Thursday, July 7, 2016

NO SOLICITATIONS



Our current NO SOLICITATIONS sign



About two weeks ago, a millennial Cablevision salesman decided to ring our doorbell after reading the sign above. It's posted right next to our doorbell, so we all know that he saw it and decided to ring anyway.

The sign says: "We charge $20 for sales pitches, political introductions, petition requests and bible readings. Have your money ready when you knock or ring the bell (and don't pretend you didn't see this. We will ask you for the money up front.)" When we began charging for solicitations ten years ago, our rate was only $10. We charge $20 now because, you know—inflation. The original sign was fancier than the current one, with scalloped edges, because scrap-booking scissors were the only ones within reach when I created it. Nowadays I can’t be bothered. These annoying cold-calls have been going on for far too long.

My NO SOLICITATIONS sign is sarcastic, I know, so it may be too abstract for some to grasp. I’ve thought about simplifying to: “NOT INTERESTED. GO AWAY.” We do make an exception for Girl Scouts, however, because aside from Gordon Ramsay, who doesn’t love their cookies? They’re SO good. I don’t want to scare off Girl Scouts, just everyone else who wants to sell something—tech packages, politics, religion or products—that we really don't want.

I posted the first sign about ten years ago, having noticed an incredible uptick in unscheduled doorstep pitches. First, it was underprivileged youth selling candles. Then came the magazine subscriptions pedaled by church groups. Next, the petition hawkers—Save the environment!—showed up, followed by Keep the kids off the streets! donation requests for local sports initiatives. Omnipresent were visits from salespeople from whatever company competed with our current television/internet/phone company. When we said we were under contract, they cheerfully promised to “buy the contract out.” Wait—what? I’m less than two months in, and they’re going to buy the contract out? One can't help but think that they must seriously be overcharging current customers if they can afford that.

Anyway, the final straw came on a late spring day when I answered the door four times within two hours. The last visitor was a twenty-something with long hair and just a hint of beard, who claimed he was “working on a communications project at school” and needed my help. I can’t recall exactly what I replied, but it was something along the lines of “GET THE HELL OFF MY FRONT STOOP.” With an eye roll and a running jump, he complied. (To this day, I believe he was actually casing the place, although I acknowledge that some educators are still flaky enough to ask students to bother complete strangers for homework assistance.)

The point is, these doorstep solicitations happened daily and had become an unfettered nuisance. Thus, the first sign was crafted and posted next to the doorbell. I'm happy to report that most unscheduled visitors now see the latest version of the sign and don't ring or knock. In fact, one salesperson read it and burst out laughing, startling me because I hadn’t even realized anyone was standing outside. 

There are some, though, who pretend not to have seen it and ring anyway. These people are the problem.

Image courtesy of Pinterest
A Google search reveals that I’m not the only one who has posted a witty sign.  My all-time favorite sign is the one pictured to the right. The woman who crafted it is clearly a runaway genius. I’d like to point out, however, that it’s never Publishers Clearing House and it’s never Channing Tatum, because we live in a cruel, cruel world, my friends. 

But back to the aforementioned Cablevision salesman. My husband answers the door when he rings and, as the sign promises, immediately asks him for twenty bucks. The salesman compliments my husband on how clever and funny the sign is (adding, “Hey, twenty bucks is cheap, man!”) before launching his memorized pitch. My husband stops him and insists on being paid. The salesman is inexplicably stunned. “I don’t have $20,” he exclaims. “Okay,” my husband says, “then I can’t help you. Thanks and have a nice day.” As he’s closing the door, the salesman shouts, "Seriously, Dude?" and then adds, loudly, “I can’t f*cking believe it. What the f*ck?” as he departs. My kids overhear this because he's still close, on our walkway.

First, some rational thoughts on the unprofessional and patently unacceptable reaction: On what planet is it okay to call a potential client “Dude” and then swear off because he wasn’t receptive to your sales pitch? It isn’t on this planet, although I admittedly received my business training in the ‘90s, when a professional standard was still in place. Why would I ever want to do business with Cablevision again when they’re sending this rude, angry salesman to my home?

Don’t misunderstand me; I get that any job requiring one to cold-call on customers is crap. Years ago my friend Lisa, who worked briefly in the early ‘90s as a telemarketer, shared that people who answered hung up on her, swore at her, or guilted her (e.g. “I’m eighty-six years old and have arthritis. I only struggled off my couch because I hoped you might be my daughter, who never calls anymore. Instead, I get you, who wants to sell me stuff…”) She apologized to such folks, because she has class, and quit three weeks later, despite the job paying three times the minimum wage. Lisa then assured me that working at Mid-Island department store was better. Chew on that concept, folks—crappy retail jobs paying $5.00 an hour were preferable—for just a moment, if you have any doubts at all about how soul-destroying a telemarketing career in the early ‘90s must have been.

