Writing the book was the easy and safe part. Write the book, share it with people (emotionally hard) and then I’d be done, right? No. And getting all the way to the end of my book launch at Calgary Expo, where 95000 people attended, would have a LOT of learning opportunities. Here’s the next leg in my author’s journey, in 7 steps.
1. Before The Booth, there was The Book
First there was writing the draft, and then seeing if it could come together and editing it. Then having someone else serve as editor. Then came cover design and book layout, things I hadn’t ever really thought about until then. There was also learning what my responsibilities and protections were regarding the Library and Archives Canada (the Canadian equivalent of the Library of Congress), something a lot of independent authors here seem to greatly misunderstand (some even believe it’s been dissolved. Warning! It hasn’t!). Here’s a post just on getting to this point.
2. Building the Booth
At that point though, I had an eBook and the content for a book. I went through the covers (see my other posting about that journey) and then came designing the booth for Calgary Expo 2014. This took Jen and me way, way, way outside of our comfort zone. In a lot of ways, we weren’t just pulling on our experience from the business world (we’re IT people) anymore, but now we were pulling on every scrap of knowledge, right down to incorporating things we’d picked up watching Donald Trump & The Apprentice. I did say EVERY scrap of knowledge.
From learning about printing, from all the mockups we did, we ended up with a booth we were very happy with.
When I had everything setup that Thursday afternoon, waiting for Calgary Expo to open, I realized I had nowhere to run from the biggest thing that had been bothering me since I had finished the book. There was no more rushing to Staples, no more discussions to be had about incorporating a charity into our launch (Kids Cancer Care). Now I had to face the very, very real unknown, how do I pitch my book to complete strangers.
3. Before Developing The Pitch, there be danger!
The last time that I worked at any type of comic convention, I was about 16 years old. My neighbour owned a comic book chain and he offered me a chance to work at some conventions for him. He was … special kind of character. You’d almost think there was a comic book mob scene happening in Montreal in the late 80s.
I hadn’t been to a modern expo, period. I’d never seen someone launch a book, despite having some independent author friends. I had no clue what to expect, and no frame of reference for how to do it. The only thing I had was the fact that
1. I have a lot of experience as a speaker and visionary
2. I learn and adapt quickly
3. I have experience in pushing myself outside of my comfort zone
Most importantly, I reminded myself that I was going to have fun with this. I was not going to get stressed out. This was going to be awesome.
4. Okay, what do I say? Developing The Pitch
It took me about a day and a half to hone my pitch, to get it down to where I could have a mature reader understand the book and the series, where it was going and why they would likely enjoy reading it as much as a tween would. I also learned that men and women reacted to different things, as you’d expect, but what I didn’t expect was what those things would be. Lastly, I learned that I honestly can’t easily tell who might like my book based on what they look like or how they are dressed. I thought I knew who would like my book, and I wasn’t wrong, but the group I started in mind with was way, way smaller than the real group.
At first I put too much emphasis on the charity, which turned everyone off. Then I put too much emphasis on the big picture and didn’t connect it to the actual story. Then I went too much the other way.
I had to be willing to keep trying and trying. I was very fortunate to have Warren and Josh from 1999 Collectibles opposite me, encouraging me. New Expo friends for life, let me tell you.
5. Um, excuse me, I’ve got a pitch for you! Um, excuse me!
I sometimes joke that genetically I come from two lands of shop keepers, and so that is one of the reasons why I don’t sit on my butt and wait for people to come up and engage me. Instead, I try to get their attention. It took me a while to find my hook, how could I in 5 seconds, say something that would get them to stop and be willing to engage me. It had to be something that was simple and wouldn’t require any commitment on their part. I ended up with the beautifully simple “Can I tell you about my book?”
Sound obvious? Think about it. “Can I” is asking permission, which shows respect for the other person’s mental space and choice. It’s very different than “Let me tell you about..” that uses submissive response language from the listener (at least in my view).
The other thing was that when they said “Sure” which was usually the answer, I made a point of immediately injecting some excitement. I was excited, they were giving me an opportunity to get feedback and practice. When I thought of it exclusively as trying to get a sale, I lost some of my energy.
Getting myself to stop strangers again and again was very much outside of my comfort zone. I came a long way between day 1 and day 4, and the sales showed it.
6. The Chasm of Despair. Post Pitch – The Awkward Gap
When my first customer from Calgary Expo, the first stranger ever to buy my book, came back to say hi on Sunday, I asked if I could take his photo. I never asked his name, but I did tell him that in my view, it was him that truly changed me from being a writer who had printed some books, to an author. Why? Because he’d bought my book based purely on how it sounded and having read the back of the book.
I was very glad that I spent the last several months listening to marketing books on the train. Some of my favorites (from Audible.com) were:
- Facebook Marketing that Doesn’t Suck by Michael Rogan
- Guerilla Marketing by Conrad Levinson
- Do It Marketing by David Newman
- Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl
- Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen
From these I learned, or reminded myself, of the art of the deal. Some of those elements I incorporated right into the book design, and some into the booth design, but they were most important to dealing with actual people.
I had to learn what to do after I finished my pitch. I lost several sales thinking that the person would just say “I want it!” and instead, with the awkward silence creeping in, sometimes they just wanted to exit. They’d take my card and claim they’d look at the free chapter online (they never did, I checked the site stats).
It was my responsibility to make sure that the sense of fun that they had could transition into a sale, but again I didn’t want to offer a hard sale, so I’d ask “Would you like to read the back of the book?” and when they were done, I’d ask, “May I offer you a book?” It allowed the potential customer to feel that we truly had covered all the ground together and that yes indeed, we were at the local conclusion. I was surprised by how many people, that Sunday afternoon when I’d finally learned how to put all of these learnings together, said “Yes please.”
Now I have a ground war in terms of selling. Yes, there’s online but honestly, I believe in the old fashion method first and foremost. Online everyone had compete with me, and I haven’t figured out the nack for getting online ads to be worthwhile for me. But in person? I get to capitalize on one of my strategic strengths, being me.
I’ll post more about my journey. Next up is The Ground War.