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#WritingBiz: Networking & Marketing: Hard Sell vs. Soft Sell | #amwriting

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I worked in the advertising industry for thirteen years before moving over into the publishing world and then academia. When I first started in advertising, if I’d been asked to define or describe networking, it would have been what I saw the sales reps I worked with doing—being pushy, forcing people who didn’t really want to talk to them to do so, and above all, closing the sale. Networking and sales to my uninformed mind were the same thing: “Seven nos means a yes.” In other words, keep going back, keep pushing, keep putting on the pressure for the person to say yes.

But I learned something over the years:

This is not networking. This is sales.

Networking, on the other hand, is a much gentler, more refined skill. Networking is building relationships. Networking is more listening and less talking. Networking is not pushing someone else to do something for you or give you something; networking is creating a positive image of yourself by learning when not to push.

Case in point:

Snowflake Method writing guru Randy Ingermanson identifies writers’ skill levels by using the terms Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior. He suggests that when Freshmen and Sophomore writers (and even some early Juniors) set editor/agent appointments, it may be a better idea for them to not pitch anything. Instead, they should go in and ask questions about the industry, about the particular publishing house/agency. By doing this, the amateur/beginner writer is creating a more positive image by showing the editor or agent that you’re interested in growing, in learning more about the industry. (To see more about this, visit Gina’s blog, Writer…Interrupted.)

Hard Sell vs. Soft Sell

In the sales and marketing industry, there are two types of selling: the hard sell and the soft sell. The hard sell can be summed up by the statement, “He could sell ice to an Eskimo.” This is the P. T. Barnum method—the in your face, my product is the best in the world, let me show you the demographics and statistics, pressure-pressure-pressure sell. These are the sales reps who make the big bucks, but who also lose a lot of clients because of their abrasive methods. You always know they’re trying to sell you something. This is not the impression we want to give off.

The soft sell is word of mouth, brand-image sales. It’s a new restaurant that opens its doors to bloggers first and gives them a free sample meal in hopes of receiving tons of positive reviews. It’s me telling a friend at work that I just recently bought a certain type of hair product, and I absolutely adore it. It’s every time I mention Stein on Writing on this blog. It’s creating an image that generates brand-loyalty. Why do millions of people buy James Peterson’s new novel without even knowing what it’s really about? Because they’re loyal to his image, to the brand he’s created as a writer. This is much closer to what networking is all about.

To put it in writing terms: the hard sell is the writer who dominates the conversation with the editor/agent who’s hosting the table at lunch. They’re the ones who lie in wait outside a classroom where that targeted agent/editor is teaching a session and talk to them nonstop as they walk two inches from the editor/agent wherever they need to get to next. They’re the horror story that all editors/agents warn all writers at the beginning of writers’ conferences about—the writer that follows them into the bathroom and tries to pass them the manuscript under the bathroom stall door.

The soft-sell networker is the one who listens more than talks. They ask questions about the industry or the agency or the publishing house instead of constantly pitching their work. They attend the workshops taught by their preferred agents or editors and ask insightful questions that further the topic under discussion (and do the same thing on those editors/agents’ blogs). They volunteer with their writing organization to organize programs and projects or serve on committees in which they can start building name recognition. They build professional relationships with those they want to work with in the publishing industry.

Sounds Like Soft-Sell Networking Costs Money

How can you start soft-sell networking if you can’t afford to attend conferences or don’t yet have the gumption to break out of your shell and talk to strangers?

Become an avid blog reader and commenter. Regularly visit/subscribe to blogs and like the public Facebook Pages of your favorite authors, agents, and editors and start participating in the comments sections—not just random comments, but thoughtful insights and responses to what the person has written. Don’t do it in such a way that you’re trying to pull the attention away from the blogger’s post and onto yourself. Be respectful and humble—remember, it’s their conversation, you’re just a participant.

Become a blogger. Make sure your blog has a focus. Do you write about characters who are gardeners? Make your blog gardening related. Blogs that have a focused topic (like writing or gardening) tend to be better read than those that read more like a personal diary.

Participate in online author/editor/agent chats. These are usually hosted through a writing organization like ACFW or RWA, though many now host their own through Twitter or Facebook Live or YouTube. Again, don’t just comment randomly or try to pull the attention away from the host and onto yourself.

Become actively involved in organizations—even if it’s just an online group that never meets face to face. It’s almost a must for writers who really want to succeed to join a professional writing organization—whether it’s ACFW, RWA, MWA, or even a local or regional general writing group that isn’t associated with a national organization. Get involved and start communicating with other writers.

I’m an Introvert; Is There a Way to Ease into Networking?

Think about the last time you went to a social event, whether it was an after-work casual gathering, a black-tie awards dinner, the all-church picnic, or even a small dinner party at someone’s home. How do you interact with the people there? Are there certain people you make a point of speaking to? Do you go in with an agenda listing to whom you will speak and about what topics? Most of us would say yes, there are certain people we want to make a point of speaking to. For having an agenda, if it is truly just a social gathering, most of us would say no.

For those you make a point to speak to, is it because you’re wanting to catch up with them or find out about something that’s going on in their lives? Or is it because you want them to know you better? If we’re really honest with ourselves, many times the people we seek out to speak to are those we would like to know better and, through making a point of speaking with them about their concerns and activities, we are hoping to get them interested enough in us to ask our concerns and activities. Right?

This is soft-sell networking. You never know whom you might run into who might have an opportunity or a connection to share with you. That’s not saying we want to exploit every relationship or contact we make for our own gain—by no means. I’m just saying that by cultivating relationships with others, we never know what might come our way—whether it’s an opportunity to serve or help that other person, or an opportunity that might be in some way beneficial to us.

As I mentioned before, one of the best ways I found of doing it was to be actively involved in the leadership of a national writing organization. Granted, not everyone can do this, as not everyone is comfortable in or skilled for leadership positions. At a writing conference, there is the built-in method of the editor/agent appointments where those who sign up for them get 15 minutes one-on-one with the editor/agent (hopefully) of their choice. Then there are (sometimes) the hosted tables at meal times. While these can be nerve-wracking for those of us introverts who have a really hard time meeting others, it is important to learn how to put yourself forward, hold out your hand, and introduce yourself. It is important to be polite and let others have their equal share of the attention, but if you do not put yourself forward, you will be overshadowed by the more outgoing people at the table.

Do not be afraid to approach someone—be it a published author you admire or an editor/agent with whom you would like to work—and ask a question about something they may have said in the panel discussion or in a class or over a meal. (Just don’t follow them into the bathroom to do so!)

Outside of a structured business environment like a conference, always be on the lookout for opportunities to make contacts with others in the publishing field. Writers: go to book signings to mingle in the crowd and potentially meet the author and/or representatives from publishing houses. Many years ago, when a Zondervan-author book signing tour came to Nashville featuring Brandilyn Collins, Terri Blackstock, James Scott Bell, and Bill Myers, I had the opportunity to speak with an editor who was there from Thomas Nelson (this was before they were owned by the same parent company). I had sat at her table at a conference several months before and she’d asked me if I would review a manuscript for her. I had given her my card at the conference, but then never heard back from her. When I saw her at the book signing, I approached her and re-introduced myself (she recognized me but I didn’t want to put her on the spot if she didn’t remember my name) and gave her another card. Within a week, I had a copy of the manuscript. While that did not directly result in a publishing (or even freelance editing) opportunity for me, it was still an important contact, because it got my name in front of two or three editors whom I subsequently had contact with over the manuscript.

What are some ways can think of to start soft-sell networking?

See also Networking–What is it, really?

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