Monday, July 22, 2013

Strangers with candy

This afternoon my mom and I passed a couple of kids selling lemonade on a street corner near our house. It made us a little sad that my step dad wasn't around because he's a sucker for these things. My mom and I however, are not. We won't succumb to cuteness until we hear the kids give their sales pitch. Heck, when we see Girl Scouts selling cookies outside the grocery store we won't open our purses if the troop leader gives the pitch, even if we already intended to buy. We insist that the girls give the pitch themselves. We're not doing it to be mean or obstinate. We do it because we know what they'll gain from the experience.

My family has a long history with the Camp Fire Boys and Girls organization. My mom was a member as a child and a club leader as an adult. When my siblings and I were old enough, we joined up as well.  For those who aren't familiar with Camp Fire, it's the Boy Scouts' sister organization. I know a lot of you probably thought The Girl Scouts held that title, but no. It's Camp Fire. Like the Boy Scouts, we learned outdoor skills. When we weren't foraging for fagots (as in a bundle of sticks, not a homosexual)(believe me, the latter are harder to find in the woods), we did a lot of handcrafts and service projects. In order to fund all our escapades we sold candy every winter.

Yes. We were dealers. Instead of being taught not to take candy from strangers, we were taught how to sell candy to strangers. And you know what? We were really good at it too. My sister and I were the top sellers in the city two years in a row. We've got the badges to prove it.

Here's what we learned:

It's not easy giving a sales pitch. Practice helps a lot, but it still can't completely prepare you for the butterflies that do a polka in your stomach when the big moment comes. Let me tell you, it's not easy selling candy to grumpy vets on a Saturday morning, especially when they answer the door with a handgun tucked into the front of their pants. But if you can find the courage to open your mouth and give your spiel, you can be pleasantly surprised. That same scary vet turned out to be one of our best clients. He bought at least five boxes every year.

Write a good pitch and memorize it so you can recite it with confidence. Nothing kills a potential sale faster than "Um...I have some stuff to sell...if you're interested, maybe." Their time is just as valuable as yours so get to the point quickly. Tell them what your selling, and what is special or unique about it. That's all the information they need to make up their mind. If they want to know more they'll ask.

If they say no after hearing your pitch, don't badger them or try to change their mind. Thank them for listening and move on. Just because they say no this time doesn't mean they'll say no every time. If you're not annoying than they'll be more likely to give you a chance the next time. Plus, moving on brings you closer to the person who will buy from you.

As is usually the case, I had no idea back then that all those hours spent hauling twenty five pound boxes of candy uphill to knock on someone's door in freezing temperatures would serve me well now. But it's because of those lessons and my experience that I'm not nervous about pitching to agents and editors at WorldCon next month. I'm nervous and excited about everything else, just not the actual pitches. There's no way I'm going to deprive future generations the chance to learn that same lesson. One of those kids may grow up to be the next J.K. Rowling.

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