Why I am a bad salesperson

eb674d1c0d544d2f87bde54cefbab031This is a gripe, a rant, and a question, all in one.

Earlier this morning, I volunteered at our school’s grandparents’ day breakfast. The coordinator (a.k.a. head honcho) warned me that the food for this buffet-style breakfast would be gobbled up quickly, and that she would set up the tables the night before because adults would be “hovering” over her if she set up in the morning. Thinking she was exaggerating, I nevertheless baked eight dozen mini muffins and prepared two huge fruit trays.

She wasn’t exaggerating.

I arrived at 7:20, before our start time of 7:30. Parents and grandparents had started arriving at seven o’clock that morning.

They were hovering over us as we set out food, serving themselves fruit before we’d set out forks to eat it with, and grabbing up all the Chick-fil-A chicken minis. As servers, we held back over half the food because there was no way it would’ve lasted until nine o’clock.

From those eight dozen muffins I baked, only seven are left. (Besides the ones I baked for my family, of course.) There’s about two smallish spoonfuls of fruit on the tray. That’s it. From the food the other women brought (bagels, muffins, etc.), there was little left.

You’d think these folks hadn’t been fed in a week. Astounding? Disgusting? I’m uncertain.

I didn’t work the book fair this year, but I had a similar experience there and at the annual Southern Tradition fundraiser. The amount of money people are willing to spend on worthless trinkets (always aplenty at book fairs) and brain candy books is incredible.

(Full disclosure: Both years, my younger daughter has bought Magic Tree House books there. Last year’s was about the time-travelling sibling duo meeting Abraham Lincoln; this year, it was  Alexander the Great. I’ve purchased two books, both by Theodore Gray: The Elements and The Molecules. These books intrigue and dazzle even chemistry-shy me.)

Last year, one father walked into the fair, his young daughter grabbing his hand and showing him her “must-have” item, a set of highlighters in the shape of a cell phone. The father looked at the price, then at me.

“Five bucks for this crap?”

You’d have thought that I’d set the price myself.  After a few minutes, he pulled out his wallet.

Wait, who’s the adult here? I thought. You don’t have to buy it.

But he did.

Also last year, I worked as a salesperson at the Southern Tradition fundraiser, selling upcycled furniture, artwork, and other items. Many times a woman would look at a piece of furniture, sigh, and say,

“Oh, my husband’s just going to kill me if I purchase one more thing. We just don’t have room! Here’s my credit card.”

These pieces weren’t cheap, either. And while the “hubby’s gonna kill me” line was obviously an exaggeration, it still chaffed at me, even while I smiled and rang up the purchase of yet another shabby chic-style cabinet or table.

Two things warred inside me. 

ONE

These sales benefit the school. That upcycled junk brought in $90,000 in one day. The book fair made over $2000 for the school library. The breakfast, while not a sale per se, set a gracious tone for the school as (potential) donors came into the building with their grandchildren.

TWO

These products weren’t necessary. Most buyers didn’t need $500 cabinets or buffets. The kids didn’t need to read junk books, buy erasers shaped like chocolate bars, drop five dollars on a pack of highlighters. And most of the eaters weren’t really hungry, more than likely.

They didn’t buy out of need. They bought out of desire. 

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with sales. It’s difficult for me to imagine asking people to buy one of my novels, for example. Those two ideas war inside me, even though I am far from being published.

ONE

I believe in my product. (Cringe. I hate referring to a book or piece of art as a “product” for consumption.) If I manage to get that far in publishing, then, yes, I should be paid, as should the others who have helped produce my book. The agent. The editors. The cover designer. The sales people. All those people are working and trying to make a living from their work in publishing.

TWO

It’s hard for me to ask people to spend money on something that doesn’t have a tangible benefit. A book doesn’t give sustenance to the body. A book doesn’t keep a body warm at night, or cover its naked flesh, or protect from the elements. A book doesn’t keep someone healthy or cure diseases or keep a heart beating.

The value is metaphysical, and it is real. I enjoy that. But it also makes it difficult for me to ask someone to hand over hard-earned money for it, especially if I wrote it.

Aren’t I simply fueling our natural consumerist impulses if I ask people to buy a product that they don’t need? Am I taking money away from bills or the food budget or health care? Probably not. But . . .

Here’s my question: How does a writer or artist reconcile these two dueling ideas? How do you come to terms with the consumerism (and greed) involved in the sale of any luxury item? How do you do so without losing the very thing that makes you a creative person, an artist?


P.S.: Maybe my issue is with selling my own writing more than other people’s work, because now I’m going to mention that Ruminate magazine is holding a 50% off sale on all back issues. (Yours truly has been reading the fiction submissions for less than a year. I’m a volunteer.) If you’re curious about Ruminate, this is a great opportunity to check out what we publish. They offer contests, too: short stories, poetry, non-fiction, and art. Hurry! The sale only lasts until October 4, 2015. (End of sales pitch. Whew.)

