By Steve Harrison
Think, for a minute, about the many gatekeepers of influence you need to persuade to promote your book.
The list is long and diverse: book reviewers, bloggers, editors, producers, journalists, catalogers, authors/experts with large email lists, meeting planners, publishers, corporate executives, nonprofit groups, rights buyers, retail managers, bookstore managers, distributors and many more.
Each of these people has the power to encourage a vast number of people to buy your book.
But you need to do more than simply have a good book to get them on your side.
You need to get their attention and persuade them to take action – without coming across like a slick, overly aggressive salesperson.
I’d like to share to a concept that has helped me and many other successful authors and experts do exactly that.
In fact, it’s a key skill I find the most successful authors have that the rest don’t.
It’s the skill of persuading people to take action by simply asking non-threatening questions.
Did you know experienced bird watchers don’t start by looking for birds?
They start by listening to the birds. They learn to recognize how each species calls and sings.
When they hear a song that interests them, they start following the sound, and only then do they start using the binoculars and watching.
Same thing with authors who are skilled at getting others to promote their work.
They don’t start telling the decision maker about their book and what they want the decision maker to do for them.
But that’s exactly how most authors approach them.
Instead, successful authors first seek to understand the needs of the decision maker.
And they do this by asking questions.
Here are a few questions I have found to be very helpful when trying to persuade gatekeepers of influence to open their door and support you.
Powerful Question #1: What is the decision maker’s formula?
Every decision maker has a formula, whether they realize it or not. Media people want certain kinds of guests and show ideas that fit their format. But it’s not just media who have a formula. Meeting planners are looking for specific kinds of speakers for their events. Publishers are looking for specific kinds of books to publish. Celebrities aim to support specific causes.
So before you approach a decision maker, be sure you have asked yourself, “What is their formula?”
This usually involves studying their website and/or getting back copies of their publication or any written material.
A food editor’s formula might be featuring cookbooks in her magazine that tend to emphasize healthy, delicious and organic meals.
A meeting planner’s formula might be booking speakers who can show doctors how to increase the size of their medical practice.
Powerful Question #2: Would you be kind enough to help me?
Whenever I’m driving someplace I’ve never been before, I use my iPhone. The GPS function is amazing. But there are some times when I can’t access it from my remote location. What do I do then?
I immediately find the closest possible person, roll down the window and say, “Could you help me out? I need to find…”
Yes, unlike most men, I ask for directions right away. My wife is actually the stubborn one. (But don’t tell her I said that!)
There’s no need to waste time heading in the wrong direction — especially when I’ve seen the power of the phrase, “Can you help me out?”
I know from experience people LOVE to help others who are lost, confused, and bewildered.
People enjoy helping set others straight and telling them what to do. Don’t you?
That’s why you shouldn’t insist on having all your ducks in a row before contacting someone who could help you. Just go for it, admit you’re lost and ask for directions.
Suppose you have a book about golf and you’re in a local sporting goods store.
Suddenly you have an idea: Maybe they’ll be interested in stocking your book and putting it on display next to the golf clubs.
Start by finding someone who works there and simply say, “Would you be kind enough to help me? I’m an author and…”
Powerful Question #3: Who is the person who _____?
So often authors don’t take action because they don’t know who to contact at a specific company.
Or worse, they talk to someone who can only say no, but doesn’t have the power to say yes.
So what should you do? Simple. Use this powerful question. Pick up the phone and ask the receptionist, “Who is the person who decides which books you feature in your catalog?”
Remember, a receptionist’s job is to forward you to the right person. He or she gets paid to be helpful and connect you.
If you get voicemail, then call the sales department. They’re used to making calls and getting the run around, so they’ll try to direct you to someone within the company – especially if you start with, “Would you be kind enough to help me?”
Powerful Question #4: What do you look for when deciding_________?
This is another way to discover a decision maker’s formula.
Ask this question, then listen very, very carefully.
After they have finished speaking ask, “Is there anything else?” Once you’ve heard everything, go ahead and repeat it back to them. What you have just done is clarified their criteria.
For example, when you ask, “What do you look for when deciding which books you run in your catalog?” The answer you receive will tell you EXACTLY how you need to present your pitch.
You’ll know what benefits to emphasize and what objections you’ll need to overcome.
Now let’s put all this together.
Suppose you know of a major conference where you would love to speak.
First, ask yourself, “What is their formula?” Go ahead and try to answer this question by doing some research. Go to their website. Look at their brochure. Look at the list of past speakers. Find out what other people say about the event.
Let’s suppose it’s a women’s conference. Perhaps you notice they have several celebrities. But they also have two authors who aren’t very famous. One of the authors talks about the law of attraction; the other discusses personal image branding.
Contact the organization and ask questions #2 and #3.
“Would you be kind enough to help me out? I’m trying to get in touch with the person who is in charge of your annual convention. Who is the person who decides on the speakers?” (question #3).
Now let’s assume you finally get the decision maker on the phone. Start off by giving him a sincere compliment and letting him know you’re very familiar with her event.
You might say something like this: “I have attended your conference, and I really like how your conference empowers women in all areas of their life. You also gave out the best-looking t-shirts I’ve ever seen!”
Listen, I have an idea to run by you which I think will help you get even more people to attend your conference and help you with your mission of empowering women to be strong leaders.
Before I run that by you, let me ask you something. I notice that at your last event, you had Suze Orman and Rhonda Byrne, and you also had three authors who weren’t well-known but had excellent topics. Let me ask you: How do you decide on the non-celebrity speakers for your event? What do you look for? What else do you look for? Anything else?
The reason I ask is… [now describe what you do and why you would be a good speaker for their event.]
Well, there you have it. If you want more doors to open for you, simply start asking more questions.
Hope that helps!
More About Steve Harrison
Steve Harrison and his team have helped over 15,000 authors write and/or promote their books. His clients have been featured in major media outlets like Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN, MSNBC, The View, Fox News, Entrepreneur, The New York Times, O the Oprah Magazine, and Time, as well as countless radio shows.
He has helped launched such bestselling books as Chicken Soup for the Soul, Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and Rich Dad Poor Dad.