What Good Salespeople Know That Writers Should

The Secrets They Kept by Joanne Tombrakos

Today’s guest post is by author and business person Joanne Tombrakos.

What ultimately spurred my decision to self-publish was a quality that had served me well during the 25 years I spent selling commercials on radio and television stations.


Simply put, I got tired of waiting for someone else to publish me.

Good salespeople are like that. They don’t like to wait. They like to make things happen. They don’t like to be told no. They grow a tough skin toward rejection and work hard not to take any they receive personally. They look for another way, always willing to try anything once even if it means risking failure. Because they understand that every no is really just a step closer to a yes. And standing still and waiting … well that just isn’t an option if you want to go somewhere.

I tried to quell this part of my personality when the agent who believed in my novel took it on during one of the worst times in recent economic history. I was told that this was how publishing went. Slowly. At a snail’s pace. No one and nothing moved fast, and if I wanted to make it a career, I would have to get used to it.

I didn’t. In fact I just grew more impatient. I started following people like Seth Godin and Jane Friedman who talked about the changing world of publishing. I learned quickly that with or without a traditional publisher I was still going to have to sell. I was a writer now, but a writer in a new and increasingly noisy landscape. Knowing how to sell was an asset that would give me a competitive edge.

As a former sales professional turned writer, here’s my advice for anyone wanting an advantage in today’s marketplace.

1. Believe in your product.

Good salespeople believe in what they are selling. And even when they are unsure, they pretend really well. I have met so many writers, who when you ask them about their work, belittle the value of it. If you are trying to sell yourself to an agent or to a publication in search of a review, you better believe in your work. Because if you don’t, no one else will.

2. Writing is an art.

So is selling. In fact, selling is just another form of story telling. A good salesperson does not sell anyone anything. They simply engage a potential customer until they convince them to plunk down some cash. Yet your typical writer recoils at the idea of selling. Here’s a news flash. It’s almost 2012 and we live in a very crowded media environment. If you want to be read, you have to learn to tell more than just the story in your novel. You have to sell it.

3. Numbers count.

Any seasoned salesperson knows that the more you prospect, the greater the chances you have of closing a deal. Traditionally it is referred to as the sales funnel. The mouth is very wide at the top. That is where you are creating lots of attention that hopefully will translate into real interest. The funnel gets narrower at the bottom when it gets closer to making a decision and taking action. For most writers, action means buying your book. Not every potential reader will buy your book. But the wider your net, the greater your chances of catching something.

4. No order is ever too small.

This was the philosophy of the then struggling country music radio station I first worked for in Philadelphia in 1983. Little orders add up to bigger numbers, so don’t discount them. I apply this today as I look for venues to review my book. I treat the individual book blogger with the same respect as I do when trying to get Oprah to take a look at the ranks of the self-published. I strive for book sales in the thousands but understand that the days when there might be only one or two eventually add up.

5. Be a pro.

A good salesperson is an expert in their industry. If you are going to self-publish as I did, do the research so you know the challenges. Strive to know not just as much as everyone else but to know more.

6. Create your opportunities.

Good salespeople never wait for someone else to do it for them. For me this meant self-publishing. If you go traditional, this might mean not waiting for your PR department at your publishing house to get you the interview you want, but making your own contacts.

7. Detach from the outcome.

Good salespeople never put all their eggs into one basket. They juggle multiple prospects at once and they work to not let themselves get attached to just one. Their belief in what they are doing is so strong that they know they will not close every deal, but they will close the deal they need to.

Posted in Getting Published, Marketing & Promotion.

A writer, coach and speaker as well as the author of a novel, The Secrets They Kept, Joanne blogs on living and working after corporate America at One Woman's Eye She and her egg timer reside in New York City.

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Joe Lalonde

Number one is key.

I think a lot of writers struggle with it too. They compare their work to a well-known published author and feel they don’t measure up. However, you need to believe in your work or no one else will.

Anne Nicholas

Excellent advice — not only for the author in the crowd, but for anyone wanting to make it in the online market.  Kudos, to you Ms Tombrakos, for telling it like it is.

You have sold me on your writing abilities. I am back from subscribing to your One Woman Writes blog.

Cristina da Silva

Fabulous advice. I was toying with the idea of self-publishing. Joanne, you convinced me to go that route. I’m impatient too 🙂

Joanne Tombrakos

Thanks to all for your feedback!  I appreciate it!


Good stuff…thank you.

