Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In the business...

They say that 80% of all major business decisions are made over meals--in social situations. Why is that?

Well, my lone opinion is that, at our base, we're all just human. That is what I would like to talk about today: the "human-ness" of our industry. The purpose of this post is education: so new authors can learn from previous authors and avoid similar missteps.

It seems authors, more than any other trade, would have a firm grasp on the fact that everyone around them is human--every person has a backstory and motives, flaws and brilliance. It also seems intuitive that they would understand that people develop impressions and biases, then act on them.

Everyone--managers, customers, sales reps, businesses, fans, bloggers, booksellers, whoever.

As an author wanting to make money off of retailer support and reader fanships, it is important to take a personal inventory of yourself and make sure you're coming across the way you would like to be perceived. My cousin was the Miss Utah traveling companion for the Miss America pageant for several years and now works in the near-opposite arena of women's section of the Salt Lake County jail. She says, "It's not aboout how you look, it's about how people look at you."

People, whether icons of beauty or convicts, aim to be perceived a certain way as they walk through life. Beauties may aim to be adored while convicts aim to be feared. It the difference between paying for a nose job and tattooing hate symbols on your body.

As authors, how do you want to be perceived? And are you making proactive moves to get the looks you want?

The reason I bring this up (with such a long preamble) is that I want to make it perfectly clear that authors are individuals who are seen and remembered. Customers, retailers, and corporations are watching and they may judge you based on a single exposure.

The feedback I get about most of you is phenomenal, with very few calls of complaint. Yay! To keep it that way, I'm going to paraphrase some negative retailer and author comments below to show how authors sabotage themselves and create negative impressions. A negative impression doesn't mean that the author has no more chances at anything and are doomed, doomed, doomed! What it does mean is that what they did will be referenced in future conversations by retailers as a concern that must be addressed.

Here are actual situations with Cedar Fort authors:

Retailer to me: "Don't as me about (author) again. All he did last night was play on his iPhone. He didn't even make eye contact with people as they came by." (Obviously a dramatic case, but in this instance he was at a chain retailer and this person reported this action to all the other regional managers in their weekly meeting. This author has not been scheduled by anyone in the chain since).

Author to me: "At the (store), their positioning is horrible. They had me back in a corner where no one went and said I could move around the store, but I didn't want to leave the area unless someone came. I pulled the manager aside before I left and let him know that it was a horrible place to put authors and I wouldn't come back again unless he put me near the front." (The author has a valid point here. Being in heavy traffic is better. They also pointed out that they were free to move about and even encouraged to introduce themselves. Instead, the author chooses park in the back, get annoyed and then crticize the host. Do you walk into a stranger's house and tell them the furniture is all wrong and you won't come back unless they do X, Y, and Z? Even if you do that in real life, try not to do it as your author persona. You can take notes and asked to be placed somewhere specific on your next visit, but managers--since they are human--usually don't respond well to ultimatums. You need them more than they need you, and they know it.)

Author to me: "I'm really sick of doing signings. It won't matter if I cancel the rest of my signings, right? (Retailer) will forget by the time my next book comes out, so it doesn't really matter if I show or not." (Maybe, maybe not. The truth is that the managers WILL remember that the author ran out of gas. As humans, they may understand that and even sympathize. But they will learn their lesson when scheduling them again. When I reapproach them, they'll likely say, "[Author] is great, but last year they really hit it hard for [dates], then petered out. Let's just schedule them for [shortened schedule]." This is may work out best for both parties, but if the author wants to push for the same schedule as the year before, it's iffy if that they'll get it.)

Author to me: "I need to cancel tomorrow's signing... I've been debating canceling it for about a week, but figured I should wait since it doesn't matter whether you cancel a week in advance or a day in advance." (How far in advance you cancel a signing can make a big difference! As authors, it can be hard to see how your signings are support from behind the scenes, but a lot of stuff happens to make a signing work. In this case, the retailer had printed posters and bag stuffers for the author in days preceding the signing. And since the book was out of stock in the warehouse, the sales rep had put an order to have 50 books printed on demand 3 days before the signing so he could run them over the day of and make the signing happen. NONE of these things would have happened, nor the expenses accrued, if the author had canceled when he/she knew they weren't going to show. People remember things like this. Even if they forgive and understand, they remember--especially when the author does not apologize and makes no indication that they will do anything differently in the future. Remember, we're all just human, and things like that make a difference, even if you think you're absolutely right. Still apologize, thank, and praise efforts. It can go a long way.)

Retailer to me: "(Group of authors) sales were okay on Saturday, but I wish I would have been here. I came in this morning to frantic employees wondering what they did wrong because (author) got mad at them and said they weren't doint their job--that our employees should be walking the store, pointing people to (author) and giving customers handouts." (The retailer's job is to host the signing and provide the books. Everything on top of that is good will and icing. If this author went to another signing where employees wandered the store pointing customers to an author, great! Chances are they really liked that author. The best way to get employees to do the same for you is to create a positive impression with them where they want to point at you. Berating and lecturing is not the key. Ever.)

Last but not least: This is a note from me, based on personal experience and comments from other CFI employees: Please keep emails and other interactions as courteous and respectful as possible. As they say, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar." So true. Yes, this is a business. Yes, everyone wants to make money. Yes, if you bring in money people will tolerate more foot stomping, but the truth is, the most successful authors are usually the nicest. Everyone is happy to work with them. It's not my place to tell you to be that kind of person since just as many critical and abrasive people make it to the top of their industry. But I can tell you that if you want help getting there, to remember that you are in an industry of people that is fueled by the emotional attachment they have to you or your book. How they feel about those two things is going to shape your word of mouth and the effort individuals put into you. That's just how things are with humans.

And, to bring this full circle, as an author, it's not the way you look, it's the way people look at you that makes the difference.

I'm hoping this is helpful. It was not intended to offend anyone, pick fights, or do anything other than help each of you be as successful as you can be!

And, as author Dixie Owens always says.... the dance goes on!

Go knock 'em dead!


  1. Great stuff! Nice always wins no matter how bad the situation.

  2. Great pointers from experience on signing etiquette. I'll find this very useful for my upcoming release!