Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Stefanie Sloane: A Few Things I've Learned

As some of you may or may not know, I spent nearly six years as the Romance and Women’s Fiction editor. And though I worked almost exclusively online, my job included many of the tasks and responsibilities that a mortar and brick bookshop employee would handle. As such, throughout my tenure I paid attention to what worked marketing-wise, sales-wise, well a whole bunch of –wises, including how authors interacted not only with me, but with the host of professionals who populate the book world. Surprisingly, not one author has ever asked for my list of dos and don’ts, so I’m taking this opportunity to share it with you.

So here, in no particular order, are four things to remember when interacting with book professionals.

1. Do not bash a bookstore online. Granted, Amazon took a beating—and rightfully so—for a few of its more memorial moves. Remember the “Buy used copy” button posted on the new book page? Yeah, I thought so. Everyone was upset and a lengthy dissection of Amazon’s decision dominated the industry sites for some time. This only made sense. And I fully support an individual’s right to free speech. But when an author makes unintelligible, lengthy, expletive-laced rants on multiple sites, someone is going to notice. Actually, many people will notice, one of whom will most likely be an employee of the bookstore in question. And honestly, said author just comes off looking bad. As an author, you’re your own business. So don’t act in an un-business like way. Period.

2. Do not stalk booksellers at conference or events. Ok, you know the story about an aspiring author who followed an editor into the bathroom where she proceeded to pitch her book while the editor was, for all intents and purposes, a captive audience? Well, I wasn’t on the toilet, but this scenario is not new to me. Again, you are your business. Do you like pushy door-to-door sales people? Love it when telemarketers call with an offer you can’t refuse? Can’t wait for the next time an infomercial is ready to change your life? I didn’t think so. Making valuable business contacts should not be akin to warfare. You’re a smart individual who had the drive and determination to finish a book—so act like one. Politely introduce yourself. Offer the bookseller your business card and make it clear that you’d be delighted to talk with them about featuring your book—at a later date. No pressure. No demands. Just calm, assured, and business-like. That’s the way to make a first impression.

3. Do not spend big bucks on promo items. I can honestly say that there was not one time in the six years I worked at Amazon when I decided to feature a book based on the promo item that came along with it. And it pangs me to say so, really, since my marketing brain has come up with a zillion promo ideas for my debut trilogy, the Regency Rogues. But especially in this day and age, when the planet is slowly but surely being overtaken by garbage, it’s even more important to be thoughtful about what you’re putting out there—and where it will end up.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t grow your brand through tasteful, USEFUL items that make sense for your books. I can always use another pen, especially one that works well. And one that has an author’s website stamped across the side—you know, the side that I’ll see every time I use the pen? That’s smart. And bookmarks seem a no-brainer, though I’d love to see something useful for the e-readers too. Beyond this? I say think long and hard about not only what you expect to get out of offering the item, but also the responsibility you carry for putting the swag out there in the first place.

4. Do help your fellow authors out. I can remember it like it was yesterday. Big conference, lots of people, and I’m still in good standing—pre-used button incident. A very well known and successful author approaches along with another woman. I make myself ready to fawn over the bestseller—she happens to be an author whose work I’ve admired for some time. She introduces herself calmly, smiles, shakes my hand, then makes a point to steer the remainder of the conversation toward her companion, a debut author whom the bestseller clearly has a lot of enthusiasm and respect for.

This. Is. Awesome. Was I already considering featuring the bestseller on the Amazon site? Yes. Did her kindness and plain, old quality human being-ness help? You bet. But more importantly, she wasn’t just being nice. She was actively helping her fellow author, which only makes us all better. Seriously, do good. Be good. You never know when, but it will come back to you.


marybelle said...

A very interesting read through your list. I am the wiser for it thank you.

Jo's Daughter said...

Oh my goodness, being stalked all the way to the bathroom. That is so embarrassing.

Mary Anne Landers said...

Thank you for your post, Stefanie. Lots of helpful advice!

In regards to your first piece of guidance, "Do not bash a bookstore online"---I'm just speaking for myself, but I go even further. I don't bash anyone anywhere. This was Dale Carnegie's first principle in "How to Make Friends and Influence People". Though it's not new, it still works.

Also, I try to avoid bashing things I don't like---e.g. books and subgenres that leave me cold, editorial rules for romance fiction I think are too restricting, genre-related trends I don't care for. If I have a compelling reason for speaking my mind and saying something negative anyhow, I make it clear that it's just my opinion. And I try to word it so that it doesn't sound as though I'm badmouthing those who read, write and publish these books and subgenres, enforce these rules, or start or follow these trends.

Good luck with your new and upcoming releases!

ev said...

Very good advice. And I agree about the promo items for e-readers. Since I primarily read them now, book marks don't do me a lot of good, however, I have been known to pass them on. What I do miss is being able to have my copies autographed, so what I have taken to doing is asking authors I really like, or new ones I meet, to sign a copy of the postcard that they send that usually depicts the bookcover. I then frame and hang them. Makes a great art statement (and I repainted my office and really need to get them back up soon!)

Melanie Milburne said...

Your post is so insightful and helpful.
At my very first conference before I was published I was exposed to extreme snobbishness and rudeness by an author. I decided that when/if I got published I would always treat everyone I met as the next Nora Roberts. What a valuable lesson that has turned out to be! I love meeting aspiring authors and of course fans.
Thanks for promotional items tips too!

Pat Cochran said...

I'm a reader, not a writer, but your
hints would be useful to all of us !
Thanks for sharing! I've just this
evening been visiting your website.
You're a new-to-me author but you
are definitely on my TBR list!

Pat Cochran