The bottom line, however, is this: The crap job isn’t anyone’s problem except for the person who chooses to work it. More importantly, NO SOLICITATIONS signs are non-negotiable. This isn’t the 1950s, when companies had to go door-to-door to let folks know that they existed. Cablevision sends postcards and letters weekly, pops up in online shopping ads, and advertises on FiOS, the service I have now. Why must they also send someone to my door to aggravate me? (Best Answer: Face-to-face yields sales because people have a harder time saying "no" to a live person than a postcard or online ad. It’s a high-pressure tactic with a smile. Companies don’t care that it's loathed; sales are made!)

Based on the visceral reaction of friends to a social media post regarding the above incident, I now know that many such signs are disregarded, many bells rung despite their presence. I wonder if Cablevision and other companies advise their door-to-door sales forces to ignore the signs. Could their rationale be that people are even more receptive to sales when their clearly-stated wishes are ignored? If so, some truly stupid people are in charge. Time to restructure.

Cablevision and other companies that insist on cold-calling need to train staff to recognize and respect NO SOLICITATIONS signs. Moreover, company representatives must be professional, even when told NO. Due to the profane clown they sent to our front door, Cablevision has lost us for good. 

In the meantime, readers, feel free to duplicate my sign. You’re most welcome to it. Until the outdated practice of cold-calling ends, you’re going to need one. Remember to insist on being paid up front, however. That’s the key.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

New Goodreads Giveaway for "Publicize This!"

Do you work for an underfunded or completely unfunded nonprofit group? Then please enter my Goodreads Giveaway, which begins shortly, for a FREE copy of Publicize This! Promoting Your Group or Nonprofit on a Limited or Nonexistent Budget:



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Publicize This! Promoting Your Group or Nonprofit on a Limite... by Kathleen P. Vermaelen
Enter Giveaway


Thanks for entering, and good luck!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Missing in Action



I actually realized today that I haven't posted here in over six months, which I don't know is a positive thing ("I'm busy!") or a negative one ("Been WAY too busy."). I will state, however, that busy is most assuredly a relative term. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone claim that they're so crazed that they barely breathe and then, in their next stolen breath, go on to say that they just finished reading that New York Times bestseller. ("You've read it, right? Being a literature professor and all?") I just smile and shake my head, thinking You have time to read for pleasure? Because I don't. Not lately. 

Reasons exist for my lack of time to post here, though, and they spring from what is essentially good news. Since a quick review of past posts speaks of my propensity to bitch about all things writer-related, big or small, I'm going to focus on the Good News (TM) today. Why not, right? Be positive!

For example, I've had two stories accepted for publication in DNA's April 2016 issue. That's good news! Please click here to access the site and read "Hobgoblins" and "Desert Honey," if you are so inclined.

More good news: I've been named the new Publications Chair for the National League of American Pen Women, an organization for creative women (writers, dancers, artists, composers, etc.) that I had the pleasure of joining back in 2012. This means I'll be responsible for overseeing all of the League's publications, including Pen Woman magazine, the annual art calendar, the web site, social media, and Pen Woman Press, which is an exclusive publisher for the League. If you're a creative woman, why not pop over to the League's web site and learn more? Our type needs to stick together.

Even more good news: My writers' group is resurrected after a very long hiatus. That actually should be filed under flipping fantastic news, because without the rigor of regular meetings, I do what most writers tend to do: Stare at a blank screen for about five minutes before deciding that the hall closet really-really-REALLY needs cleaning out. My fellow writers won't be impressed with my closet-junk organizational skills, however, so it's time to get my tail back into my office chair. Nothing inspires me quite like a looming deadline.

Potentially good news: I'm again actively looking for an agent to represent The Devil's Belt, my historical novel. Here's the pitch:  

After a decade of study in London, young Doctor Thomas Dorset returns to his Long Island hometown in 1777 to find it occupied by the British army. Ostracized by neighbors for his Tory mindset, he proposes teaching respected local apothecary Katie Pearce "new" medicine in exchange for a partnership. Working alongside the irascible beauty, Thomas's eyes are opened to the atrocities that Mattituck's people endure under martial law. When a jealous British captain burns down his home and kills a loved one, Thomas must make a choice: Go to Connecticut and start over, or join his childhood friends and fight back, risking everything and everyone he has left. No other Revolutionary War novel examines the quiet misery, covert resistance, and patriotic spirit of Long Islanders during the American Revolution as The Devil's Belt does.  

Would you buy the book, based on that description? Opine, if you will, in the comments below.

Finally, because I feel like it, I'll share a few memes here that made me laugh:

Self explanatory.
Would've come in handy last month, when I was teaching it.


Seems legit.

If you have any like-minded memes to share, please feel free to post them (or links) in the comments below.

