At one time I worked in a direct-response agency in New York. A friend from college owned the company and was showing me around. There were a lot of cubicles with young people making phone calls. My friend called it a “boiler room,” and it was one of the services he provided.
The cubicles were pretty barren, but each one had two things pinned to a tackboard. If you were sitting at the little desk calling a prospect, they would be right in front of you: a mirror, and a photo torn from a magazine.
My friend explained that callers were instructed to smile during their calls because even though we can’t see each other on the telephone, our facial expressions can convey emotional tone to the other person.
The mirror hanging there reminded them not to scowl, which would also come across to the person on the other end of the phone.
And the photo? My friend explained that he tells his call staff, “That’s who you’re talking to, don’t ever forget that.” In other words, it’s an image meant to encourage them to respond to the person on the other end in a personal, direct way.
Enter the Avatars
I thought of this recently because I’ve been studying internet marketing and one of the interesting ideas I’ve come across is the use of avatars.
No, they are not huge blue-skinned aliens. In the online world avatars can be:
- The little pictures we use to represent ourselves on various websites and networks like the profile picture in Twitter or Facebook (and thus the Gravatar.com system to unify your avatars across sites).
- A representation of the player in a virtual environment. Game environments commonly offer avatars of the player, like the various possibilities in World of Warcraft, the massively popular multiplayer game.
- Even more personally, an avatar might be a full-figure, extensively customized representative of a player in a virtual reality world like Second Life. Here people choose avatars that may be close approximations of what they (believe they) look like, or fanciful avatars like animals or mythical creatures.
The main idea is that the avatar is a representation of someone else, and is the vehicle through which their actions take place in the avatar’s world.
Okay, What About Selling Books?
So what does this idea from virtual reality or gaming have to do with self-publishers selling books? Well, quite a lot as it turns out.
Online publishers are content creators. The most effective method most of us have to call attention to our books and snag the interest of potential readers is through using our content. That’s why we call it content marketing.
But too often the copy we write in an effort to do that marketing doesn’t connect with readers. There are likely to be a number of reasons for this:
- You’re an expert in your field, and whether you intend it or not, you end up writing most of your articles about things that interest you. They will also interest other experts, but these are not the people most interested in your products. Marketers are typically aiming at the beginners in their field, since they are the ones most ready to spend money on education and training.
- You read a lot by other people in your field. They are writing for people like you, too. That doesn’t help you attract the readers you’re looking for.
- Or maybe, like a lot of us, when you start writing you somehow end up talking about a lot of abstract concepts instead of practical realities. That won’t help either.
- And there’s always the tendency in unguarded moments to slip into “corporate speak” where fancy-sounding polysyllabic words creep into your writing perhaps because they sound more “official.” But that drives readers away, too.
It doesn’t really matter, because this is where your avatar can save you. I’ll tell you exactly how tomorrow, when we’ll explore in depth how to create an avatar and how to use one once you’ve got it to help you sell more books.
Photo by Uriel 1998