Sunday, April 15, 2012

Diary of a Mad Saleswife: Steve Jobs and Me

I have always known that I am hopeless as a saleswoman; but now, after reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, I realize that I am not just hopeless at sales, I’m probably pathologically inept at sales. This does not bode well for an unknown author about to embark on a rigorous book marketing campaign.

Last night I completed the Jobs bio, which was satisfyingly thought-provoking in scope. All over the map. One of the things I realize is that Jobs was not so much a technology innovator. He hired brilliant geeks to innovate. One could argue that he was extremely creative, but I think his aesthetic sense stemmed more from a terminal case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder than from imagination. So what was his formula for success? In my opinion, he was a marketing genius.

Think about it. First he sold people a home computer that was sealed so firmly shut that you couldn’t even unscrew and remove the back to try to repair it if you knew something about electronics. He made it tamper-proof on purpose because he was a control freak. But who was buying home computers when they first became available? Just the sort of people who would like to be able to take the back off and fool around with the insides. Then he sold people a telephone that could do all the time-wasting and distracting things that a computer could do, and none of the useful and constructive real-work things that a computer could do, on a device with a screen that was a fraction of the size of a computer screen. Soon after that, he sold people a web-connected phone that had a computer-sized screen and could do every useless thing that the phone he invented could do but it couldn’t make phone calls. Granted, the iPhone could also be used as a music player. I like that and I think that was useful. (Although it upstaged the iPod, but Jobs didn’t care at that point since he had already sold millions of obsolete iPods.) The iPhone could also be used as a camera, but only for people who are not into quality photography and use it to take pictures of themselves and their friends falling down drunk at parties. Of course everything Jobs sold was extraordinarily over-priced, but he managed to sell it anyway and made a lot of money. How did he get away with all this mishugas? (That’s a Yiddish word meaning ridiculous craziness on steroids.)

He got away with it because he was a brilliant salesman. He convinced people that they couldn’t live without his latest device, no matter how expensive or impractical it was. They would sell their children to medical scientists to come up with the money to buy an iPhone. Jobs claimed that he didn’t bother to do marketing research because people (interpret that to mean consumer targets) didn’t know what they wanted until he showed it to them.

But enough about Steve. Here am I, a few weeks from the publication of Memories from Cherry Harvest, and I’m working with a marketing director and a publicist to develop strategies for selling my book. Little do they know that I am the mom who couldn’t manage to sell a single box of chocolates to support my son’s Little League Baseball Team in the course of eight seasons. I always paid the $30 buy-out and didn’t take the chocolates. I couldn’t help school fundraisers by selling flower bulbs, magazines, candy, water bottles, or T-shirts. Neither could my children; because they had a mother who was embarrassingly unsupportive. We were always the one family that sold nothing. I couldn’t even sell a raffle ticket to support the Water Polo Team (I bought the whole book myself each year, which should have given me excellent odds of winning something but I never did). I confess that I am that wicked evil person who hangs up on telemarketers; who yells at them, “Don’t ever call here again!” I send direct mail back in the enclosed postage-paid envelopes (taped to a brick) with threats of criminal prosecution if the marketer ever sends me another piece of junk mail. I send nasty emails back to spammers and actually call the 800 number on unwanted catalogues to be taken off the mailing list. I don’t like people to accost me with their products, and now I am in the position of having to accost others with mine. Argh.

It never ceases to amaze me that, with the millions of people who read the English language, so few books actually sell many copies (only 7% of books sell more than 1,000 copies, hardly any sell more than 10,000). And it takes a massive amount of time and energy to get the word out about most books, especially those written by an unknown author. So how do I sell my book without becoming that marketing demon that I so dislike? One good thing about being a “new voice” is that people don’t know about me and therefore I really am simply trying to get the word out, to connect with my audience, and find those people who would enjoy reading the book and who might, hopefully, find something of value to them in my words; something that they can carry away into their life. I am searching out people who would want to read my book (anyway) if they knew about it and informing them it’s there rather than full-bore selling it to them.  

If you’re reading this, please take pity on me and tell your friends about my book. If you’re on Facebook, please go to the Memories from Cherry Harvest page and “like” it (my marketing director will be so happy). If you’re on Goodreads, friend me and leave a comment on my author page. There’s more information about the book on the Woza Books website if you’re inclined to check it out. And if I call you, please don’t hang up on me.

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