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Writer or Book Salesman?
by Antonio Graceffo

You brushed a beautiful Haiku, in an ornate script, onto delicate rice paper. It’s simplicity and truth were the beauty that made it perfect. In a Buddhist cleansing ritual, you incinerated all of your old work in a spirit cauldron, because you wanted to purge your art.

The rent was due. But the landlord wouldn’t accept a post-dated check, made out to his future reincarnation.

Stephen King released his latest best-selling novel, which was tied into the opening of his newest blockbuster film. The action figures already hit the toy stores.

“He’s too commercial.” Say the literary elite, as they snub the well-to-do Mr. King. The next words out of their mouths are “You want fries with that?”

Artists wait tables. Commercial sells.

All businesses make money. We all sell something. The business we have chosen is the business of selling books. When people ask me what I do, I tell them “I am a book salesman.” But I am not a financial butterfly, skipping from bed to bed. I am a specialist. I only sell books written by Antonio Graceffo.

The first rule I learned after a lifetime in sales is, “Know your product.” I know my product well, because I created it. I write first person, adventure travel books about exotic destinations in South East Asia. The next rule of sales says, “Know your target market.” My target market is people living the life I used to live. They are suit and tie professionals, tied to an office, trapped in a job that is sucking the life out of them. Fear and greed keep them from running off and having some wild adventure in the deserts of western China. So, I do it for them. And by reading one of my books, they can escape their life for a few hours.

In the pictures in the magazines, I always look like I am having fun. I am always outdoors, in wild locations, doing things most people can only dream of. Most people don’t get paid to go scuba diving on the Cambodian coast. To the casual observer, my life is very different than it was when I was back on Wall Street. I never went on the hunt with hill tribes when I was hustling the Stock Market. But in actuality, my life hasn’t changed much at all. First and foremost, I am a salesman. I spend more of my day selling than I do writing. And in the hours I am not selling, I am thinking about selling.

I have marketing plans for my books and articles. The release is timed to get the most bang-for-the-buck. Each article is like a one page advertisement for a book. But instead of paying for the coverage, I am being paid. I give a lot of interviews. Writers’ lives are interesting. If your thoughts weren’t deep, or if you were a boring person, you wouldn’t be writing. Interviews give you yet one more opportunity to express your views, and to share some of yourself with would-be-readers. Many people, myself included, will buy a book by an unknown author if that person’s back-story is interesting. The beauty of the interview is that, unlike your articles and books, the interview is completely focused on you.

Another rule of sales says, “We buy from people we like.” People can’t like you unless they know you. And if they don’t know you, they won’t buy your books.

Interviews aren’t hard to get. Just approach any journalist or budding writer you know, and ask him or her to interview you. This gives them a chance to publish another piece and make a little money, and you just got a one page ad for free.

The slam-dunks, the easy interviews to get are in club or association newsletters. If you belong to any kind of organization, just ask the person in charge of the newsletter if they would like to interview you. “Bedford Kiwanis Club Hosts the Next Hemingway.”

When you are trying to sell a book, and you look at your competition, you have the feeling that everyone in the world has written a book. But, in actuality, the percentage of the population who have written, and published, a book, is very small. People around you honestly do want to know about you and how you wrote your book, how you published it, and what you plan next. Don’t worry that you haven’t made any money yet. You will be an inspiration to people even if your book isn’t selling.

Establishing yourself as an expert in your field is an excellent way to promote your book. An old saying says, “If you read two, complete, non-fiction books on a subject you are an expert.” Very few people will do that in a lifetime, so, if you read three, you are way ahead. And, if you write two books about a subject, fiction or non-fiction, you will be considered an expert. Don’t worry that someone else is smarter than you or more knowledgeable than you. Just give your customers, your readers, a good quality product, and they will buy from you again and again.

