Friday, May 1, 2009

On sales pressure

When my husband read aloud the lead to this story from the Boston Globe, I could picture it immediately. A Lawrence school principal, ecstatic about her first romance novel being published, knocked herself out trying to sell her staff on it. Infuriating everyone.

I felt for the principal, poor Beth Gannon. Authors get a little giddy when their first novel is published. She had learned what we all suddenly had to learn: the objective isn't just about getting our work into print -- as we originally thought -- but into our reader's hands.

They tell you, in new-author-school, that it all starts locally. So even if we have a more sophisticated media campaign, we still begin by telling our friends when our new books will be out, alerting our local papers and making a big deal of our book's launch date.

But I also felt for Beth Gannon's faculty. The first time I went to Bouchercon, the mystery world's largest and most prestigious conference, I found myself trapped on an elevator with some author I'd never met before who immediately gave me the hard sell on his new mystery. He practically whipped out his credit card swiper. It took all my creative skills to politely decline.
So despite the official reason Gannon was put on leave --apparently her self-published romance novel , Crazy Fortunes, has steamy sex and illegal drug use -- I don't think that's the real reason she's being rebuked. Or at least, that's not the reason I'd scold her. So far, no one has actually charged her with trying to sell her novel to the elemetary school students. I think her real crime was crossing the sales etiquette line. Pressing a little too hard, a little too often, and just a tad overzealously.

You could argue that she was using her principal position to make staff feel they had no choice but to buy her book -- there's an issue about her reassigning to a different school a teacher who complained about her sales tactics - but maybe that was just cooincidence. Maybe Gannon was just an overly enthusiastic new novelist going overboard trying to promote her work.

(Then, again, maybe this IS a sophisticated media campaign. Behaving badly and getting media coverage for it, might just be the ticket she needs to promote her book. The Boston Globe article keeps mentioning that steamy sex...and here I am, blogging about it.)

So what do you think? Should this woman lose her job over this? And have any of you every found yourself her staff's position, or my spot in the elevator? I, for one, really can't stand it when the supermarket clerk hits you for a charitible donation when she gives you your grocery bill. Even if it's my favorite charity, I resent the do-gooder pressure coming from the supermarket chain.

So are there sales etiquette rules that just shouldn't be breached? Any tips for Gannon when the sequel comes out?


  1. You have to wonder if it had been a nonfiction book about some boring topic if it would have generated this buzz. (I'm thinking not so much.)

    On the one hand, it's inappropriate to peddle the book at work, no matter the content.

    Add in that she is in a position of power (not just pushing among equal rank colleagues).

    Add in that this is in a school situation, which is fraught with its own culture and taboos.

    Add in that the book has, gasp, sex in it.

    She'll be lucky to emerge without a coat of tar and feathers.

    But maybe given the publicity, the book will be picked up by a big publisher and she'll be laughing all the way to the best seller list.

  2. I also hate being pressured into things (including that grocery store donation you speak of) and will resist simply on principle.

    I wonder about the reality of what went on. I think we may never know what with the skewed coverage media always seems to present.

    Isn't this why so many 'erotic' writers have pen names?

  3. Hi Kira,
    Yes, I'm envisioning both the tar and feathers and the best selling list.

    Bad behavior is so often the path to stardom!

    And Karen, I agree, I'd love to know what REALLy went on in the faculty room and transfer of the teacher who complained to another school.

  4. Argh.

    Well, unless it's expressly forbidden by company policy it's pretty common for people to "present the opportunity" for co-workers to buy school gift wrap, girl scout cookies, donations to their fun runs, etc. Is a book where a teensy bit of the money goes into the author's pocket over the line?


    When you work full-time, the line between colleagues and friends gets to be pretty thin. I was astonished when a couple of my subordinates bought a Level Best book one of my short stories was in. I don't think it was a pure suck up move--it came out in casual conversation months later--I think they were curious about what someone they worked with everyday did in her spare time--just as I might go to one of their softball games or a quilt show or whatever.

    Of course, pressuring, taking names and punishing those who don't buy is way over the line. (Though I think even this behavior is common when a boss has written a business book, though it's universally resented.)

    And, if you're in a public sector job the rules are usually stricter and more explicit.

    Anyway, it would stink if the issue was really the steamy sex and illegible drug use in the book. As you say, she wasn't trying to sell this to her student.

    Rambling today...


  5. Hi Barb,
    Yes, I think it may all go back to what Karen said: what REALLY went on in that faculty room.

    I think that's why this issue is so fascinating-- we all start out mentioning our books to people we know -- its just part of the process.
    When is it that we step over the line?
    (maybe when we reassign coworkers who don't buy it!)

  6. It all looks suspicious, but we weren't there, so we don't know. Maybe she was over zealous. Or maybe it was just because others felt pressure (even if she didn't exert it) to buy. I for one have gotten much better at saying No. No to the supermarket salesclerk, no to solicitors who call, no matter how many times they ask, and no to work that I just don't have time to do.

  7. Hi Helen,

    I say no, but I still feel guilty. If we could get rid of guilt, maybe we'd never feel resentment.

    Wouldn't that be nice?

  8. When I heard this story I was driving and had to stop the car to catch my breath. There, I thought, but for the grace of God go I... What writer doesn't know that desperation to SELL the book.

    Having said that, it's inappropriate to try hawk your book to co-workers during work...especially when you're the boss. Puts everyone in an uncomfortable situation--never mind the content or the quality of the writing.

  9. I don't know the story directly, but my first thought as a teacher is -- "What was she THINKING?"

    I'm as eager to sell a book as the next gal, but a steamy romance novel hawked to colleagues where I teach? Not only does is smack of an abuse of power, it also just seems ... misguided. Know your demographic and access those readers. These days it is not as difficult to get out there and shiver the radar. Plugging at your employees seems a right mash of desperate, unethical, and naive.

    I don't even write under the name I teach under (my given name isn't the best for a book jacket), and though my colleagues know the book is coming out, *they* have been the ones to offer the public readings, the local release parties, etc. My work is hardly steamy, and I'm pretty sure any figures on the cover will be reasonably dressed and have their eyes open and their mouths closed, but I would still feel squeamish about nudging any book on my colleagues, especially in the workplace.

  10. Hey Susannah,
    Thanks for weighing in with the teacher's perspective. The hard sell -- well, even the soft sell - of my books always makes me squeamish, even with no power position.

  11. Hi - Coming from the Lawrence area, I can tell you there really is a great deal more to this story. The short of it is, the press chose to focus on the book - for the obvious reason, and for one less so.

    Certainly, the book is fraught with explicit "steamy sex." The real issue is that no public employee can promote for personal gain on the public dime. While she was, indeed, proud of her book - and had a right to be! - and whether an elementary school is an appropriate setting for showcasing it is appropriate, the problem became the Ethics violation.

    As I said, there's a great deal more connected to this. However, it's all irrelevant given what the press has chosen to focus on.