Monday, February 3, 2014

Writing is Exactly Like Selling Tractors

by Cat Woods
Tractors are my bread and butter. Not mine, specifically, as I have no experience selling them. In fact, I can barely tell the difference between a tractor and a combine. Yet, after twenty-plus years of marriage to an Ag Manager, I know a thing or two about Dear Hubby's expectations for his sales force. 
Basing my marketing plan off his successful sales model makes perfect sense to me. And once I’m done, you should walk around thinking tractors and books aren’t really all that different.
  • Writing is a product. Books, like tractors, must provide the buyer with their heart’s desire.  Each novel, picture book or how-to has a purpose. It may be sheer entertainment, or it may have educational value. Regardless of why it is written, the end product is useful. Just like a tractor is to a farmer. The more useful you can make your product, the better opportunity you will have to sell it. Writing for kids? Why not include educational aspects that teachers can build on in the classroom--a topic RC Lewis wrote about here. Got horses? Find a way to appeal to 4H students.
  • Writers must know their genres. Field marketers must know their tractors. Not that I want to buy a tractor, but if I did, I would find myself a reputable dealer knowledgeable about their products. I would never buy a tractor from a business that only sold lawnmowers and garden weasels. Likewise, I would never write a Sci-Fi on time travel using quantum physics as a basis for reality. Though I graduated in the top 10% of my class, I can honestly admit that I am physic-ally illiterate. The moral here: write what you know--or learn what you want to write. Either way, it's a win-win. Because if you don't, you will put out a sub-par product that will not withstand the test of time.
  • Writers must have a brand or a platform to successfully sell their books. Tractors have Case IH and John Deere (among others). Some farmers buy on color regardless of the product–simply because of branding. Many book-buyers purchase books based on name recognition. In a side by side throw down, the familiar name almost always beats out the competition. So get out there and get known--without forgetting the power of real-world connections. I was recently asked to speak at a local women's group about my YA. Seventeen members were there. All seventeen bought a book.  
  • Authors must be approachable. I would never buy my hypothetical tractor from a curmudgeon. If I walked into a dealership (and I have walked into many) and the field marketer glowered at me, ignored me or was otherwise unapproachable, I would find myself another dealership. A writer must like (or appear to like) her readership. Bashing kids as a nasty breed is not likely to endear me to my potential buyers. And if you think for a second that people aren't looking, you're wrong. How we conduct ourselves in the cyber-sphere, as well as in real life, has a big impact on the way others perceive us. As hard is it might be, we have to learn to talk about ourselves and our writing without bragging--sometimes in the least expected places. Our ability to do this smoothly and graciously can make the difference between selling or sitting on the hypothetical book shelf.
  • Writers must deliver. A cool cover blurb might entice me to shell out my hard earned cash on the first book, but if the writing doesn’t equal the promise, I guarantee I will never buy from Author Anita Sell again. Ever! I’ve been married to DH long enough to know that farmers are equally demanding. Bad performance = negative repeat business. Good service = customers for life.
  • Authors are field marketers. We must sell our stories, our names and our personalities. We must engage potential readers and be unafraid to put ourselves out there. On a trip up north, I walked into a bookstore and hand delivered--free of charge--one of my YA novels. The three workers--including the owner--were thrilled when I told them it was theirs to enjoy. A potential sale? Maybe. If not, I'm only out a handful of dollars. So I say to you, set aside your fears and take a chance. After all, the worst thing a farmer can do is say no. Readers are no different. 

To become successful authors, we must care about our readership and deliver the goods. Failing this, don’t bother heading to the nearest Ag Dealership and asking for a job. Their field marketers are held to the same high standards.

If we are lucky, our books will grow wheels and drive themselves right off the shelves!

What's in your marketing plan? What scares you about being a field marketer for your own product?

While Cat Woods does not sell farm equipment, she does sell her intellectual property, such as her middle grade novel, Abigail Bindle and the Slam Book Scam, which is slated for release this September. She also sells herself--as an author--and will be speaking at regional Young Writer's Conferences this upcoming year. Her words of wisdom: don't be afraid of seeking out venues for your words, because if you never ask, the answer will always be no. For more writing tips, visit her blog, Words from the Woods. And while you're there, check out the call for submissions for a middle grade anthology on bullying. Because if you never ask, the answer will always be no.


Matt Sinclair said...

A great way of looking at it.

Cat Woods said...

LOL! I'm sure my hubby would be proud.