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.
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