Did you ever have to sell Girl Scout Cookies?
Or maybe you participated in a fundraiser for your school, and went door-to-door selling candy bars that tasted like chalk, or cookie dough, or some other mediocre food product?
As a kid, I absolutely dreaded Girl Scout cookie season. Even though many people were actually happy to buy Thin Mints and Do-See-Does, the “no thank yous” always felt I had failed somehow.
The fear of rejection loomed large every time I walked up to someone’s house and knocked on their door. I would go to maybe five houses before calling it quits.
When my own children became Girl Scouts I dreaded cookie season all over again! It was as if I was transported back to my 8-year-old self.
Why So Many of Us Hate Selling
We Hate Setting Ourselves up for Rejection
I think it is that fear of rejection that makes being a salesperson so hard. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what it is for me.
It’s why it’s so hard to ask people out on dates, or try out for a part in the school play.
You are being somewhat (or a lot) vulnerable, and the odds of hearing “No” are pretty high.
And while we know we shouldn’t care, or take it personally (well, in the case of being turned down for a date it kind of is personal), it still hurts.
But there are other reasons many hate the idea of selling.
It Feels Manipulative
The old image of the “snake oil salesman” persists, despite the fact that it’s been a hundred years or more since anyone last tried to sell snake oil.
People don’t like trying get others to do something they don’t necessarily want to do. The “snake oil” term takes it a step further—when someone tries to deceive people into buying a bogus product.
(Here’s an interesting aside, it turns out actual snake oil does have some legitimate curative properties! It can actually help alleviate joint pain and perhaps even help boost cognitive abilities).
People Find it Annoying
Sales calls, letters, or online messages ARE annoying. Getting people to buy generally requires getting a product in front of them several times before they finally take action and buy.
If you are thinking of getting a new pair of running shoes, and you do a search online, what happens? You are inundated with ads for running shoes.
I remember the first time I went to a car dealership when I was looking to buy a car. The salesman I talked to called me a dozen times after that to “check up on me” and try to get the sale.
That was annoying.
Most of us don’t want to be that way.
How to Sell Your Book Without Selling
The bottom line is, if you don’t like selling because it feels fake, dishonest, or pushy, then don’t be any of those things.
None of those things are necessary for marketing your book.
Don’t Think of it As Marketing Your Children’s Book
Instead, think about why you wrote your book, and who it is for. Do you want to inspire children to face their fears? Be kind? Learn how to become a meteorologist?
When you approach your potential audience with the intention of learning what they want, and how you can serve them, it stops being about sales. It starts being about helping.
I am 100 percent sure that when you are trying to help others, you don’t feel fake, dishonest, or pushy.
Let go of the perception that marketing as: “would you like to buy my book?” Instead, think of it as “would you like some inspiration?” Or perhaps, “Would you like to laugh?” Or even “Do you love studying weather as much as I do?”
Attract people who are interested in what you write about
Another way to shift away from a mindset of selling is to focus on trying to build a community.
Again, put your energy toward trying to gather people because of a shared interest, and not because you are trying to sell them something. It’s an invitation to enjoy something together.
Don’t worry if you don’t have some big, life-changing cause. You can create something meaningful by building a community of people whose children love fairies or dragons, for example.
Encouraging that interest, sharing stories about that interest, creates excitement and joy.
And if you have a book that features fairies or dragons, well, your community will be eager to read it.
No selling required.
Remember while your audience is children, the buyers of your book are adults. They are parents, teachers, librarians, people with children in their lives.
Think about how you can be helpful to your buying audience.
For example, teachers are always looking for new ways to engage with their students. Providing ideas for how to interact with your books in the classroom would be very helpful to teachers.
If your book is for an older audience, you could provide discussion or writing prompts. If it’s for younger children, coloring pages are always welcome.
For the parents, think about what they would find useful. Using the fairy and dragon example, you could come up with ideas for ways to design a birthday party with fairy or dragon theme. Craft activities are another popular option. You could offer instructions for building fairy houses or dragon lairs.
You may think none of these actions are going to help you actually sell books.
But if you create a community around you and your books, and become a resource for your readers and buyers, you are helping to sell books.
People will be happy to support you and buy your books, and tell other people about your books, if you have developed authentic relationships with them.
A Better Way to Sell Girl Scout Cookies
When my girls became Girl Scouts and joined the ranks of cookie sellers, I was not enthusiastic about reliving this episode of my life.
But then I discovered people had figured out a way to sell cookies without having to be a salesperson.
Instead of going door-to-door, Girl Scouts could set up shop in front of stores (with the store’s permission, of course) and let the customers come to them.
If someone was interested in buying, they would approach the girls and ask if they could buy cookies.
Gone was the horrible task of facing rejection house after house. Gone was the feeling of trying to manipulate people into buying something they didn’t want.
Professsional book marketer Tim Grahl, in his book Your First 1000 Copies, boils down marketing to two simple concepts:
(1) creating lasting connections with people through
(2) a focus on being relentlessly helpful.
So be like the Girls Scouts of today. Create a community and focus on how you can serve that community.
Remember, providing stories about fairies and dragons is being helpful—maybe even more helpful than offering boxes of Thin Mints for sale.