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Salesmanship for Freelance Writers
by Cynthia Arnold


I had been freelancing for a few years, making sales, selling articles, but not nearly as many as I would have liked. I read a lot of books on freelancing--how to write perfect query letters, how to write well-structured articles, how to study the markets. It was all useful information, but I felt I needed something more, something else. One day, I happened to be wandering through my local library when I came upon a section devoted to salesmanship. Me, in sales? Hardly. But as I glanced through all those books offering advice on how to be the world's greatest salesperson, I started to think: Maybe with a little tweaking, some of these same sales techniques could be tailored toward selling freelance writing. Here are some techniques I've adapted from the world of salesmanship, to suit the needs of a freelance writer:

Develop the confidence to walk away

A technique used by effective salespeople is to develop the confidence to walk away from a sale, if the buyer won't meet the terms of the sale. You have to take the risk and have the confidence to walk away from a sale, knowing there will be other writing opportunities. It is important that you do not appear desperate to make this one sale, because that is when you can be taken advantage of. There is a lesson here for every writer. Value your product. Know what you are worth. Learn the techniques of successful negotiation and you will have an advantage when it comes to negotiating writing fees or selling rights to a piece.

Display confidence and enthusiasm for your product.

Know it inside and out. You must believe in your product. This really comes down to knowing what you have to offer and then delivering on that. What you're selling is, essentially, yourself. What kind of a writer are you? What are your strengths? Weaknesses? And what do you have to offer that makes you stand out? Is it 20 years of experience in writing or contacts in a particular field? Perhaps you have professional credentials? You have to believe in yourself and in your abilities because, after all, that's what the editor is buying. As an English teacher, I learned to spot in a person's writing any hesitancy or lack of confidence. You need to foster a healthy self-image. That may be hard to do when you get repeated rejections. You may even start doubting your abilities as a writer. Don't do this. You can't rejection personally or allow it to undermine your self-confidence. Remember that a rejection is just one editor's opinion. Just honestly assess yourself and take it from there. What did you do right? What did you do wrong? Constantly seek to improve. You've made one sale, you can make more.

The 80/20 rule.

80% of your sales will come from 20% of your customers. What this means for the writer is that you should always be thinking of repeat business from the same editor or magazine. Foster good relations. Ensure you have a good product and keep selling even after you've made the sale. Follow up. Ask for feedback. Ensure you are at the top of the editor's mind when she needs a freelancer. Have integrity in your self-product. Be easy to work with. Be the kind of person you yourself would like to work for. Focus on the activity, not the result One technique that is used in salesmanship is to focus on the activity, not the result. This is used for cold-calling in sales, in that you might have to make 500 calls before you get a sale. If you focused on the 499 calls you have to make to get that sale, you'd probably give up. But if you think about each call as worth $1, it gives you an incentive to keep on going through all the rejections, so that you can land that one $500 sale. You can apply this to query letters in the writing field. The more queries you send out, the faster you will reach your goal. Remember: it's a game of numbers.

Focus on the needs of the customers--their needs and interests.

Don't waste time attempting to create a need. Focus on existing needs. What this means for the writer is to really know the magazine. Remember: editors buy in their own best interests. How can you fill his/her needs? You need to know what those needs are. You have to try to get inside the editor's mind. Step into his shoes. Editors have a vision of the ideal reader. You have to have an idea of who that is and why the editor wants to reach that person. That's why you look at the magazine advertisements and marketing data, to see who it is that the editor is attempting to reach. The magazine needs to be filled every month. How can you help the editor do that? Don't attempt to sell a story on vampires to House Beautiful. You may think your piece on vampires is the best story you've ever written, but unless you can slant it to fit the vision of House Beautiful, you won't make the sale.

Keep the right frame of mind

Perhaps you're scared to approach the editor of the New Yorker with a query--an idea that you think is just perfect for his magazine. Go ahead and try it. What have you got to lose? You already don't have an article in the New Yorker. If your query is accepted, you'll have an article in the New Yorker. If your query is rejected, things will just stay the same: You still don't have an article in the New Yorker. Be aware that it might take some time for you to crack this market. Remember to write what you can write, at this stage in your career and always look for opportunities to develop as a writer. If you've had success at writing for 20 cents a word, aim just a bit higher next time and aim for 30 or 50 cents a word. Keep developing your skills and taking chances. That's the way you grow as a writer. Remember the point is to learn from your failures. If you're scared, it's useful to remember that everyone is scared or afraid of failing. Do it anyway. You may feel vulnerable, because you put yourself as a writer on the line every time you send out a query. Take a lesson from actors in the theater, who find a way to cope with repeated rejections: Do it anyway. Face up to your fear of failing and keep trying, often in the face of repeated rejections. This is what separates the winners in life from the losers: The winners feel their fear and press forward, regardless. You can learn to do the same. Remember that this is just one query and one editor's opinion. You choose how you will react to the situation. Set realistic goals and work at attaining them.

© Copyright 1999, Cynthia Arnold

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