I had coffee with my writer friend Pauline today, and we talked about how hard it is to sell, not to sell anything specific, but simply to sell people something.
I can’t sell anything I don’t believe in, and I can’t do a hard sell. Frankly, if someone tells me they can’t afford something, I empathize with them, because there have been lots of times in my life when I haven’t been able to afford luxuries, either.
At one of those times I had a job selling vacuum cleaners. The vacuum cleaners weren’t the only thing about the job that sucked; I sucked at it. Actually, they were quite good vacuum cleaners, but very pricey, and when someone said they couldn’t afford it, I believed them. I couldn’t do the hard sell the office demanded, and I sold very, very few vacuum cleaners.
The main problem was that I didn’t believe the hype that went with the product. I knew there were flaws in the logic, such as the company’s assertion that dirt causes tuberculosis. (They seem not to have ever heard that the tuberculosis bacillus causes tuberculosis. A dirty environment doesn’t help things, but it doesn’t give you tuberculosis in the absence of the bacillus. When I raised this point I was asked if I thought I knew better than the doctor who had made the assertion.)
On the other hand, I can sell my own work, because I know it’s good, and I believe in it. I still don’t do hard sell, but when I tell a customer what to expect from an article or a piece of pottery, I know I can deliver on that promise. Selling pet products was the same – I knew what I had, I said what it could do and demonstrated it where possible. I sold what I believed were good products, and I think my own certainty about the product convinced my customers.
When you write an article, a book, a poem, you bring to it all your skills and knowledge, and often you research what you don’t know. If you’re confident of those skills, you can sell your work. This doesn’t always mean selling a specific piece of work; sometimes it means selling yourself. “Yes, I’m the one who can write that for you.” or “I’ve noticed this gap in your website/magazine/newspaper/publication list and I’m the writer who can fill it.”
It’s not all straight chutzpah – there’s a lot to learn about how you present yourself, whether in writing or speech. Two of the things I’ve learned in the last few years are how to do an elevator pitch (when someone asks you in the elevator, “So, what do you do?” and you have one floor to summarize and make yourself sound fascinating) and how to write a pitch letter to an agent.
The first quality you need for either of those things is confidence in yourself, the ability to sell yourself, even if you can’t sell anything else. Believing in yourself and your own work is the first, and most essential, step.