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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
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
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
Focus on the needs of the customers--their needs
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
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
© Copyright 1999, Cynthia Arnold
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