Tag: Sales (Page 2 of 5)

Reason #59: Women Just Aren’t That Into You

A Sales Team reason for rejection

A few years ago, I attended a writer’s conference in Colorado. During the day, I had conversations with several men who whined about their lack of success breaking into the publishing business. They seemed truly mystified that companies out there were giving their books a steady stream of rejection letters.

Later in the day, I had some free time so I decided to attend one of the workshops taught by another speaker. I chose “Writing for Women.” When that seminar started, it became crystal clear for me why all other men I’d talked to previously were having such trouble in publishing. You see, I was the only male present in the “Writing for Women” seminar. What’s odd is that some people thought it was odd for me to be there. 

That’s fine. I’ll take that oddity all the way to bank.

Here’s the reality: Women dictate buying in America. You’d better understand that if you want a career in publishing. Consider the numbers: 

• Women make up more than half the population. 

• Women buy more books than men.

• American women control $4.3 trillion of annual spending in the US Economy—more than the entire annual spending of China and India combined.

• Women earn more bachelor’s degrees than men, which projects to mean that their earning power will actually increase in years to come.

• Women influence 80% of the buying decisions in the United States.

Read that last number again…did that say 80%? Why yes, I believe it did. And yet you’ve never thought too much about writing for women? About making sure any book you write has some kind of “woman appeal”? Well, no wonder you’re reading this book instead of having published dozens of your own.

What You Can Do About It

1. Follow the money (knock on the even-numbered doors). 

Remember this rule: 80% of your readers are women, 20% are everybody else. So when creating a new proposal, you’d better ask yourself how women will respond to your book.

Look at it this way: Assume you’re a door-to-door salesperson, and your territory is one apartment building in New York City. In every odd-numbered apartment there lives a person with $20 to spend. In every even-numbered apartment there lives a person with $80 to spend. Are you going to knock on the odd-numbered doors first, or the even-numbered doors? 

You can bet my Sales VP is going to knock on the even-numbered doors, because that’s where 80% of the money is. So follow the money and make sure your book has something women want. A few books to help you with this are Why She Buys by Bridget Brennan and Don’t Think Pink by Lisa Johnson and Andrea Learned.

2. Be aware of the six “basic archetypes” of female consumers.

I’m indebted to Michael J. Silverstein and Kate Sayre’s excellent report, “The Female Economy” for identifying these archetypes “which are primarily defined by income, age, and stage of life.” They are

  • Fast-Tracker (independent woman, striving for achievement)
  • Pressure Cooker (successful multi-tasker, struggling for stability)
  • Relationship Focused (middle class, married with kids)
  • Managing on Her Own (single, divorced, or widowed, seeking connection)
  • Fulfilled Empty Nester (concerned about health, travel, leisure)
  • Making Ends Meet (lower income, less educated, seeks value and small luxuries)

Be aware that these archetypes can overlap for many women, but if you write a book that appeals to women in one or more of these life circumstances, you’re increasing exponentially the chances that your book will sell in the marketplace. That’s something my Sales VP will be happy to hear. 

3. Don’t assume that because you are a woman you can innately write for women. And don’t assume being a man means you can’t write for women either.

Being born a certain gender may give you advantages in life, and may even help your publishing career. But it’s idiotic to assume that all women can write for women or that no man can write for a woman. Don’t allow that kind of gender bias to dictate what you do in writing.

The best writers—male or female—are knowledgeable, articulate, and interesting. So while you must never lose sight of the fact that a woman is your most likely reader, you must also understand that the number of X and Y chromosomes you have doesn’t determine your ability to be successful as a writer. Writing is an equal opportunity bloodsport.

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Reason #60: My Sales VP Thinks Of You As An Unknown (The “No-Froofies” Rule)

A Sales Team reason for rejection

Ah, the curse of being unknown. This kind of anonymity has killed many a writer’s career. 

I once knew an editor who labeled all authors in one of two categories: froofy and non-froofy. (I know, we editors are an articulate bunch, are we not?)

Froofy writers were perceived as uneducated, underemployed, random nobodies who’d once read a book and decided to give writing a shot. Non-froofy writers were, well people like you, dear reader, with sincere skill and promise for publication. (Hey, every writer’s got to suck up to the reader sometimes, right?)

Although they don’t typically use the word “froofy,” all Sales VPs think in terms of that duality. And if you’re a generally unknown writer suffering under the curse of anonymity, that means you’re a “froofy” in her eyes. 

Look at it this way. Let’s say you work in bookstore sales at my publishing house. Your job is to convince book buyers at Barnes & Noble to carry our books. You have two books to sell today. Both have exactly the same title and exactly the same cover image. One is written by the President of the United States. The other is written by, well, you. 

Which book are you going to have more success selling? Right.

