October 7, 2014

Who's at the door?

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Monday night my doorbell rang around 6:00 PM.  Looking out through my office blinds and seeing that it wasn't a creditor, I went downstairs and opened the front door to find a little boy of seven, holding a pen and a colorful signup sheet.

"Would you like to buy some popcorn?" he asked timidly.

I'm nice to everyone who comes to my door, from JWs to neighbors asking if the cat they found belongs to me. But when it's a child making his first foray into sales, I make a special effort to be sociable.

I asked what he was raising money for, and I think he said Cub Scouts, although he spoke so softly I couldn't really hear him. "Let's see what you have," I encouraged.

As I looked over his brochure full of various popcorn offerings, I was taken back many years to my own personal experience as a miniature marketer.  In those days we were wooed by comic book ads that promised prizes and cash if we sold boxes of greeting cards door to door.

One in particular featured a superhero and urged you to call now because "Dawn"—who was obviously a superhero operator princess because she had a space suit and wore a crown on her cartoon head—was waiting for my call. She "or another operator" were standing by 24 hours a day. The ad stated more than once that operators CANNOT answer any questions, so I'm guessing Dawn's superpowers were actually fairly limited.

Today, the kids on our doorsteps are less propelled by a comic book incentive than they are sent on a mission from their school or organization to raise funds for a school program or charity. But if they feel like I did as a kid, peddling their wares to strangers is not a fun way to spend the day.

Many authors I talk to express the same displeasure at the thought of marketing their books. Even with the success of their hard-fought words as a motivation, the concept feels too much like going door-to-door selling greeting cards to unwitting strangers.

Which, of course, isn't the case at all. Through the World Wide Web, we can connect with myriads of potential readers without leaving the house. Instead of knocking on doors, we can follow or friend others who share our interest in reading and writing. Many are as interested in learning about your book as you are to tell them.

A good website and blog complete the picture, giving anyone who's curious a place they can come to find out everything about your book. One of the first things many do when they encounter you on Twitter is check out your website. Others will find you by Googling your genre, or by following a link on the blog of someone who's recommended you. At that point, your customers become the ones knocking on your door.

Read other writers' blogs and leave comments, which increase your own internet ranking. Concentrate less on sales quotas and more on being a contributing participant in the community of writers. For expert guidance, I recommend Edie Melson's inspiring and easy-to-implement guide to social media for writers called Connections.

You'll be transformed in your thinking if you no longer confuse marketing with selling.  Selling is the ultimate goal, of course, but the savvy self-promoter never has to say "buy my book". The top salespeople know that building relationships is key to building business. And it has never been easier to do that from our desks. 

So enjoy the process of promoting yourself and your books.  And when you need a break, have some popcorn with me.  I have $25 worth of it coming.

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