Monday, September 22, 2008

Hand Selling & Pitch Preferences . . .

What turns you off as a consumer? What type of pitch approach works best for you?

Not long ago, I was in a bookstore browsing in the section set aside for"African American" fiction when one of the bookstore employees walked over and asked if needed help finding anything in particular. When I told her no, I was looking, she made an interesting comment. She said, "You know a lot of this stuff is garbage."

Now, had I not agreed, the conversation might have taken an ugly turn (LOL), but since so much of stuff showing up the "African American" fiction shelves these days makes me grimace and shake my head, she got no argument from me. For the sake of full disclosure, let me just add that I'd also had a successful book-signing in this same bookstore the day before this particular conversation took place.

Anyway, the bookstore employee went on to give me a glowing and detailed review of a book by an African American author that she'd absolutely adored. When I asked the middle-aged White woman what had prompted her to read a novel by an African American author and that had something of an "urban" storyline, she'd laughed and said, she felt a certain obligation as someone in the book business to read beyond and outside the realm of "dead White authors."

I nodded, listened and took note, in part because I'd heard/read good things about this same author's work elsewhere. Even though on that particular day, I ended up purchasing a different title, I won't soon forget the bookstore employee's enthusiastic sales pitch and I'm sure at some point, I will check out the novel she recommended.

A number of things generally play into my decision to buy or not buy a book. At the top of my list are factors like recommendations, reviews and excerpts. I pay particular attention to the recommendations of folks whose reading taste are similar to mine. If I keep hearing about a book or seeing mentions of it everywhere, I'll typically go online and take a look at some of the reviews written by both customers and bonafide book critics. If I've never read the author's work before, I generally make an attempt to read an excerpt before I make a final decision.

The bookseller's approach worked well for me because she soft-pedaled her pitch and made an effort to both ascertain my tastes and engage me in polite conversation. What doesn't work so well for me is the hard-sell or what I've come to view as the "hustle man" approach.

Pitch turn-offs for me, include the following:

Shoving a book in my face or hands and saying something along the lines of this, "This here is the bomb! You really do need to buy/ read/check this out today!;

Hounding me, chasing me, or following me around with a book while I'm browsing in a bookstore, at a festival or while I'm out in the grocery store parking lot;

Questioning my intelligence, racial solidarity, spiritual integrity, sanity, willingness to help a brother or sister out, etc.;

Bombarding me with notices (email, snail, etc.) about your latest book, literary endeavor and/or accomplishment, but never attempting to engage me otherwise. I mean, an email just to say hello, how ya doing or a comment on my blog every now and then wouldn't hurt;

Turning up at somebody else's event, uninvited, for the specific purpose of hustling me and the other guests with your literary wares;

Authors who under the guise of marketing and promotion-- boast, brag and otherwise act like they're the best thing to hit the scene since barbecued beans and chicken wings.

I do understand and appreciate that some of the items on my "turn-off" list don't bother others. We're all different and that's a beauty thing (smile). I'm also certain that to some my comments will mark me as a snob or some kind of an elitist. Oh well . . . go ahead and hate me for thinking books deserve better than to be hawked like crack, stolen sneakers or bootleg dvds (LOL). Really, all I'm doing is sharing my preferences and trying to get a better sense for how others go about making that decision to fork over their hard-earned dollars for a book. What say you?


Tasha said...

This may be a little off topic but that whole 'African American' section of the bookstore bothers me. Why is it necessary for them to be set apart from the other books? And as you said a majority of the books there are garbage, from one 'sista' to the next, how do you feel about having your book singled out and grouped in with these sort of books?

Lori said...

Thanks for commenting and posing an interesting, though somewhat complex question (smile).

In my humble opinion, a lot of different issues feed into the whole "is the African American bookstore section a good thing or a bad thing question," issues like race, class, marketing, identity, convenience, value judgments, etc.

In all honesty, I don't think there's enough space here to give your question the full and detailed response it deserves. So, I will see if I can't address it in the coming days in a separate post.

pjazzypar said...

I am with you on the "help a sister or a brother out" tip. My mother's children would never be out trying hustle people, therefore you couldn't be my brother or sister. You always crack me up! Remember Maya on "Girlfriends" hawking her book from the trunk of her car.

Lori said...

Good one, PJ! I'll have to borrow that one (LOL). I hate the way they just snatched "Girlfriends" off the air, without prior warning, like they did. But yeah, that Maya was a mess!

Anonymous said...

I only time I go to book stores is when I pick up a book I ordered because I can't find it on line, which is very seldom. In other words, I go there to by what I want & not what the clerk is told to promote. African American sections is, as you've said, another separate post. But, I'm anxious to know what Black author a middle aged White woman would recommend.

Lori said...

The title the bookstore employee suggested was UPSTATE, by Kalisha Buckhanon.

Yes, the title is a few years old, but I haven't read it, even though I've been meaning to do so. Keep in mind, the bookstore employee was familiar with my own novel and I'm sure the back and forth technique I employed in AFTER THE DANCE, is, in part, what led her to recommend UPSTATE.

Also, the employee and I spoke at length. I doubt UPSTATE was something she was told to promote (smile). I spend a lot of time in bookstores and I also worked at the main branch of a public library years ago. Typically, folks who work in libraries and bookstores don't go out of their way to make specific reommendations, unless they are asked or for whatever reason feel extremely comfortable doing so--at least, that's been my experience.

Hint: The folks who are making the pitches that turn me off don't generally work (on a regular basis) in either bookstores or libraries (LOL).

In any case, the book I ended up purchasing that day was A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES by John Kennedy Toole, a book that a good friend of mine has been bugging me to read for years. The other book I had in mind to buy, but didn't that day was SEXUAL HEALING by Jill Nelson.

A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, isn't by a Black Author, but I've been told it's a well-written comic novel, not to mention a Pulitzer Prize winner. Jill Nelson is an author whose work I've enjoyed in the past and from I understand, SEXUAL HEALING is a comic, satire.

Even though I've been known to enjoy a well-told love story every now and then, I find stories that make use of comdey, satire and parody much more compelling.