It’s nothing personal, you see. My Sales VP is just thinking about all those industrious salespeople who earn their living by working for her. She’s responsible for giving them the tools they need to succeed. If she gives them a book by an unknown, by an absolute “nobody,” they’re going to have a hard time making money from it. And if they don’t succeed, my Sales VP won’t succeed. 

So, whether she admits it out loud or not, she’s adopted a “no froofies” rule toward every book. If she sees you as an unknown entity, that’s enough to earn you a rejection, plain and simple.

What You Can Do About It

1. Become known. 

I’m not saying you must become a celebrity before you can publish (though, according to Reason #54, that certainly helps). But I am saying that if you’re seeking a public career like that of an author, you probably should also be making a name for yourself somewhere, in some way. You can’t afford to be simply another “unknown” trying to publish.

No, don’t break the law or do some stupid publicity stunt (Balloon Boy anyone?). But do become a recognized expert in your field. Look for opportunities to be a public speaker. Be a notable contributor to a popular website. Start your own website or blog. Star in a local theater production. Enter writing contests—and win them. Take steps that bring you broader and broader exposure in the public eye. 

For help in this area, check out Christina Katz’ practical advice in Get Known Before the Book Deal.

2. Highlight your public accomplishments in your proposal. 

After you’ve done some of the things in suggestion 1 above, be sure to tell me about them! The best place for this is in your author bio, but you can also include these kinds of things in your personal publicity and marketing plan as well. 

For instance, you might mention that you frequently perform at The Cool House Theater in your local community, and that gives you an avenue to include an ad for your book in the theater program which is distributed to 7500 people over the course of a normal production run. 

Whatever it is you’re known for, just make sure I know about it. Then when my Sales VP asks me, “So who is this person anyway?” I’ll have something to say besides, “Oh, she’s some nobody in western Illinois. But she’s a good writer. Promise.”

3. Learn how to write press releases.

This is an overlooked skill among writers, but the ability to create a short, professional-looking press release is often a good way to tout your own accomplishments. You can even go ahead and send it to your local newspapers and media outlets—maybe even get coverage in those places. If you do, include any relevant clippings in your proposal. But even if you don’t get coverage, you can still include a press release or two with your proposal. I may toss it aside…but then I may look at it and be impressed as well.

I knew an author once who made it a habit to send out a press release about himself and his writing career two to four times each year. His mailing list was the 30 or 40 editors he hoped to work with someday in the future. He didn’t pitch any books or ask for any consideration when he sent those press releases. He said their whole purpose was simply to put his name regularly in the minds of editors. He felt that if an editor recognized his name when a new proposal came in—regardless of whether or not she knew why she recognized it—that meant he’d no longer be considered a nobody at the publishing house. You might consider doing something similar with your own press releases.

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Reason #61: My Sales VP Feels Hostile Toward Me Or My Editorial VP, And Is Sabotaging Our Careers By Undervaluing The Proposals We Bring To Publishing Board

A Sales Team reason for rejection

I’d love to tell you that publishing board is never hostile, that it represents an ideal of democratic process and respectful restraint…but it just doesn’t. 

Sometimes, I have to admit, a publishing board meeting resembles a rowdy soccer match—except that we’re not blowing on Vuvuzela horns. Oh sure, we try to get along—after all, we have to work together every day. But sometimes tempers flare, grudges form, and well, you can guess the rest.

I still remember vividly a time when I managed to provoke an overly hostile reaction from a production VP during a publishing board meeting. OK, I didn’t call him a flat-out liar, but I did suggest that perhaps his version of the truth wasn’t consistent with reality, and I showed the data to back me up. The guy was huge—ex-military, all crew cut and biceps. He promptly let me know he’d be happy to walk with me to the parking lot where his fists would show me what to do with my data. I politely declined. (Yikes!)

Other times I’ve sat silently by and cringed while shouting matches raged between editorial directors and sales VPs, when people stormed out the room in protest, and when we all just had to take a break because we were exhausted from arguing. Publishing board is sometimes just a hostile work environment, and sadly our executives are most often the ones behind that situation.

But I’ll tell you, those obviously hostile confrontations are much desired over the ones that simmer below the surface. I once had a Sales VP approach me and practically beg me to put together a proposal for a certain project. He guaranteed it would pass because his sales team would support it 100%. So I did what he’d asked for. 

Then, during publishing board, when all the executives were present, he delivered a complete 180-degree opposite argument, using my proposal (that he’d shaped and requested!) as a tool for belittling my boss and the “inadequate ideas” we were supposedly trying to foist on his sales team. His hidden, hostile agenda won the day, and put my boss’s career in jeopardy as well.


