There’s a rule in sales: Nothing replaces getting belly-to-belly with your customers. And when the economy is tough, that's the best time to find out exactly what your customers (readers) think.
As I approach folks in bookstores or scrapbook stores, I get belly-to-belly with them. I focus carefully on their faces, and I take note of their reactions. Lately, I’ve discovered “hot buttons” in my book that cause readers to want to buy Paper, Scissors, Death.
* Every woman’s nightmare is discovering her husband has been keeping their financial situation a secret. After the death of my protagonist Kiki’s husband, she discovers they are broke and in debt—and women relate to this. I shouldn’t be surprised that readers put themselves in Kiki’s Keds. I remember working at a stock brokerage years ago and seeing widows come in carrying stock certificates, which they thought could be turned in for cash. Sometimes they didn’t have access to the family checking account. Often they had no income of their own. Sometimes they discovered their names weren’t on the deeds to their property. They thought they were provided for, they had been told not to worry, but their worst fears were realized when their husbands died.
* Every woman secretly fears that whatever security and status she has in life will suddenly “go away.” When I tell them that Kiki goes from feeling on top of the social heap to the bottom, they smile. Sad smiles. They understand. I’m currently reading Queen Bees and Wannabes, which chronicles the social lives of teenage girls. Huh, the author could have been talking about grown women. We have cliques. We are NOT team players. We fear the “mean girl.” We are awash in frenemies. There are those on the “inside,” the pals of the Queen Bee, and those on the “outside,” those who are social pariahs. It doesn’t change much after high school. Oh, the real estate changes. We no longer walk the hallways or hang around by our lockers. But the behavior is ingrained.
And here’s another interesting observation: My customers say they are buying the book for “a friend.” But as they reach for their copy, they drop their eyes and add, “But I think I’ll read it first.”
It’s not just about the economy. It’s about who we are. Most women I know do more for others than we do for ourselves. In our culture, you are a "good" woman, a "good" mother, a "good" friend, if you are always available (at least emotionally) and put other people first. A woman is "selfish" if she takes time for herself--or uses family resources for her own enjoyment. Her time is not her own. Her life is not her own. As Virginia Woolf said, we need a room of our own, a sacred spot where we come first...especially during the holidays.
Last year I asked my scrapbooking friends who subscribe to my bi-monthly online magazine how they cope with holiday stress. This year, I've posted their replies on my blog http://www.joannaslan.blogspot.com/ Even as I posted them, I felt a lightening of my load. This year is particularly stressful for all of us. Never in our lifetimes have we seen such economic turmoil. I hope I can have the self-discipline to take care of myself. I hope you'll do the same.