Sunday, March 18, 2007

Contact Organization

In the olden days (the 80s), most of us were forced to keep track of our business contacts on anything from 3x5 cards to those little spiral bound address books. The introduction of the Franklin Planner was a major revolution. Now, we have a whole bunch o' neat stuff to choose from.

I mentioned on Friday that part of your marketing plan should include picking up the phone and getting your name out to all those bookstores. Again, coordinate with your publisher on this. First of all, he'll be thrilled that you're willing to take on such a task. Of course, he'll already know it because you included it in your proposal (didn't you?). Second, he'll want to make sure that you understand who you'll be talking to and what you can promise them. Funny thing about sales, often the salesman forgets what a profit is in the excitement of making the sale. Your publisher will not be amused if you do that. That information is between you and the publishing house. I'll leave it at that. Just let them know your intentions.

How many calls can you make? That depends. But an average cold call should last about two minutes. If you get someone willing to chat, by all means, chat. Remember, you're building relationships. It takes time. Be patient. If you spend an hour a day making calls, you should expect to make twenty or thirty per day. That won't even scratch the surface if you want to reach every bookstore in America. Start locally and work your way out. If you're novel is set in another city or region, put that area on your "A" list.

Now, organization. Here's your marketing term for the week: Customer Relationship Management Software or CRM. We use Maximizer where I work. This is how sales companies keep track of you. It's "the list" you always demand to be taken off of. Now you'll be putting people on yours.

I don't expect you to go out and pay thousands of dollars for good CRM software. I'm still looking for a personal version. But for now, Outlook will be fine. You're going to use all those "other" boxes in an Outlook contact. Especially the one titled "Notes." You'll track date and times of your call, what was said, what kind of interest level you received, the booksellers favorite ice cream, his kid's dance recital, anything you can use to grease the conversation the next you call.

You have to THINK LIKE A SALESMAN. I know, it's scary. You'll get people who don't want to talk to you, lie to you and say they're busy, tell you to call back again and again and again, and some who are downright rude. By this point, you've gotten a book contract. I assume you're thick-skinned. Thicken in further.

By the way, those little headsets are great. Get one. Next we'll talk about scripts.


Mark Terry said...

Just be aware of a couple things. Presumably you're contacting bookstores for one or two things or both.

1. You want to set up a booksigning.
If that's what you're going after, be aware that Borders, for instance, does not do this on a store-by-store basis, but has a regional events coordinator, who, by and large, isn't remotely interested in you unless your name is Stephen King or John Grisham. You can find this person through the Borders website. You'll end up with a voicemail. You'll leave a message. They'll never get back to you. You leave more messages. They continue to ignore you. You call them up and say you're John Grisham and you want to do a signing at their store. They don't believe you.

At other stores, they may require you to fax or e-mail a press release to get a signing. They may want this handled by a publicist. They may--very likely--say no, no thanks, go away, go to hell or any variation of the above. Some will hem and then they will haw and then they may or may not tell you politely that it's not worth their time and/or money to host a booksigning with you because you're, well, nobody and the idea here is to sell books for the bookstore and draw a crowd. Go away and come back when you're somebody. Of course, by then you can be picky and you'll remember every bookseller who ever dissed you.

If and when they say yes, you say thank you, set up a date, make sure they have books (make sure you bring your own just in case) and mark it on your calendar. There's more to doing this right, but hey, I'm just commenting here.

2. You're just calling to say "howdy." Your call may very well sound like this: "Hi, I'm Mark Terry, I've got a new novel coming out called The Serpent's Kiss. I'm just touching base with all the local booksellers to introduce myself and let you know I exist. So, hi. I exist."

Chances are you're talking to some lackey at the information desk. Be nice to them. They stock your books. You want them stocked at the front table or the new titles or the local author section, even if your publisher hasn't paid co-op for the privilege. Otherwise they'll shelf your thriller back in the mystery section, or way back in the back of the store ten feet off the ground where you can't be reached except by extension ladder.

Chances are they will be very friendly because, quite simply, you're not doing anything except saying "howdy." It's when you start demanding things of them--like book signings--that booksellers start getting evasive. They'll probably ask you the title again, your name, and almost assuredly the publisher. If you're self-published or published by iUniverse or by Fly-By-Night Books, inc., they may very well say, "Thanks for calling, bye." If they've heard of the publisher they may very well say, "Yeah, we'll order a couple. Thanks for calling." Say thank you and comment that you'll probably be swinging by after the pub date to sign stock, hope to see them then.

Here's the thing: the less demanding you are, the friendlier they are. Remember that the person you're talking to might not have the authority to do anything--they might not be able to set you up for a signing, they might not be able to order your book, they might not be able to do anything but stock your books if they're ordered and take customers' money. Is it worth asking for the manager? Maybe. Or assistant manager. Or "the person who orders books."

Oh, and I didn't mention the depression factor. If you've got some list of independent bookstores and you start calling, unless that list was compiled, like, yesterday afternoon, there's a very good chance that the bookseller you're calling is:

1. Out of business
2. Going out of business

Yes. I'm afraid that's just the reality of the indie bookstore these days. So good luck.

Ron Estrada said...

Like I said, it's a lot like real sales work. You never know if that voice on the other end is the manager, pretending not to be the manager, or some kid who plans on quitting tomorrow. Peristence without being a pain is the key. All those details you mention are the reason we need to clear this through the publisher. Hopefully, they'll be helpful. If not, the worst thing you can do is tick someone off who never intended to buy your book in the first place.