I was talking about writing recently and had someone comment that she wanted to be a writer because she “hated sales”.
Free advice to aspiring professional writers:
First, you must learn to write well. The way to do this is really simple. You sit down and write every single day without exception. Write something every single day. It doesn’t have to be great. It doesn’t have to be profound. But you must practice your craft every single day with no exceptions at all. If you’ve never read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, do. That’ll give you the general idea. Get used to getting your thoughts out in text form. Get used to trying to get the rhythm of your thoughts across in words. Get used to plot, get used to pacing. For heaven’s sake, learn appropriate spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Second, you must learn to sell. I know a lot of you are thinking that’s what an agent is for. That’s not entirely the truth. Yes, indeed, if you get a book contract, you want someone to help you out and make sure you’re not getting screwed. Chances are almost nil that the book contract will happen without knowing how to sell. Oh, the publicity articles about the Cinderella stories never mention it. It makes a poor story. It’s much more exciting to read about luck than hard work.
Learning to sell isn’t about learning to be Leisure Suit Larry. We have a skeezy image of sales and marketing these days that doesn’t really fit with the reality of making it work. It’s about finding out what a potential client needs, then giving them that. It’s about making contacts, meeting people, hanging out and just getting to know what people need. If it becomes about putting one over on someone, you’re really doing it wrong. You have to have something of genuine value to deliver.
Neil Gaiman is a good example of what I’m talking about. I cannot imagine someone less like Leisure Suit Larry and the general salesman stereotype. He’s astoundingly successful, and that’s amazing. He started by learning to write really well. Holy mackerel, can that man tell a story! He’s just plain an excellent writer.
If you take a look at his career, however, you’ll notice he didn’t hole himself up, just write and then leave it at that. No, he got out and met people, he made contacts, he made friends. Anyone I’ve talked to that has met him at a con or signing has nothing but nice things to say about him. When I talk about learning to sell, that’s what I mean. You can be cyncial about it, but you know, you don’t have to be. And sometimes it really works better if you’re not.