If you write fiction, don’t exclude yourself from the expert market. Louis Lámour wrote several hundred works of fiction about the Wild West. To my knowledge, he never wrote a non-fiction book. And yet, he is considered to be one of the foremost authorities on the old west. Again, we go back to the know- your-product rule. James Clavell’s Shogun is a fictitious story about feudal Japan. But, other than the fact that the characters were made up and the plot fabricated, it was all true. It was one of the greatest and most accurate portrayals of the period. It is required reading for students of Japanese culture.

So, fiction or fact, you can go the expert route. If you write in a particular genre, ostensibly you are already aware of all of the publications in that field. If you aren’t, get on the Internet and do keyword searches till you find every single magazine, newspaper, website, chat-room, and blog related to your topic. You must have some opinions on your field. Write those opinions out in the form of articles, and begin submitting them to these publications.

Now you are only a fraction of the way to becoming an expert. Next, you have to find the small publications. Again, you are looking for newsletters and club and association bulletins. Look for one-off publications like brochures and pamphlets given away at trade-fairs and conventions. You would be surprised how many event planners would be happy to hear from you, when you offer to write all of their copy for free.

If you hustle, call, email, and chasing down these leads the first year, I guarantee you, that they will come to you the second year. And every publication gives that much more exposure and helps to sell your books. Also, when you give your writing away for free to these publications, later, when it is time for your book release, you can ask for free advertising space. Each association or club you have written for can host a book signing.

My grandmother, a tough, independent New York City schoolteacher told me, “If you want to learn something, volunteer to teach it.”

In this case, if you want to be an expert on something, volunteer to lecture on it.

The Wall Street rule of sales says that you should be spending 70% of your time looking for new clients. For writers, that bulk of that time should be spent on the Internet. So, while you are doing keyword searches for publications and events to publish your writing, you should be looking for speaking opportunities.

YOU ARE AN EXPERT! You should be out in public, teaching people what you know. And how do you prove that you are an expert? By writing a book, of course. It is one of those rare circular logics, which actually works in our favor. Speaking promotes your book sales. Writing books promotes your speaking.

I actually knew a man once, let’s call him Merle, who dedicated his whole life to the history of buttons. He collected buttons, studied buttons, bought and sold buttons, and invested in buttons. He wrote articles and books about buttons. This may seem like a silly specialty to have, but Merle remembered the first rule of writing. He made a lot of money. And, when you heard this guy talk about buttons, it was actually interesting. Merle could tell you the history of the whole world, from cavemen to Copernicus, simply by tracing the history of buttons. And, when people needed a keynote speaker to talk about buttons, Merle was the first person they called. Admittedly, there isn’t that many button experts out there. But Merle was a complete package. He could write. He could talk. He could entertain. And, he could inform.

Entertain and inform—isn’t that part of the writer’s job description? Yes, that, and to sell books, which Merle also did, in large numbers.

Merle was clever because he knew his customers, his audience. He knew that some people didn’t share his love of buttons. So, he tailored his speeches and his writing to fit the needs of the target audience. If they needed history, he was an excellent historian. And if they needed motivation, all he had to do was tell them the story of how he overcame the odds, and made a living out of buttons. That should inspire anyone.

Whatever subject you write about, you can make it sound more interesting than buttons. If you know your product, if you are passionate about your subject, then you need to start evangelizing and selling your books.

Commercial pays the rent. You must relentlessly self-promote. No one is going to do it for you. Make marketing your full time job.

Selling books makes money. Writing doesn’t.

© Copyright 2006, Antonio Graceffo

Adventure writer Antonio Graceffo is originally from Brooklyn, New York. He has a reputation as an aggressive, judgmental, and provocative author, who writes humorous and insulting books about Southeast Asia. Widely panned, his books are available at amazon.com. He presently lives in Cambodia, but will be fleeing the country before the publication of his controversial book, Letters from the Penh. (Letters from the Penh will be available on amazon.com in 2006) Antonio_graceffo@hotmail.com

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