Lemon or Creampuff: The Selling of Story
I've spent the last few days helping a loved one car shop, which has changed a lot in some ways (thanks to the Internet and Consumer Reports) and is exactly the same (unfortunately) in others. Most of the sales people are knowledgeable, helpful, and respectful, but sadly, a few of them are still the kind who give car guys a bad name.
But it's possible to learn lessons from both the good and bad that can be applied to the "selling" of your story to the reader (a group which includes agents and editors.)
1. Be honest about what you're selling. The promise you set out for the reader in the story's opening should not later shift in a whole different direction. ("You don't look like the kind of woman who ought to drive an economy vehicle. Let's walk over and look at some of these beauties! You like red, don't you?") Consumers who feel tricked, manipulated, or flat-out lied to won't be inclined to buy.
2. The shiny little extras may add a bit of razzle-dazzle, but it's what's under the hood that really counts. Is your story premise solid? Are your characters compelling? Is your dialogue sharp and crisp? If the answer is no, all the extra chrome appearance packaging (or snazzy gimmicks) in the world won't sell your work.
3. Don't rely too much on slick salesmanship. A great product sells itself -- if you'll only quietly introduce it and then get the heck out of its way.
So as you go about the selling part of this career, take heart. It's really not all about the cult of self-promotion or whether you aggressively chase down readers at your signing. (Heaven forbid.)
It's about story in the end, and I find that heartening.