An entrepreneur at heart, my father owned and operated more than a dozen small businesses in his lifetime, two or three at a time. Since he liked spending money and always needed more, he also sold cars for various dealerships in Heber, Utah, where he lived. He was a terrific saleman. He won national prizes for his record in sales—gold pins, cookware, trips to Las Vegas.
Unfortunately I didn’t inherit my old man’s greatest sales asset, the ability to connect with all kinds of people and a personality that immediately put them at ease. I’m more of an introvert. When I decided to become a writer, I imagined a life cloistered in my office, creating stories and novels, emerging to give the occasional reading. Someone else would persuade readers to buy my books. But life didn’t work out that way. As the independent publisher of my books, I have the entire responsibility for marketing them.
Although not a natural like Dad, I learned a few things from watching him sell cars.
Believe in your product
When Dad sold Fords, they were the best automobiles on the market. Nothing beat a Mustang for speed and handling. Then he went to work at the General Motors dealership. Suddenly their vehicles became superior. I teased him about changing his opinion from one day to the next. But he stuck doggedly to his position: you couldn’t beat a Cadillac for luxury and comfort or a GM truck for power and reliability.
Ultimately authors have to believe in their work; otherwise they wouldn’t create. But even great writers harbor doubts about the value of their writing. Franz Kafka wanted his manuscripts destroyed after his death. I’m not that depressive, but then I’m no genius either. I revise incessantly and agonize over sentences. Doubt is useful when it drives me to improve my writing, but I have to put it aside when I market my book. If I don’t believe in the book, neither will anyone else.
Never stop selling
Dad talked to everyone he met about cars—good friends, casual acquaintances, and strangers. If they showed the least interest in buying one, he had a deal for them. I’m sure he got rebuffed plenty of times, but he made a lot of sales, too.
That kind of persistence is hard for me. Rejection hurts. I have to remind myself not to take it to heart, to seek out opportunities and jump on each one.
Rise above disaster
I was amazed at Dad’s unflappability when he was selling. Once, a customer took a test drive in a used car—emphasis on used—and as he pulled back on the lot, the radiator hose burst. Dad opened the hood and quickly stepped back to avoid the spout of water. So much for that sale, I thought. But Dad led the customer into his office. They talked awhile, and then the guy came out and left. Dad emerged a few minutes later.
“Too bad about the hose,” I said.
“Oh, he bought the car,” Dad said. “I was just writing up the sale.”
“He didn’t care?”
“Car’s fine except for the hose,” Dad said. “We’re putting in a new one.”
The first edition of Talion was pretty much a bust—ineffective cover, insufficient copy editing, formatting mistakes. When I realized how completely I’d screwed up, I wanted to crawl beneath my bedcovers and hide. But I didn’t (not for long, anyway). As I learned from Dad, mistakes are fixable, and you don’t fail until you stop trying.
(This has all the earmarks of a Father’s Day post, but I don’t feel like waiting until June.)