Friday, October 14, 2011

Lessons from the Car Dealership

by Elizabeth S. Craig @elizabethscraigCar_Keys__5_ I’ve had a crazy last week. That’s because, in addition to the regular craziness, I had a car kick the bucket on me.

My husband, fortunately, jumped into full car-shopping gear while I tried really hard to stay out of it. My demands of a car are pretty minor: I want it to run and I want it to be safe. Low gas mileage would be nice. That’s about it. :)

Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t completely stay out of the car shopping. “Elizabeth, you’ve got to test drive the two cars I’ve narrowed it down to,” said my husband. “This is going to be the car you drive every day. I can’t just buy you a car without your ever even driving it!”

“Can’t you?” I felt very wistful.

No, he really couldn’t. So I ended up at two car dealerships on Monday. My husband told me he’d asked the salesmen not to try to sell me on the cars at all…just to let me drive them.

For salesmen, of course, that’s a pretty tall order. And they’re just so extroverted. I believe they tried their very hardest not to give me a sales pitch. But I could tell they were gently trying to show the car in the best light possible.

Writers do a lot more selling than most of us would like. Not only are we literally selling our books (promoting them), but we’re also trying to keep our readers flipping pages and giving them a great read so we can have them buy our next book.

After listening to the expert salesmen at the dealerships, I realized that some of their techniques could be adapted for our own use, too:

Have a pithy pitch: The salesmen both dropped something casual about what they loved about the car they were showing me. It’s good to be prepared for people to ask us, in person, about our book. I used to get a deer-in-the-headlights look when an acquaintance would ask me what my latest book was about. I’ve tried to hone this skill, because it’s important. What’s your favorite part of your story? The characters? The life or death conflict? It should be something you can be enthusiastic about.

Be friendly and accessible: After I left the dealership (probably before I’d even gotten off the lot, actually), I’d gotten emails from the dealers telling me how much they’d enjoyed meeting me and giving me all their contact info. Writers should have a welcoming home base of some kind online for readers to find them. Readers can visit your blog, website, or Facebook page to find out more about you and what you’re working on next.

Give something for readers to identify with: The dealers quickly realized that cars were not going to be a good common denominator for me to relate with them. One salesman started talking about how much he enjoyed reading thrillers and asked me about the mystery market and the other salesman quickly started talking to me about family life and children. Naturally, this made them very likeable to me. Making our protagonists likeable or at least someone that readers can identify with. Even the Grinch had likeable traits…and quickly changed.

The car salesmen’s soft selling did work…I’ve already gotten my new car. And I think I walked away with some good tips for selling. How do you sell your story to your readers?