Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Over/Under Selling

Salesmanship is one of the essential non-writing tools for your writing toolbox. But how do you do it?

If you've perused many agent websites, you've heard the complaint about those query letters that say, "This is the next great American classic" or "I guarantee a massive movie deal with this book" or some other nonsense like that. It makes me think of the Snake Oil salesmen of the old west, who claimed their concoctions could cure rheumatism, headaches, neuralgia, toothaches, earaches, backaches, sore throats, chest colds, swellings, sprains, cuts, bruises, baldness, and deafness. Unfortunately, it was usually just urine in a jar.

Which is probably what a lot of those books are, too.

At any rate, those of us who have read those claims from writers have become gun shy. At least, I know I did. We're so afraid of Over-Selling our work and ourselves that we Under-Sell instead.

Oh, sure, you might craft a query letter that is formatted correctly, and is devoid of error, and so sanitary you could eat off it. But, where's the pizazz? Where's the bells and whistles? Where's the juice that'll get them begging for more?

It's all about salesmanship.

And, even beyond the query letter, you have to keep selling as a writer. Whether it's in phone interviews with agents or editors, or whether it's in booking and attracting events, or whether it's in your social marketing skills, you have to be a good salesman.

So, how do you do it?

  1. Know your product. If you're talking about your book, you had better know your book like you know your own face. You need to recognize its good qualities, and know how to feature them above all else. It's like when a woman puts on makeup, she knows that her eyes are her strong feature, or her lips, or the mole with the hair on it, or whatever. And she knows that she needs to highlight that in order to be attractive.
  2. Ensure your product. There's an old saying, "Under-Promise, Over-Deliver." When it comes to selling, the only way you can effectively sell something and still Over-Deliver is if you have a darn good product. So, seriously, make sure that your book is edited, revised, and as good as you can get it on your own. Make sure that you, as a product yourself, are free from scandalous twitter pics, or vicious tirades on your ex-spouse. Make sure that you know how to avoid the f-bomb in normal conversation. And please, oh pretty please, make sure that you actually HAVE a book before you get everybody all worked up over it.
  3. Pitch your Product. You have to be able to sell your product in one sentence. Yeah, it's hard. But, if it's your book, that's what the logline is all about. And, if the product is you, that is when you learn how to say, "I used to be a diagnostician, but now I'm a writer of Middle-Grade fiction which gets kids interested in medical diagnostics, and I'd love to present an assembly to your school. Where can I send you more information?" (yes, I'm imagining Dr. Gregory House as a MG writer of Medical Mysteries. And, yes, I would advise him to be silent on his Vicodin addiction.)
Selling is such an important component of succeeding as a writer (and as anything, really) that I hope you'll take the time to practice and prepare to be the best you can be at it.


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