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.

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