One morning last week, I was treated like a peon.
I’d tracked down a corporate spokesperson for Wal-Mart to give me a couple of quotes for an article I was writing. Rather than respond to my questions verbally, the woman sent me an email that parroted what I could have easily picked up from the website. To me, that’s not an interview . . . that’s an insult.
Later that same day I had a wonderful book signing.
The two experiences, so closely timed, provided a poignant life-lesson about human interaction. They reminded me how often self-importance can trump respect.
At my first Left Coast Crime convention, I met the kind, wise and generous author Deborah Donnelly. She took me under her wing then and has since become a friend. One thing she told me that weekend was that books sell one at a time.
I’ve thought often about that comment.
In devising marketing strategies, public relations campaigns and making budget decisions, I’ve intuitively emphasized meeting readers and booksellers face-to-face. This approach has cost a tremendous amount of time, energy and dollars. Still, I remain convinced that one-on-one conversations, and connections, influence my career far more than television appearances, book reviews, or articles in the paper.
Obviously, I don’t ignore all of those other ways to get my name out. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
It just seems to me that, as our world speeds up, the personal becomes increasingly important and meaningful. It’s just more, well, respectful.
If I do my job right, my books will always get better. Readers and booksellers will care about helping my career. They’ll want me to succeed, to keep writing and selling books. They’ll tell others about my work.
However, there’s a danger in this way of thinking. It’s easy to lose perspective, to view readers and booksellers as people there to do something for us . . . or that we can use in one way or another. Authors I’ve met who fall into this trap appear jaded or manipulative — whether they mean to or not.
It’s also easy for authors to fall in love with their own marketing myths and to become full of self-admiration.
Arrogance only goes so far. It can certainly attract for a few breaths, but during the marathon of most of our careers, it acts like a sick lung.
Respect, to me, means viewing others as our equals and treating them with the same courtesy we expect them to demonstrate toward us. Whether it’s a reader at a tiny book signing or a reviewer for a major newspaper, respect involves sincerity, effort and, usually, a dash of kindness. It involves listening as well as talking.
I’m glad I had both of those experiences last week. The Wal-Mart "interview" reminded me to be more aware of how I come across to others. The book signing buoyed my ego and gave me many chances to thank and be thankful for the people who spend time reading and selling my works.
Thank you for stopping by Murderati.com today.
It’s not always about self-importance; it’s very often about fear. Wal-Mart middle managers, police chiefs, bookstores – anyone in a position of “authority” can become afraid of the tremendous responsibility they have to transmit the right information. If they get it wrong (especially to a member of the media), their biggest fear is losing revenue – or, yes, respect. It takes a very, very strong person to break out of the mold in which they’ve been boxed (the constant message they get from higher-ups) and add that personal touch!
Christa,Thanks for this perspective. You sound like you may be speaking from experience. And, I think you’re right about this in most cases.
In the Wal-Mart example, however, the woman with whom I was supposed to speak is a many-year veteran. The topic had to do with one of her specific product lines.
I’ve written here on Murderati about using “talking points” and believe that they are critical when speaking with the media — any media. Here’s the BUT . . .
When dealing with the media, one needs to give the appearance of being as forthright as possible.
We all know how damning a “No comment” can be.
Since I’ve been on both sides of the mic, I give the interviewee the benefit of the doubt . . . this time, the brush-off was so obvious it stung.
I called the PR company that had gotten me the contact to let them know what she’d done. They were mortified. Here was a reporter trying to write a fair story, to give Wal-Mart a chance to voice its positives.
Rather than take the 10 minutes to converse, the spokesperson punted.
So, I let her prepared statements speak for themselves. They won’t do her company any service whatsoever — other than being absolutely verbatim.
Five years of interviewing police chiefs. LOL I can usually tell when someone is afraid of liability – they no longer care what they sound like, they’re just avoiding the risk. They are that afraid of having their words twisted “like the media always do.” Because I write for law enforcement trade journals, a lot of times I have to work hard to assuage their fear… and it doesn’t always work.
I wonder if her actions will get corporate approval? Wouldn’t you love to be a spider on her wall in the next few days/weeks!
I suspect the truth is that she didn’t feel like I was worth spending time on. Perhaps if I’d been from USA TODAY or the NY TIMES.
I bet you must have incredible stories to tell about some of your interviews and interviewees. I’d like to be a fly on YOUR wall . ..
I don’t have much to add to your discussion, but I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your posts, Pari. I look forward to Mondays and reading your blog. Keep up the great insight.
What a nice note, Troy. Thank you so much. Your comment just gave me a much-needed boost this morn.
I’ve had that happen too, Pari. “Only” a trade mag writer… apparently all I write are pieces of PR fluff. If only the journo who told me that had taken the time to look at the articles posted on my website! 😛
Karma will bite them both, I say. At least you can take pride in knowing you did your job.
The personal touch goes a long way with me. I am horrid with faces and names, so the fact that most authors seem to remember me from the once or twice a year I see them goes a long way toward making me a fan.
Ok, so the main reason I am posting is to tell you I’ve finished BELEN HITCH. I believe this means I get to start hounding you for the third book, right?
Mark,I hope you enjoyed BELEN. I guess if you’re asking for #3, #2 was fine.
My new book, THE SOCORRO BLAST, should be out about this time next year.
And, I’ve started #4 already. Actually, it’s going to be a kick to write. It focuses on the chile-pepper industry in NM (and beyond).
How timely, Pari! Last night there was quite a docu about Wal-Mart and the CEO admitted that he and all the exec’s were ‘paranoid’ about speaking to reporters. So maybe, rather than being rude, she was just following corporate rules? In any event, she COULD have been more cooperative.
But don’t you EVER feel like a peon! You? Never, honey. I mean, has SHE written two terrific books? Does SHE have TWO AGATHA NOMS?
Oh, heavens, Elaine . . . your comment does good for the soul. But, that’s because I can hear you saying it, can see your indignation.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting here licking my wounds or anything even vaguely that dramatic. I was mightily irritated at the time, but in the grand scheme of life — and the article I wrote — it wasn’t such a big deal.
However, the experience did prove to be instructive.
Were I more compassionate, perhaps I would have tried to see things more from her side. But I didn’t have to in this case. And, after expending more energy than it was worth, I wasn’t particularly disposed to “walking a mile in her Manolos.”
She wears Manolos?? Ha! All this time I thought those Wal-Mart folks were underpaid!
I don’t know what she wears, Elaine . . . but it’s fun to imagine.
In less than two weeks, I’ll be at Magna Cum Murder. One of the panels I’m on is about Revenge and how authors get even.
You can bet that somewhere down the line, Sasha will encounter a snarky corporate spokesperson and will have something to say in return.
Actually, that might work for the book I’ve just started . . .
Hey, like they keep telling us – ‘write what you know’. 🙂
Go get ’em!