Now, to be honest, these situations I’ve described are more often the exception than the rule. Most of the time, most publishing people are consummate professionals—including the two jerks I mentioned above. Still, if you’ve worked in any office environment at all, you know that politics and posturing runs rampant in the hallways—especially among executives with big egos and much to gain or lose. 

Why do I tell you this? Because, it’s possible that the rejection letter you received yesterday was actually undeserved. It’s rare, but it could be that you were the collateral damage of some unseen pissing contest going on at the highest levels in my publishing company.

So, you know, sorry about that.

What You Can Do About It

1. Stay out of the fray. 

Look, I told you about this reason for rejection just because it exists, not because I expect you to actually get involved in a fight between a Sales VP and your editorial contact. If you hear of a conflict brewing in the management team at a publishing house, just don’t pick sides. Don’t commiserate with your editor and send an email complaining about those shortsighted folks in sales. Don’t try to defend the sales team to your editor. Just accept the news and then ignore it. 

Although political turf wars in a publishing house may affect your business (whether or not you’re able to publish), they’re really none of your business. It’s a family affair, and you’re not in the family. So just stay above the fray and avoid saying or doing anything that appears to make you choose sides.

2. Get along with the sales team. 

If you have an opportunity to meet members of a publishing house’s sales team—say, at a BookExpo America convention, or during a tour of a publishing company, or whatever—be sure to suck up a little bit. Don’t be insincere, of course, but do treat these people with respect and regard. Take time to admire the quality of their work, especially under difficult circumstances. Ask what an author like you could do to make their jobs easier. Generally be the kind of person that salespeople like. That’ll make life easier for you—and for your editor.

3. Be better than the politics.

The best way to overcome a sabotaging spirit within a publishing house is to come up with a proposal that’s such a can’t-miss project, no one in his or her right mind would turn it down. 

If you’re thinking like my Sales VP (and you should be), then you can manipulate my Sales VP into liking your proposal in spite of her personal dislike for me or my boss. Make your book something that’s so salesworthy, that she’d actually be harming her whole department—and her own career—in order to strike out at me by rejecting it.

Hey, excellence trumps pettiness every time. So be excellent. Period.

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Reason #62: My Sales VP Can’t (Or Won’t) See The Future

A Sales Team reason for rejection

The publishing business would be a lot easier if fortune-tellers really could predict the future. Then all we’d have to do is put a few on the payroll and let them tell us what will sell like Panera bread 18 months from now.

Alas, the real world is not so easy. Instead we’ve got all kinds of people trying to predict what the next big book will be. There’s you, of course, studying the market and creating a book to meet future trends. There’s me, sitting at my agency desk, aggregating all my resources to uncover that elusive next bestseller. There’s the editor trying to duplicate past successes while avoiding present failures. And there’s my Sales VP, adding up the numbers each month to get a sense of what’s selling now, and how to sell more of it.

Trouble is, most often we all arrive at different conclusions. And when it comes to the perspective of a sales professional, the big concern is what’s selling today—not trying to predict what will sell tomorrow. 

So what happens if you come to me with a truly visionary book idea, one that is timed perfectly to exploit an as-yet under-the-radar trend destined to explode just in time for your prospective book’s release?

This is where it gets tricky. My Sales VP is very much aware of what’s selling right now, and he likely hasn’t put on his seer spectacles to peer terribly far into the future. Before the 2002 release of the first Spider-Man film, I remember trying to talk up the future of superhero-themed products to some of my industry colleagues. “That stuff is niche material for kids,” the sales folks told me. “It’s not for an everyday book buyer. Pass.” 

Well, if you’ve been alive since 2002 you know what happened after that. Major movies like Spider-Man (1, 2, & 3), the X-Men franchise, Batman Begins, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, The Avengers, and more have dominated pop culture for most of this century. And if you look on bookstore shelves, there are gobs of superhero themed titles vying for our money—many of which are selling very well.

But I couldn’t make sales teams see the future in that area, so they—and I—missed out on the trend. 

What does that mean for you? Well, you may spot a trend with plenty of time to capitalize on it…and you may still get rejected because my Sales VP simply can’t take her eyes off today long enough to catch the vision for tomorrow.

What You Can Do About It

1. Show clear data to support your vision. 

One thing you can count on with a Sales VP is that numbers will count. If you spot a trend that appears to have profit potential in the future, start translating that trend into numbers. Talk about where we are today and how that projects out for the future. Speak the language of population figures, similar sales trends, charts and graphs.

If you can back up your instincts with data that supports your trend analysis, my Sales VP will listen. If your numbers are accurate and project a strong return on investment, my VP might just say yes to your book after all.

2. Don’t stop pitching. 

If you see a profitable potential coming in the future, don’t give up when the trend becomes obvious. Keep pitching your ideas, finding new publishers, and reiterating your data to anyone who will listen. 

