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Sales Tips for Self-Published Writers (or maybe even all writers)

With the start of the new year, and the end of the distraction of the holidays, it’s time to get back out and sell my novel. This brings up the dilemma most writers have, whether they are self-published or trying to sell to an agent:

The traits it takes to write a novel—intuitiveness, a sense of story, sensitivity, an insight into why people do what they do, an ear for dialog, and a desire to spend hours alone with only a keyboard and a flickering screen—and the traits it takes to sell that novel like it was the latest kitchen widget being hawked on a late-night television infomercial—seldom reside comfortably in the same person. So here goes, sales advice for writers based on what I learned when I worked in the business world. Some of this advice is contradictory, but I trust you can sort it out and use is appropriately.

You'll never make a sale if you don't ask for it. Only firemen wait for the phone to ring. Everyone else has to go out and find the business, and you are no different. In order to make a sale you have to ask for it. You have to pitch your novel. You have to make that phone call, or send that email.

Have your elevator pitch. Imagine that you walk into an elevator after trying to get a meeting and a person walks in right after you and the door closes. By some stroke of luck that person is your prospect. You have an elevator ride to make the sale. That's why it is called an elevator pitch. It needs to include the logline of your novel, your social media efforts, and everything else you can do to make this novel sell. Elevator pitches are 30 seconds, no more.

The worst they can say is, “No.” Your sales target is not going to shoot you. They will not have you drawn and quartered. Chances are they won’t laugh at you in a room of hundreds of people. They will simply say, “No.” You can live they that.

The sooner you get to, “No,” the better. Sales is, in some respects, a numbers game. The more people you talk to, the better the chances of finding someone who will buy. Sometimes when you hear, “No,” that’s your cue to quit wasting your time and their time and move on.

On the other hand …

It takes nine calls to a prospect to make sale. Most people stop calling after the fifth call (this number varies depending on what you’re selling). Sales takes diligence. One day you might call and they turn you away. The next time they might have just read one of your blog posts, or heard mention of your novel at the water cooler. Bingo. I know, this piece of advice conflicts with the preceding one, but not all rejections are the same. You’re intuitive. You’re a writer. Learn how to tell the difference. Some people need a callback.

Set yourself a daily quota. When you are selling, you will hear the word “No,” a lot. It can get depressing. Set yourself a quota. Five sales calls a day, or whatever your ego can handle. When I was sending letters to agents, I found to pinpoint an agent, research them, and then write a customized letter took the better part of a morning. That was my goal—an agent query a day.

People buy from folks they like. When you’re writing up in your lonely writer’s garret, it is easy to get surly when interruptions come. It’s easy to become gruff when an editor doesn’t get back to you. No one wants your bad mood. If you are engaging, people wonder what goes on in your head. The quickest way to find out is to read your novel or short story.

In the Bible, Sampson slew 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. Every day 1,000 sales are killed with the same weapon. There are times you need to shut up and listen. You are a writer. You are intuitive. Listen to what people need, then listen to how your novel fills that need. You’d be surprised. Several people have told me that my novel has helped them through the acrimony of the recent elections. I might use that for the next call.

Resign yourself to the fact many people do not read. This is a hard one to accept, especially since most of your circle are avid bookworms, but not everyone likes to relax with a good book. I especially love the ones who buy my novel, but still never read it. Some folks are not readers.

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