Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A New Craft

Copyright © 2007, Steven E. Houchin
( Originally written 10 July 2007 )

I recently attended a dinner meeting with a small Seattle area writer's organization. The guest speaker for the evening was a prominent local mystery writer, whose remarks two years earlier about her craft inspired me to begin my own journey as an author (see my earlier post entitled Liberation). [As an aside, I had the opportunity to mention that story during her Q&A session.]

The talk she gave essentially focused on the writer as a salesperson. She related personal anecdotes about situations where she had been invited to speak, but her would-be hosts were unwilling to allow her books to be available for sale at the event. When you're a published author, she said, you're in the business of selling your books -- not to freely give away your time for speeches. Therefore, no sales, no speech.

While on the face of it, this may seem obvious. But still, her practical presentation of the subject was very enlightening. I intellectually knew that, at some level as an author, I would need to peddle my works. But she brought home the point that basically everywhere you appear as an author, you need to be prepared to sell.

It's a fact: some people know how to sell better than others. The guest speaker has a background in the insurance industry, and thus had been trained to break down potential customers' inclination to say "No". Thinking about it later, I remembered that, in an earlier life, Tom Clancy was also in the insurance business. Does this mean that people with formal training and work experience in sales have a much better chance at long-term sales success as an author, versus somebody from another field, such as homemaker or engineer?

Another fascinating tidbit that our speaker mentioned was the idea of focusing your early career sales efforts in your regional market. This allows you to build up a following without the time and expense of a national travel schedule, and still show your publisher that your work is viable. If you continue to have a real job to support yourself, this kind of strategy seems especially appealing.

The transition in one's life to become a writer is a definite learning experience by itself. We accumulate bits and pieces of knowledge about our craft and constantly roll them into our work, refining every page and every word to be just right. But once we've written that great novel or how-to book, there's a new transition waiting for us out there once we are published; the role of salesperson. If we haven't been there before, it's a whole new craft to learn.

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