to do something else. Let them do that. Other folks will be brought in over the course of their normal day or curiosity about the author and might approach me out of general interest or politeness. This is where the pitch comes in, a “Do you like fantasy or humor?” followed by “This book is about witches….” And so on. If they’re interested they will ask questions. If not, they’ll politely examine the back of the book without reading it, put the book back down, smile and move on. That’s when a “Thank you” is in order, and that’s it. Others yet will come in specifically for the event and want to have a chat about the book and what’s next and how things are going etc… You might also get the odd person who you didn’t expect who comes in and wants to talk books, maybe even about their own books – Go ahead and engage them, but don’t ignore other interested parties.
The whole point is: Be Prepared to talk about your book, you, your writing, and other related topics to include what YOU like to read and your favorite books. Also, you need to pay attention to what people are telling you without saying it. This is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT. An interested person will ask questions or make eye-contact or linger if they’re also more of an introvert, but someone not interested will make every sign they want to ignore you without straight-up telling you to jump off a bridge. You are not going to find a reader by pestering a person. I fully understand that a lot of writers write specifically because it’s a solitary endeavor. Publishing and bookselling, however, is very much NOT. I know I put this in the context of my own upcoming event, but my main experience actually goes beyond that, and I’ll relate that because I’m not an outgoing social butterfly. I’m more of a talkative toady.
I used to be painfully shy. Actually, I still get a tremendous amount of social anxiety. To wit, I didn’t ask out my wife for our first date, she approached me. I’m confident I’d still be single if she hadn’t. Then, my first summer at college, I took a summer job at Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward, AK. The job was data entry, which meant I got to sit in a room with manifests and a database. It was awesome. I never had to answer a single phone, make a phone call or generally talk to anyone. Workplaces, however, are social places and I struggled for the first several weeks doing little more than being able to politely grunt or smile and nod in the best of cases. In retrospect, this was just as well as many of the gals there seemed keen to kick up a conversation and I was not. This put them off the hunt and I wasn’t any the wiser until I was older and a hell of a lot more equipped to deal with a social situation that I’m unlikely to ever encounter again.
Now, let’s fast-forward. I’m in a job that requires sociability, public speaking, and talking to random strangers as if my sole goal in life is to get them something they need or want. I’m not talking about my colleauges here – I’m talking about researchers across the pacific northwest who have an interest in the data I help manage or members of the public who expect public service to be just that – service. That experience has acclimatized me to talking to strangers without passing out. All this leads me back to the topic of talking with people. I’ve gotten a lot better at being able to talk to random people in unfamiliar circumstances. Not that I always talk about books or my books or writing. However, what the launch of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks has taught me is that this ability is one of the KEY elements in being able to market. Remember, you’re selling yourself as a story-teller almost more than any individual book you’d like people to read. We talk about favorite authors quite as much, if not more, than we talk about favorite books. If I were still shy Dave, I would NEVER have been able to launch this book or even begin to discuss with people, and that’s just a total deal-breaker.
I think my whole point here is that learning how to go into ‘business mode’ and become a sociable person who can engage a potential reader a conversation about reading and books and the stories you like to tell is critical. Knowing when you’ve met someone who is not interested is also important. Remember, if you make a positive impression on a person, you might actually get a referral even though they DON’T read your book – this HAS happened to me. Further, from the reader’s perspective, the vast majority of authors I’ve picked up in the last several years have been via word of mouth and once I get hooked on an author I’ll keep going back to the well for another drink. I can think of only a single exception to that in recent memory. To leave off, I want to make it clear that I do like people and I like to talk, actually, it’s just getting beyond that self-infliced awkwardness is where the pretending comes in. So, on Satuday, I’ll be down there smiling and chatting with anyone who is interested, but my blood pressure will be making my head spin.
What’s your experience? Am I over-selling the people-person thing, can you sell yourself as a story teller without the direct human interactions? Leave a comment.