Think back to when you were a teen ager. Was there ever something that you really wanted? Really, really wanted? How many times did you ask your parents for it? Once? Twice? Until they finally gave in?
As kids, we were all probably pretty good salesmen. We were really good at convincing our parents that we had to have things that we probably didn’t actually need (roller skates when I was 9, a car when I was 16). Babies are the best salespeople around. I doubt you would get up at 2 a.m. to fix your spouse a sandwich, but you’ll feed your cute little helpless infant because they cry for it.
Somewhere after we outgrow our teenage years, we unlearn that persistent salesmanship. What so many people don’t seem to realize is that life is about selling. Every time you try to convince someone of something, you are selling them on your point of view. If you are dating, married or working, you sold yourself (or the idea of yourself) to someone else. If you own a home, you sold a bank on your ability to pay back money that they gave you.
Being a writer takes another kind of salesmanship. Writers have several situations where they must sell themselves:
- Selling a publisher or agent on a short story or manuscript.
- Selling a potential reader on the idea of reading the short story.
- Selling yourself to a promotional outlet (“I’d like you to read and review my book,” “I’d like to be a guest on your podcast,” “Would you be interested in booking me for an author signing?”)
Being a salesman is a tough job. You put yourself out there and risk being rejected. It’s this fear of rejection that keeps a lot of writers from becoming salespeople. Many writers who fear selling often pretend that selling is ‘beneath them.’ Or that selling ‘cheapens their art.’
However, if you want to be a successful writer commercially, you will need to learn some sales techniques. There are good ways to do this, and not so good ways.
Take a class in sales — If you are afraid of coming across as a carnival barker at a convention, then take a class in sales techniques. There are several good business courses that offer these types of classes. Alternately, you can read books on selling (How I raised myself from failure to success through selling is a good one.)
Get a part time job in sales – Most successful writers won’t be able to pay their bills on their writing initially, so they recommend that you don’t quit your day job. If you have to have a day job, you may as well have one that will help advance your writing career. Mine for several years was working as a salesperson in a photography store. The techniques that I learned while trying to interest shoppers in a Nikon are the same as when I try to interest convention goers in my own books.
Talk to someone who is successful at selling and find out what they do – Chances are you know someone involved in outside sales that is very good at it. Do they sell siding door-to-door? Do they make calls to sell advertising? Are they very good at Pampered Chef, Mary Kay or Scentsy? Ask them what techniques work for them. Try this kind of work yourself to overcome the fear of talking to people.
Get used to hearing ‘No’ and don’t take it personal – Your work is very personal to you, but if someone just doesn’t want to buy it that won’t mean that they don’t like you as a person. It may just mean that they don’t like what you’ve written. Maybe they prefer paranormal romance to Steampunk. You may have written the most awesome steampunk book in the history of alternate history Victorian with brass and goggles. They still aren’t going to like it.
Put another way – imagine that you are a short order cook in a restaurant. If you offer a diner some ketchup for their fries and they say that they don’t like Ketchup, will you take it personally? What if you made the ketchup yourself? Probably not, even if you spent hours on it. Writing is a bit like that.
There are plenty of people who don’t like selling. I’m not always fond of it myself. The thing that I always keep in mind is that I’m fond of writing, and the more that I sell my own work, the more I get to write.