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?


Being A Published Author Wasn’t Always My Dream Job

I Have a Confession

I haven’t always dreamed of being a published author.  Nor have I spent my childhood/teens/college years diligently writing stories with the hopes that others would read my work.  In fact, I spent most of my life keeping anything I wrote private.

I know I’m not alone in my experience.  But, what bothers me is that I was embarrassed about it.  Yes, I was actually embarrassed that I haven’t always wanted to be an author.  So much so, that at one point, I desperately scoured my memory banks to find a scrap of evidence that yes, indeed, I wanted to be an author.  I wanted to stand with those authors who always knew that they wanted to write, and couldn’t imagine being anything else.  The authors who claim that writing for them was like breathing.  I wanted to be able to say that, and if I’m honest with myself, I still want to be able to say that.  To claim that.  Of course, if I do, it would be a lie.

What bugged me more than being embarrassed by something so silly, is realizing why I was so embarrassed.  I’d built up authors beyond being merely role models, that their life stories and beliefs became truth to me.  Became The Way.  And, if I diverged from The Way, then, by my actions, I have excommunicated myself from the society of authors, and I didn’t have the right to pursue being a full-time novelist.

A Side Story

Last week, I was able to spend time with my side of the family.  Because, my immediate family is split between east and west coasts, I only see them for one week, twice a year, and we spend those weeks that we’re together sharing stories about our lives thus far, updating each other on any news.  (This is nothing new.  Growing up, we all often shared stories while eating breakfast on Saturday mornings.)  We’re a talkative bunch, and can be quite dramatic in our renditions, so it takes a good week for us to regale the other branches of the family on our happenings.

Anyway, whenever we’re together, it doesn’t matter that we’ve already heard about each other’s stories through some other means. (For example, my older brother might have called my sister who could have Facebooked me about something my younger brother allegedly did in college that my parents may not know about.  Or, an elderly aunt may have accidentally emailed my sister instead of the Internet scammer who was the intended recipient of said email, and who may have duped her out of money. Again.)  But, until we all get together, we pretend not to know what we all really know anyway, and talk in obtuse pronouns and pronounced facial expressions until the Big Reveal.

What’s important in our ritual story telling over breakfast is sharing the information RIGHT THERE and hearing it from either the source, or from a witness’s first-hand perspective.  The conflict is always more heated, the emotions, more intense, in these real life re-enactments.  (In case you’re wondering, my favorite perspective is from my momdad, seen as one unit because they can’t seem to take turns telling a story, nor can they stop editorializing, so they’re like a two-headed, story-telling juggernaut.)

My Point?

Though I may not have written epic fantasies when I was six years old, I grew up surrounded by stories.  My family breakfasts were proving grounds for telling the best stories, especially since we lived the stories that we told.  It really wasn’t a matter of us telling the truth or not, more like the truth abounded in the conviction that what we told actually happened.  That we believed what we said.  In the telling, our “characters” refused to be flat and lifeless.  My parents can make buying groceries a more interesting story than hearing about a multiple car pileup on the news.  They can’t help but be enigmatically complex and full of conflict.  When my family orders dinner or pays the bill, drama surely follows.

I realize now that I was silly to feel like I had to legitimize my claim for wanting to be a published author.  I’m grateful that I’ve been able to experience stories.  That I was born to a family of storytellers.  Though I didn’t necessarily scribble stories about princes and knights or ghost tale massacres, I told the stories that have surrounded me my whole life (some journals may have been filled with angsty-teen, anti-parent rants.)  Besides, we all have to follow our own writerly path.

So, I’ll let other writers talk about how they’ve been writing stories before they can walk, and how writing to them is like breathing.  For me, I can embrace my heritage of story telling.  If it weren’t for my family, and our stories, then I wouldn’t have become such a devourer of tales.  Creating more stories, albeit in written form, is just an extension of that.

Stories are my life, and that is not only a truth that I can claim; it’s one that I’ve lived.

SO TELL ME: What did YOU want to be when you grew up?