Stopping to Learn

12-10-2021

This past week has afforded me two opportunities to learn something new. I wasn’t initially aware that it had occurred, but upon reflection, I was certain it had.

My first experience came about at a book signing event for the Society of Southwestern Authors. Two good friends and I, along with about twenty other authors, took part in this annual event. I shared a table with one of my colleagues and we waited with anticipation for crowds of people to come fawn over our writing efforts. Actually, having done this before, we hoped someone might buy a book.

My partner in crime that day has a gift of the gab, as some might have said long ago. I would have to agree. I have no doubt given the opportunity; he could convince a door to talk back to him. I was daunted in thinking I had to compete with him in vying for the attention of perspective buyers.

To his credit, having published three well-written non-fiction books on three different subjects, he is well positioned to talk about his work. On another occasion when he and I were having coffee, he told me he often asks a person where they were from and odds were he has either been there, or in close proximity. He can usually start talking about a place they have in common. Watching him in action with strangers proves that tactic works for him. At the event last Saturday, it didn’t take long to see him perform. Very quickly, he had folks attracted to what he was saying, like a bear is attracted to honey. Within a brief time, he was selling books while I twiddled my thumbs and talked to other writers about the weather.

By the end of the event, he had sold several books and traded two with two other authors. I had traded two copies of my books to other writers, given away a poetry chapbook I’d created, and nibbled on the chocolate candy kisses sitting on my section of the table.

On Monday following the event, I received an e-mail from Writer’s Digest. Several months ago, I submitted a copy of my book, The Unusual Man in the WD Best Self-Published Book of the Year contest. Unfortunately, the judges did not have the insight and good literary taste to judge me as the winner of the contest. What the e-mail did contain was a very thorough and enlightening critique of my book. Primarily, what it did that all good critiques do is give me specific feedback on what was good in my book and also what improvements were needed. As anyone knows, one has to have thick skin to be told, this was good, and this was ok, but OMG, what were you thinking when you did…. The review which had been carefully written, provided well thought out comments and left me hopeful rather than angry or crying. In short, it said you didn’t win, but you did pretty damn well.

Now to the point of what did I learn from these two events. I’ve often said my best success in selling books was when I could have face-to-face contact with perspective buyers. I still believe as a self-published author, that is true. But! And it is a big but (Please, there was no pun intended) in talking to buyers, in addition to being friendly and interested in them, an author also has to make them interested in his or her books. OK, maybe I am Captain Obvious. The other friend who was also at the event said to me that she didn’t have a clear and concise pitch for her book. I agreed that neither do I. What our more successful friend has is a very convincing and interesting sales pitch for each of his books. He has a story about each book, and he tells it in a way that makes people intrigued by what they hear. As a result, he sells books.

Learning lesson one. Become a better salesperson by having a clear message about what I’m selling and make the sales pitch in a manner that makes people want to buy. Yes, I know, salesmanship 101. What I think many authors secretly think is something like the Field of Dreams Build it and they will come. Translation – I’ve written it, now they will swarm to buy it. The truth is simple, if you want to sell a book you’ve written, you have to learn to be a good salesperson. The bottom line is, if you don’t believe in your work, why would anyone else?

Learning lesson two. Honest reviews and critiques do not sugarcoat with simple, I don’t won’t hurt your feelings comments like, “I like it.” The review I received from WD taught me some critical issues. I will pay more attention to pacing in my stories, to making sure there are no tense issues and sometimes the correct word is hanged and not hung. It also taught me to pay closer attention to the consistency of voice (that was a positive for my book) also to continue to write interesting characters (another positive in the review). The short of it all is, I must pay attention, clean up the simple issues and continue to try to improve, even on the things I already do pretty well.

I am grateful for the lesson my friend taught me and for the honest review I received from Writer’s Digest.

Aside from the lessons I learned at the book signing, another good thing happened. I was invited to participate in the Society of Southwestern Authors 14th. Annual Local Authors Showcase. It is a fancy luncheon where I along with a few other writers, will read a section from one of our books to the assembled audience. For that opportunity, I am grateful and honored. And you can bet I will use that chance to practice what my friend taught me about presenting my book.

I have a note I made that is taped on the wall where I write. It reminds me of a task I have as a writer. It says this If I haven’t made you smile, or cry, or think, or laugh, then I haven’t done my job as a write. I believe this is true.

I wish nothing but the best success to all in their writing, or in all other endeavors.

Go well, David.

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