A guest post by Sam Knight.
Once upon a time, that was how people did business. A smile and a handshake was good enough for nearly any transaction. Why? Because people knew each other. They knew about each other, they knew where/what/when/how about each other. If someone was a stranger, they often got the benefit of the doubt, because everyone knew that if you weren’t as good as your word, you weren’t any good at all. And all it took was one time to ruin that.
Someone going back on their word was fuel for the gossip mongers like no other. Speculation would run rampant about why, about how everyone could have misjudged before, and about what must have happened to change a person.
Why doesn’t it work anymore? Why can’t you take out a loan from the local bank that way? No one knows each other nowadays. No one takes the time to stop and meet someone. We still meet people, but it’s because we were forced to work in the cubicle next to them, or after we’ve seen them by the coffee machine for the tenth time. Very few people go out of their way to meet a stranger anymore. Why? Because strangers recoil from being approached. In this day and age, everyone knows that someone wearing a smile is trying to sell us something, and we avoid them.
Fundamentally, we all want to be liked, so we go out of our way to do things that make people like us, or we avoid doing things that people will hold against us. And never forget—first impressions are everything.
There is nothing like a face to face connection with someone to make them like or dislike you. But if you can make them like you, it will take work to turn that into dislike in the future.
What is my point?
This month’s theme on the Fictorians is Marketing and Promotion and a ‘smile and a handshake’ is one of the strongest forms there is.
Why else would politicians still bother with it in this day and age? Everyone knows they are full of ‘it’. Everyone knows the promises are hollow. No one likes a politician. So why do they do it?
Because a smile and a handshake works. Human contact works.
A form of marketing and promotion that is often overlooked, by those not in the know, is attending social functions. Whether it is a Comic Con or a local book signing by an author you’ve never met, every social function is a great opportunity to market yourself in a real and effective way. And that includes when you are at the grocery store or your kid’s soccer game.
Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta are quick to teach their students (at places like their Superstars Writing Seminars) that you should always wear your ‘professional’ face because you never know who the person you are about to meet is (or even the person across the aisle listening quietly). And there is a good reason for that. That random person you just shook hands with, or who saw your infinite patience with someone desperately asking to be punched in the throat, could be anyone. They could be an agent, and editor, a publisher, a movie producer, or just a rich benefactor looking for someone worthy of spending their money on.
I’m not kidding.
I wouldn’t expect to ever meet a movie producer that way at the grocery store, but if you are at a convention or something similar it can be done that way, and from my experience it usually is.
Take the time to meet the people around you at a convention. After you meet them, let them introduce you to the people they know. You will be surprised at how small the world suddenly becomes when you play ‘Seven Degrees of George R.R. Martin’. You will also be surprised at who will remember what a great person you are when they decided they need an artist/writer/editor/chauffer for William Shatner.
And—this is important—don’t forget your ‘professional’ face. You never know who that person standing off to the side listening to your conversation is. You need to make a good impression. At the very least, they may be your next fan. A real, honest-to-goodness, love you for who they think you are fan who will tell everyone they ever meet what a great person you are and that everyone should buy your book.
Warning! This is not the fast way to build up your marketing and publicity! This is the slow burn that needs to never be forgotten while you do all of the other things. This is the foundation you need to stand upon.
If you make one fan like the one mentioned above at each social event you attend, you will have a better career than most. Your fan base will be stronger, and less fickle, than any you could acquire in any other way. If you impress that one right person, a year later, when they see you again, your career could change forever.
I speak from experience on that one. Trust me. ‘Professional’ face. Meet people.
Get out from behind your desk, and meet people in person. Press the flesh, so to speak. Show people you are witty, intelligent, personable, and affable. Exude confidence in your attitude and demeanor (without being an overbearing jerk!) Go out and meet people and convince them that they need to know more about you, about what you write, about what makes you special.
I know this is hard. It is a stressful thought for those of us who like to live in the dark with only the glow of a monitor to keep us company, but fundamentally, we humans are social creatures, and the more you go out into the world and meet people, the more they will accept you. The more they accept you, the more you will accept yourself. And the more you will feel confident enough to market and promote yourself in person. It’s a wonderful circle of positive feedback—and opportunity.
Never doubt the power of a smile and a handshake.
P.S. This can be done wrong. It can be done horribly wrong! I do mean meet people, not ‘try to sell them your book.’ There is a difference, and they can be done at the same time, but honestly, when was the last time you wanted to get to know a car salesman or someone who seemed like they were stalking you? The point of this is to sell yourself. And if that means ‘know when to walk away’, that’s what it means. Staying in someone’s face when they don’t want you there is bad juju and that reputation will precede you! (See earlier comment on gossip!)