Working at an independant bookstore continually gives me new insight into the workings of this industry. On a daily basis I'm interacting with and building relationships with my future readers, pimping the works of my friends and colleagues, discussing the brilliance of the masters, and otherwise being a bookaholic with our bookaholic customers.
I've been in this business for fourteen years and while much has changed, one thing has remained constant. Selling books is hard work. Let me say it again because this is the one of the universal truths of the publishing industry.
Selling books is hard work.
It's not laborious, per se. You're more likely to work up a lather than a sweat, but it's still hard nonetheless. You have to know what the customer likes, what they're in the mood for, what they have and haven't read, and know your stock well enough to find something that fits all of that criteria. If you fail to produce the perfect book, then you have to find something close and convince them that they want to read that instead. It doesn't matter if they want a fluffy romance and you read nothing but gun porn sci-fi. You still have to have a working knowledge of who writes what so you can at least fake your way through it.
I'm at the point where I don't have to fake it. I've gathered (from trusted friends and associates) enough opinions on works that will never see the dark side of my "to read" shelf that I can say with certainty "read this, you'll like it." However, what I'm still learning is how to sell works from the other side of the looking glass. More specifically, how to convince an editor and/or agent that they want to read my manuscript.
I like to think of myself as a humble person...(No, really... I do.) (Stop laughing.)...and as such, I feel guilty telling someone my own work is the greatest thing since the invention of the Tim Tam. (Mmmmm...Tim Tams) Granted, I don't have nearly as much practice selling my own work as I do with other author's works, but it shouldn't be that much different. Right?
Well...I'm not so sure. While I have fourteen years in the business, it's only on the retail side. On the creative side, I only have about three or four years (and most of that was spent writing). I know what you're going to say. The sales skills from one should apply to the other, and you're right. They do. The problem is that in my (paid) profession, I've come to rely on my tenure more than my expertise and knowledge. Most of our regular customers know I'm a tenured employee and trust my recommendations without question. I don't have to sell them on the story, I just have to hand them the book. Now, for newer customers, I do have to sell them on the story. I still have the skill, it's just that the muscle has....atrophied a bit. My inner pimp has become a little lazy, so to speak.
So, how will my inner pimp get their smack back? By going back to the universal truth stated above. Selling is hard work. You see, I've discovered that it doesn't matter what side of the industry you're on. Until you have an established name, selling is hard work. Once I've proven that I can sell though, or have hit the NYT bestseller list, I can relax a smidge. Until then I have to work on becoming the Harold Hill of writing. (If you don't get that reference, go watch The Music Man, starring Robert Preston.) I have to learn how to pimp my work, and myself, so that an editor that loves gun porn sci-fi will give my YA fantasy a try.