 

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13 thoughts on “Why I am a bad salesperson

  1. I’m not a “salesperson”, myself, Laura (although I have many people in my life that would disagree!). IF I feel there’s a benefit to the person (or establishment that I’m representing) than I will mildly “suggest” that the item be purchased….i.e. church/school benefits I ALWAYS “sell” how it benefits the church or school and that actually the “buyer” is simply “donating to the church/school”. As far as your book goes, personally I’d probably not do very well because I will never tell someone to buy something that I thought they didn’t somehow “benefit” from reading/buying. When I worked at the B of A in SF (many moons ago), I was responsible for opening up a lot of “new accounts”, but NOT because I was SELLING! I actually told people NOT to open up certain accounts and sent them on their way to other institutions if I felt they could do better. In the “long run”, they always came back to me because they trusted me. In my honest (humble) opinion, I feel the “art of selling” is NOT to sell. You believe in what your writing, right? You believe that it’s a quality
    “product”, right? And it may not be “reading material” for everybody, but’s it’s a QUALITY book for people that want to benefit/enjoy whatever your topic is on, so you “sell” to those people. To me “selling” is all about integrity. If you believe in the “product” (and or the institution that “said product” is being sold for) than your “good to go”, in my opinion. I wish we lived closer…we could go out for a cup of tea, Sweetie, and “chat” over a cup of tea. Hugs! Lucie

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    1. “The art of selling is not to sell.” Wow, I wish all sales people felt that way! I’m so turned off by salespeople who trying too hard to sell me something. Sometimes I won’t even buy something I need because the salesperson has been too pushy! Talk about counter-productive. 🙂

      I guess I need to realize that my book does have a benefit, even if it isn’t going to be eaten (hopefully!) or have a physical benefit to the buyer. It’s hard for me to see, though, because I’m so close to my own work! Hugs to you, too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, you are (too close to your own work)….We truly DON’T know our (positive) effect on people with our (written) words, at times….I know I, too, wonder if I’ve positively effected someone with something that I wrote and then “out of the blue”, someone will say, “I read your post and you made my day! I was feeling really blue that day and you made me laugh!” Problem with “writers” (I am a story teller, YOU are a writer!!!), is that the profound effect you have on people is not “realized” right away….take heart, Sweetie. Your “work” (as a writer) does have positive influence on people. Just “keep truckin” , Kiddo! ❤

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  2. No, your book does not provide sustenance for the body or warmth for the body, but oh my, what it can do for the mind!!!! There are many of us out here who read for the pleasure of reading. We relax when we read and are able to think about something different for once.

    Never, never, never downplay the value of you book. You may not want to be involved in the hard sell and that is your choice. But, please do not forget the books value to the large segment of the population who thrive on reading well written and interesting books. 🙂

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    1. Leslie, thanks for the encouraging words. I read for pleasure, too; always have, always will. I love reading, I love writing, I believe in my own work. But I also know that a huge part of being a published author today is marketing, which is not something I’ve ever loved or even liked. It’s just difficult to see myself being able to convince a publisher that yes, they should publish my book because I’ll be able to help them sell it. That’s where I fall down in my thinking.

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  3. Wow you must live in a well-off area. When my middle child’s school did a sponsored 12 mile walk they raised a few thousand and we all thought that was amazing! Is it a private school?

    I know where you’re coming from. I really do. I have come to the conclusion that art does have a value in that it shows us who we are as human beings. I believe that we must be careful with our money. As a Christian I am called to be a good steward of all that I have: spiritually, physically, emotionally and materially. I have slipped up in this area and spent more than I should, especially over this past year when we’ve had more money than ever before, but we’ve reined it in now, because we know it’s not right.

    As for books, they’re not too great an extravagance. I usually listen to audiobooks and I always go for what I think is a good deal rather than if I really want it – no, I mean it has to be *both* a good deal *and* I really want it, otherwise it’s a waste of money. I do admit that paper books I tend to buy second hand. I think we all have a moral duty to manage our lives frugally, so that we can be generous where we need to be. But yes, I do believe that art has a value and that includes novels. I adore novels. I’d go (even more) crazy without them. I learn about myself, about the world around me and about God through novels. They teach and inspire me. I would even go so far as to say they have saved my life on more than one occasion – they’ve allowed me to escape when things were just too tough. God is creative. God is beauty. I am creative because I am made in His image. Every time I see a gorgeous sunset, or cloud formations that are just heavenly, I remind myself that God sometimes creates just for the sake of creating. The ability to see beauty is one thing that sets us apart from animals.

    P.S. I’d make a terrible salesperson too!

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    1. Sandy, yes, we live in a fairly affluent and well-educated area (for Alabama), and this is a private school. Even so, I was flabbergasted at how much we raised and how much people were willing to spend on these products; I can’t imagine dropping several hundred dollars on a piece of furniture without at least consulting my husband!

      I love this thought: God sometimes creates just for the sake of creating. And when we create, we’re pointing people to the Creator! Thanks for the encouraging words.

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  4. Many interesting thoughts here, Laura — I certainly wouldn’t equate a book with a cheap package of markers. It may not be something we “need” in a survival sense but it does provide mental and spiritual and emotional value. It’s also the result of a great deal of work by an individual so there’s nothing wrong with asking for money for something you’ve put your heart and soul into. But I definitely do see the dilemmas you’re expressing here.

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  5. That’s a good question, and one I agree with as both a hardline minimalist and an ex-saleswoman. Short answer, though:

    Books have changed my life. They have spoken to me and changed me. They made me feel less alone. They got me through some of my darkest hours of depression. They made me think in new ways, opened me up to new passions. They persuaded me of the good things: hope and love and life worth living. They showed me new glories of God.

    Not all of them were nonfiction, either. Fantasy and sci-fi have helped me just as much. I pay for the books that change me, and I believe $15 isn’t too much for a friend that is going to stick by me for years and help me live well. This is NOT unnecessary junk. Food and shelter for the mind is just as necessary as that for the body.

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