Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thanks but no thanks Uncle Sam!

I have been selling autographed copies of my book Kisses from a Distance from my home for over three years. Readers order through my web site or by mail, which is quite convenient for me and them.

Early on I invested in a Dymo label maker and subscribed to Dymo Stamps, which allows me to print both the label and the proper postage. I have literally sent out hundreds of copies by simply printing the label and postage and putting the envelope in my mailbox. If I have more than will fit in the box going at the same time, I will take them to the Post Office. I once took eighty at the same time and the postal clerk wasn't very happy. He groused about the media mail option as he weighed each one individually, even though they were all the same. “Don’t know why we even have this option,” he snarled.

In any event it's much more convenient to do it myself and to just walk them out to my big mailbox by the curb. Imagine my surprise when the below envelope came back to me two days after I handed it off to my mailman. The sticker says that if a package is over 13 oz. it must be taken to the Post Office. I know this limitation applies to the on the street mailboxes and to the boxes outside the Post Office. Little did I know that giving it to my postman was the same as putting it into a mailbox.

So, if I go to the Post Office, even though I have the proper postage affixed, I must go inside, stand in line and hand it off to a "retail associate" postal clerk. Now I have to use a dollar’s worth of gas (one-third of a gallon @ $3.00/gal.) and spend upwards of a half-hour of my time to make the round trip of 6.4 miles, all because of “heightened security requirements?" Do they really think I would send a bomb from my home? With my return address on it? Also note the sticker that says this package can be transported by surface transportation only. I don’t know how long it’ll take a book to get to California.

I guess I now have to get more for shipping and handling. I had been charging $3.50 per order which was break even for me. The postage (including the fee for printing the stamp from home) and the padded envelope, discounting the cost of the mailing label and any time spent in preparation, was $3.45. Because of this inane security requirement, it has now gone up to $4.50. I guess we can forget about "going Green," because I now have a bigger carbon footprint.

So, thanks a lot Uncle Sam. I feel eminently safer now that I know you are using such common sense in protecting us from our enemies.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Innocent conversations and book sales

Just to illustrate how an author can turn a relatively innocuous social contact into a marketing opportunity, witness my recent experience at COSTCO.

When shopping at places like COSTCO or Sam's Club, I always take notice of the book displays, perusing the best sellers and, if appropriate, striking up conversations with book browsers. Not all are interested in talking, of course, so this can be an iffy situation. You certainly don't want to give anyone a negative impression of you, or your work, so you have to tread carefully. I have occasionally used these contacts to pass out business cards.

I also like to sample food from the many stands that are positioned around the store. I always take care to note the person's name tag and thank him or her by name. It's always heartening to bring a smile to the face of the stand's operator who is largely performing a thankless (and low paying) job. They inevitably look up and smile, especially since most people just grab the snack and walk away.

At one stand I encountered a pleasant middle-aged lady who was dutifully spreading various prepared concoctions on crackers. I stopped to sample a salmon spread and engaged the woman by thanking her for the offering.

Looking over the array of readymade salads and sandwich wraps I said, "Boy, pretty soon no one will even know how to cook. Everything is readymade."

"Isn't that the truth," she responded. "But I'm old school because I like to cook."

That was my opening. "Me too," I cheerfully replied and went into a monologue about how kids can't do basic arithmetic because of calculators, and how society is changing because of advances in technology.

"They can't even spell without spell-check on word processors," she responded.

"Pretty soon no one will be able to read maps because of GPS," I added. "And isn't a shame how many people don't even read books anymore."

"I won't read books on those fancy readers," my new friend opined. "I'm old school. I've got to have the book in my hand."

"I don't either," I said, "I haven't even put my books on Kindle or eBooks, even though the resident wisdom is that I must do that."

"Oh, are you a writer?"

I confessed that I was and the lady wanted to know what I wrote. I thereupon handed her my card. The woman was so excited to meet an author, especially one who didn't treat her as a piece of furniture, that she ordered my book.

So, as you can see, an innocent encounter turned into a book sale. She may even tell her friends about it. And what did it cost me? A little kindness can go along way.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Finding that "niche"

I remember when taking a strategic planning course in an MBA program, I was assigned to a team with four younger students. The "leader" of the group was a waiter at one of the local resort restaurants, and who thought he knew a great deal about market planning. The other members were also people with varying degrees of non-management experience.

The first case we were given involved a small manufacturer who was trying to establish his company in a new market. As usually happens in these exercises, there's a lot of thrashing around, with many and divergent opinions being presented.

"Look, guys," I finally offered, "this chap doesn't understand his market, who his customers are, what they want, and how to reach them." These kids didn't know me or anything about my experience so I was outvoted in the final report. When the group presented its findings to the teacher, he shook his head and proceeded to repeat almost word for word what I had told the group.

Even with my past experience, I found I had to study this new market of bookselling. If you could just read a book to master it, everybody would be successful. Many product providers, authors included, believe that old canard that "if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." The landscape is littered with companies that thought they had a dynamite product but who also didn't understand how to approach their market.

As I've mentioned before, writing a great book is only a third of the effort in becoming successful. Authors, just like other businesspersons, must try to define the marketplace vis-a-vis their product and devise plans to reach those customers. Even if you believe, as most authors do, that your book has general appeal, you will benefit by dividing the market into segments that are more focused on your genre or subject matter.

You must ask yourself, "What is the demographic of my target audience? Are they men or women? Older or younger? Fiction or non-fiction readers?" And so on down the line. That, of course, is a very top level view, but you can see where you have to begin to start slicing and dicing to narrow the focus further. Once you decide on the most fertile grouping, where your efforts will yield the best results, then you have to examine how you can focus your efforts to reach them.

I'll be the first to admit that this isn't a precise science, and as mentioned in prior posts, I didn't get it right with my first marketing efforts. I continue to try to get better at it. When possible (especially with mail-orderers) I ask how they came upon the book, and what they liked about it. I'm not bashful in also asking if they know how I could attract other readers like themselves. Readers love this attention and sincerely want to help. Some told me they knew of groups that met at churches, or libraries, senior centers, or even colleges and universities. That information opened up whole new marketing possibilities. I also found there were many groups organized around recording life experiences. These are people interested in memoir writing, and whom I could contact to give presentations.

Given the tools available on personal computers, such as PowerPoint, authors can easily gin up lectures that appeal specifically to each group they are addressing. I now have a half-dozen different presentations that I use depending on the audience. Give it a try!