And that's all she wrote. For now, at least. Hopefully, I won't make you wait another six months.

Peace,
K

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dealing with Twits—A Social Media Rant

This is what I look like when I use Twitter
For some time now, I've been experimenting with Twitter on the advice of an author platform expert who shall remain nameless because she insisted that it's an essential social media platform for authors. I confess that after having used Twitter for several months, I have absolutely no idea why she'd think or say this. Does she even have a Twitter account, I wonder. Has she seen what's going on in there? 

For the uninitiated, here's a brief summary: Twitter is a "social broadcasting" platform. Users "tweet" short messages that presumably announce something important. A quick run-down of my Twitter feed suggests just the opposite, however; it's teeming with celebrity gossip, perennial outrage, public shaming, links to suggestive and virus-laden web sites, and pictures of Kim Kardashian's naked ass (which has become boring because we've seen so much of itquite an accomplishment on her part, considering the predilections of our modern society).

That last item yields a relevant observation, though: Unless you're a celebrity of some stripe, Twitter is a sea of words in which an average person's voice drowns the instant it launches, lost forever in a surfeit of nonsense. Hash-tagging helps somewhat, but even then not so much unless the topic is trending. For us proletarians, tweeting is like whispering in a middle school cafeteria during lunch period. It's unlikely anyone will notice. Average Twitter users might as well shout down a well; more people would "hear" that than find his/her one tweet in the never-ending stream of insipid ones clogging the feed.

I digress, however. The thing I hate most isn't the usual mind-numbing, lowest-common-denominator tweets. What I hate most is the unending stream of private messages that I've been receiving in my inbox, all of which contain advertisements for products and services. Lately it has become chronic, and it's annoying as hellso much so that I recently added "DON'T PM ADS!" to my user profile. Of course, that's done little to fix the problem.

How do these messages come? Here's a brief walk-through. A user logs into her account to find ten people have "followed" her since yesterday's log-in. As a courtesy, she "returns the follow"and maybe greets new followers in a tweet (although I've stopped this practice after reading that this is a no-no on this blog). The user then logs out, happy that her list of followers is slowly-but-steadily growing. Twenty-four hours later, she logs back in to find eight private messages from yesterday's ten new followers, six of whom have already "unfollowed" her because their sole reason for following was to send her a private message containing an advertisement for products/services. Additionally, eight brand new followers are now waiting to be followed so that they may do the same thing tomorrow.

For the record, Twitter's Terms of Service forbid sending advertisements to users via private message. A friend pointed this out when I shared that I was replying to spammers with my own business ad. Apparently, two spams don't make a right, so I had to stop. Shortly thereafter, I discovered a handy "report" option on the drop-down box for each private message. Lately, I've been using that option frequently. It doesn't matter if the ad offers something for free. Spam is spam, and I treat all such ads equally.

Twitter's 140-character limit makes it a poor forum to effectively hook readers, so its value to authors is questionable at best. Even so, the lion's share of spam comes to me from "book promoters" whose marketing strategy seems no more sophisticated than just incessantly tweeting/private messaging about their clientele's books. (In fact, one established more than twenty different accountsone for each book genre, it seemsand then followed me from each "companion account" so that spam could be readily sent.) Ironically, the goal of all this spamming is to hook me as a client so that they can send out even more spam ads. What a catastrophic marketing strategy for authors, allowing amateurs to annoy potential customers/readers with their book/brand! I wouldn't dream of paying for it, yet the evidence suggests that many authors do.

The worst advertisement I've received thus far, however, came three weeks ago and had nothing to do with book promotion. I was copied on the message alongside a dozen other women. It said something along the lines of: "Hey! I just had to share some exciting news with you about a great new product from <a woman's name doubling as a company's>. It's a newly designed and innovative TAMPON that will change your life forever! Women will not believe how amazing and convenient this product is..."

Before I continue, some observations: First, tampons are not now nor will they ever be innovative, nor is news about them ever exciting. Also doubtful is that the product is newly designed, as its specifications must conform to a female anatomy that has remained unchanged since the dawn of mankind. There's nothing new under the sun there. Finally, forgive my rampant skepticism that a little cotton-fiber plug is going to change your life forever. Most women are not as clueless as those people who worry about touching a "germy" hand soap pump right before they wash their hands. It's a period, not chaos theory. As a rule, we ladies have it covered. So, I replied "Seriously?" accompanied by the "meh" emoji, reported the message as spam, and deleted it.

Let's go back to Twitter, though. If that forum is about anything other than pop culture nonsense and maladroit business people hustling for clients, I have yet to see any evidence. Perhaps I'm doing this Twitter thing wrong, though. I'm asking you to tell me. How does a non-celebrity squeeze any value out of this platform? Or do you, like me, find Twitter to be a waste of time?  Please let your thoughts be known in the comments below.