Writing from a Salesperson’s Perspective

Confession: I don’t understand why some writers are so fixated on getting an agent that they rush to query with an unfinished or sub-par manuscript. I would think that they would take the time to ensure that their manuscript is sellable from the query stage.

And no. I’m not talking about genre trends or marketability or writing a book just because you know or feel or think it’s something that can sell.

I’m going after something more basic (and honestly, common sensical, so please bear with me), namely querying agents with a great story, written with the cleanest copy possible (read: no typos or other editing errors).

I’ve worked in sales for at least ten years, and based on the amount of companies that have wanted to recruit me, hire me, and/or promote me, I think I’m a pretty good salesperson. I’m not saying I’m the best salesperson around or the hardest worker (though I am kind of a workaholic). But, I think where I excel is that when I love something I don’t need anyone to tell me to sell it. I will talk up a product because I honestly enjoy it, or it was beneficial to me in some way, and I want to share that joy and benefit with others.

Even if you’re not a sales person, you know what I mean right? It’s essentially word of mouth advertising/referrals. We all have an opinion of who makes The Best Pizza or The Best Burger, or which company has The Best Customer Service. I mean, I’ve never worked for AT&T or Apple, but I tell everyone who’ll listen to me how much I love my iPhone 4 (The Preciousss), and how it changed my life. (Caveat: I use my iPhone as a palm-sized computer, and rarely use it as a phone.) (Seriously. Life changer).

In the same way that I need to love and believe in a product in order to sell it (at least, sell it well), an agent will need that same kind of love and belief in your story.

I know that getting an agent is something that aspiring authors imagine or daydream about. I get it. It’s one step closer to being a traditionally published author.

But, why rush the process, especially if you haven’t finished your manuscript, let alone edited it till your eyes and fingers bleed, and your crit partners want to kill you? It’s still only one step. There are many, many more after that, not the least of which is SELLING YOUR STORY.

Even if you manage to land an agent with a sub-par manuscript, your agent will still need to sell the manuscript that you are querying to him or her. After all, that’s how they will get paid. So then, what help can a sub-par manuscript be at this point? You’ll still need to fix it, edit it, rewrite it before it can sell. You might as well do your best work now, before you ruin your chance of a great first impression. (I won’t bother mentioning that even if an editor is sold on your sub-par manuscript, that he or she will still need to pitch it to the purse strings of the publishing house, who will decide whether or not to proceed with an offer.)

Put in another way, if YOU were an agent, and YOU see a manuscript that still needs LOTS of work, would that be something YOU would want to work through and wait for and maybe hope to sell? Would YOU be willing to bet your source of income on it?

If I essentially worked commissioned sales, I would back the product that I could sell quickly and efficiently. If I were the agent in that scenario, I would look at the sub-par manuscript and see that it will NOT sell quickly because I would need to wait on rewrites and revisions and a possibly hostile writer who may not be open to my suggestions for edits, since the writer clearly didn’t see the need to edit in the first place, otherwise why did he or she submit a sub-par manuscript to me?

As a salesperson, I sell things that I love, that I believe in, that I’m passionate about. When you submit your work to a potential agent, you are asking them to believe in it, to love it, to be passionate about it enough to sell it.

So, please. Take this time to write the best story you can, in the cleanest copy possible. Don’t be in such a rush to query. Don’t stress out so much about finding an awesome agent. Focus on writing an awesome story that an agent would feel privileged to represent. A story that makes them feel like they are holding the book equivalent of an iPhone.

When you have that, then feel free to query your favorite agents, and be giddy over the waiting game. I’ll even supply the chocolates.

This is my strategy. What about you? What are your thoughts or perspectives on the querying process?