Hey, if your predictions are correct, you’ll start to see evidence of that in the marketplace—and so will the suits at the publishing companies. At some point, your prediction will hit a tipping point where everyone is aware of it. And if your book proposal is sitting on an editor’s desk when a Sales VP finally notices the trend and tells the editorial department about it, you’re in a good spot to be the one who profits from it.

3. Diversify.

Be ready to capitalize on several future trends—not just one. If you try to convince my sales VP that certain products will boom 18 months from now, and he doesn’t believe you, go ahead and file those ideas away for them moment. Then tackle the next upcoming trend on your list and pitch new ideas related to that one. Keep delivering diversified targets in your proposals and sooner or later one is likely to make an impact.

The worst idea is the one that keeps getting rehashed, so think of yourself as a library of great ideas, not a shrine to a single one.

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Reason #63: You Are The Wrong Gender

A Sales Team reason for rejection

I know an author—let’s call him Clarkston—who wrote an award-winning inspirational book for women. Of course, the women who read that book (including the folks who bestowed the award) have no idea Clark wrote it. 

“When I started looking at similar books in the market,” Clark told me privately, “I realized they were all written for women by women. Well, one of my relatives—a woman—is also an author. So I contacted her and asked if I could borrow her name in order to publish my book. She agreed, so I ghostwrote the book under her name. She got the byline. I got to publish a book I felt passionately about. Seemed like a fair deal to me.”

Yes, Virginia, there is a gender bias in publishing. 

Now, before you get all pointy and self-righteous about that, remember we’re talking about the publishing world as it is, not as we wish it to be. And please be aware that the gender bias that governs many book decisions didn’t originate inside the publishing house. It’s simply a reflection of bias in the marketplace. If the majority of readers didn’t assume that men were generally inadequate in addressing female issues (and vice versa), my sales team wouldn’t either. But money runs the world, and if your money says no to a male author, well, I’d better go get a female author.

Of course not every publishing category has to deal with gender bias. Thanks to barrier-busting careers of people like Agatha Christie, Ursula K. Le Guin, Suze Orman, and others, women have easily gained widespread credibility in areas once dominated by men, and vice versa. 

Ah, but when was the last time you saw a woman’s name attached to a book on trout fishing? Or man’s name on the cover of a romance novel? Or a woman’s byline on a superhero comic or graphic novel? Heck, it wasn’t until 2007 that DC Comics finally assigned a woman—lauded author Gail Simone—to be the regular, long-term writer for Wonder Woman, their most famous female superhero of all time.

The fact is that in some book categories, readers expect the author to be a certain gender. And that means my Sales VP does too. 

If you happen to be someone trying to buck that kind of publishing expectation—say a man writing about beauty and fashion, or a woman writing about the greatest linebackers of the NFL—you’ve got an uphill battle ahead of you. Your gender alone may be enough to make my Sales VP decline your book.

What You Can Do About It

1. Try writing under your initials instead of your full first name. 

Some people have had success simply adopting a gender-opposite pseudonym (George Orwell is a classic example of this), but I think the better option is simply to keep your own name and present it in gender neutral terms, using your first and middle initials in place of your full first name.

For instance, I once published a female suspense author named Tracy. For her byline, she preferred to use the initials “T.L.” in place of her first name. This practice is pretty common actually. It operates on the assumption that readers will assign their own gender preferences to the neutral initials. Sometimes that can be enough to remove a reader’s bias long enough for that person to buy your book—which means it may also be enough to eliminate gender as an obstacle for my Sales VP.

2. Consider a co-author of the opposite gender. 

I know a male fiction author who writes very good romance novels. But, writing alone, he couldn’t get published in that genre. So he teamed up with a female romance novelist to publish a few love stories. The tactic worked. He eventually had significant success writing in that genre for a few years before moving on to something else.

However, you should be aware that this strategy also has its drawbacks. For instance, the male author I mentioned above ending up writing 90% of the books he “coauthored” with the female romance novelist. When they finally parted ways it was not as friends. Additionally, co-authoring a book requires a genuine collaborative spirit. This can be difficult if you’re the person who came up with the original idea. 

So, in the end, I can’t say I’d recommend this strategy for everyone. But the truth is that it can sometimes work. Your call.

3. Viva la difference! (Long live the difference!)

Another tactic to overcome this obstacle is to emphasize it. You’ll want to try make this perceived weakness almost a history-making strength, unique to your project. 

For instance, if you’re a man writing tips for growing prize-winning gardenias, you might title your book There’s a Guy in the Garden (And it’s About Time!). Or if you’re a woman writing about how the internal combustion engine works, you could tout yourself as “one of America’s leading female mechanics!”

This approach can be risky, but if done well, it can also make a big difference in the way my Sales VP views your book’s publishing potential.

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