Jim Hamlett

Well done, Joanne! Kudos for taking the bull by the horns (and it is a bull!). I made the leap this year, and I don’t regret it. I’m wholeheartedly on board with all your points, especially #1: I believe in my book. I dare people to start reading it.  Stopped by Amazon to peek at your book and liked it on the first page. Bought the Kindle edition and downloaded it for some holiday reading.  The best to you. Jim Hamlett Author of Moe — “…woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him… Read more »

Joanne Tombrakos

Thanks for picking up my book Jim! The initial reaction as all been good and that can’t be a bad thing! I am going to check out yours now!

David Mark Brown

Great post. I’ve never been a good “sales person” but I’ve long understood the value of story line conversion (if you will). As a campus pastor the time I spent talking to student was very similar. In my opinion Jesus is a pretty great story. I’ve learned how to tell it well.

Now as an author I’m trying to learn the same thing with my novels, both writing them and selling them. Thanks for these great reminders.

Anne R. Allen

What a useful, timely post. Love the idea that sales is storytelling. All writers need to learn this stuff. I’m so tired of the “art for art’s sake” writers who say “I never look at my reviews or my stats.” I want to tell them, “Sweetie, you’re in a business. That’s like saying you’re too pure to notice whether or not you’re getting a pay check.”

[…] What Good Salespeople Know That Writers Should | Jane Friedman […]

Suzi Banks Baum

What a treat to find you here Joanne. I was just poking around, following my nose through the web tonight and what good fortune to find you here! I did not read your blog post today, where I am sure you announced your presence on this great site! I will re-read this post, once I get over the excitement of seeing you here, but on first reading- I am ever inspired by your thorough presentation and thoughtful advice. Love, Suzi

Stephen Paul Register

Thanks for the nudge, Joanne.  I’ve just self-published through Smashwords.com and am fighting the malaise that stems from my book’s (ongoing) present status:  “Pending Approval”.



You are so wise and concise — so worldly and knowledgeable. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us and your impatience. Clearly it is a highly valuable skill. 

Elizabeth Malone

Margie Yee Webb

Wonderful advice! Thanks so much!


Great post. Yes, believe in your product but believe in your potential customer too.  They were looking for something you have or their eyes wouldn’t have stopped on your first words.


Very encouraging — I self published after a year of going the traditional route with a 54 page proposal and many agent rejections. (Actually, many of the rejections were very encouraging – I’m an optimist by nature, thank God.)  When I discovered that sales and promotion still falls upon the writer and the climate of publishing drastically changed I began the journey of self publishing.  God bless your journey too – 

Tonya Kinzer

Great post, Joanne!! I agree with all you’ve stated. Being a like minded impatient individual with a sales/marketing background, I too am self-published because I didn’t want to wait for someone else to call the release dates for me. I jumped into the publishing world, learned and am still learning, and created my own happenings. If we can’t promo for ourselves, we can’t expect others to do it for us nor the way we want it or when! Edit, Edit, Edit before you put anything out there…we attract what we think. Accept those doors that open to you and walk… Read more »

Holly Robinson

This is a fabulous, no-nonsense approach.  Having published both with and without traditional publishers, I can certainly attest to two things:  traditional publishing DOES move at a glacial pace, and no matter how you put your book out, you need to be the best advocate for your own writing.  Nobody else cares about it as much as you do!  

[…] What Good Salespeople Know That Writers Should by Joanne Tombrakos via Jane Friedman. Also from Jane: The Big Mistake of Author Websites & Blogs. […]

Patricia Gligor

I worked in sales for many years but I didn’t connect my retail career to my writing career. In fact, in many ways, they felt like opposites.
After reading your post, I now realize why I “took to” marketing as quickly as I did! I had the skills; I just needed to learn the specifics.


An excellent post. I, too, am hoping to become a successful writer someday and it looks as if I shall if your blog is anything to go by. I am up there in the list of the world’s most impatient people.

[…] https://janefriedman.com/2011/12/06/what-good-salespeople-know/ Is a great rundown of the writer/salesperson connection […]

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Adrienne May

Thank you for the excellent advice, and the reminder to always look for opportunities, grow a thick skin and take every opportunity to accent the positive in my work.

Daron Henson

I appreciate all information that I can possibly get on sales and marketing of my work and about anything else that might move my career forward.  Thank you.

[…] What ultimately spurred my decision to self-publish was a quality that had served me well during the 25 years I spent selling commercials on radio and television stations. Impatience. Simply put, I got tired of waiting for someone else to publish me.Good salespeople are like that. They don’t like to wait. They like to make things happen. They don’t like to be told no. They grow a tough skin toward rejection and work hard not to take any they receive personally. They look for another way, always willing to try anything once even if it means risking failure. Because… Read more »

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