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Be Prepared To Sell Your Work
by Amy S. Hansen

No one expects the editors to call. Editors don’t call. They write. They e-mail. Mostly they say no. This was my expectation. So when they did started calling me, I blew it.

The phone rang and I was dead asleep. It was only two in the afternoon, but the three-week old and the two-year old were both napping and I had zonked out on the coach.

I picked up and said a very sleepy “yes?”

The person on the other end identified himself as an editor from the magazine I had submitted a piece to three months before. “Who?” I replied, not really wanting to be awake.

He explained a second time and said he was ready to buy the piece that I had sent. Since he had turned me down three times before that, he wanted to call to tell me himself.

Finally I woke up. I explained about the baby and why I was so sleepy (and really not very nice). He said he understood and we went on to talk about the piece and why he liked this one. I have since sold many more pieces to that same editor but I’ve noticed he doesn’t call. He e-mails or writes.

The Moral: We all have bad phone days. No need to share these. Let the machine pick up. Listen to the message and call back.

So I went back to writing and researching. Stuff I knew well. I was a reporter before a book writer. So one would think I would know how to deal with an editor. I mean, the editor was just the person two desks away in the newspaper. But for some reason a book editor takes on mythical proportions.

Which brings me to my first book sold over the transom.

I had worked on my non-fiction picture book for a year before sending it out. And I was back to thinking that editors never call. Still I was part of a critique group, and I had learned the professional format for the picture book. What I hadn’t thought about was what happened next. Until it did...

“Amy Hansen please,”

I was sure I was being called by a telemarketer and I got ready to tell him that I had five boys under the age of five in my house and I wasn’t really interested in anything besides some sunshine so I could send them outside (only two of them were mine,
but they were the noisiest.)

“Amy this is XX from XYZ House. I’m holding your manuscript and we want to buy it.”

I went a little nuts. Instead of being quiet, or businesslike, I started babbling. “That manuscript,” I said, as if I had hundreds out. “Oh, I’m glad you’re interested. But it’s still out at other houses. What do I do? Do I call them? Editors say never to call. Do I write them? But that takes so long.”

And then realizing I had a real-live editor on the other end of the line I asked. “Can you tell me what I should...?”

He cut me off. “Let me tell you what we’re offering and you take it from there.”

I wrote the numbers he told me and he hung up with alacrity.

Finally, I let out a squeal. I had a book offer!

But had I blown it already? Editors like calling to say yes. They want to offer good news. I had hardly let him talk.

So I collected my brains and did some research. I learned the offer was acceptable and the company well respected. And I found out what I should do about multiple submissions. Finally, I arranged a babysitter so I could call back in peace.

When we talked again, I was ready. I was excited but not squealing or babbling. I was as articulate as my manuscript would have led them to believe, and I did not promise anything without seeing the contract.

The Moral: Don’t be surprised when something sells. Why send it out if you don’t expect it to work? Of course you should be excited, but if you can’t speak coherently, make an appointment to talk later. You need to celebrate, but you also need to be a businessperson.

I know these things are all well and good to say in retrospect, but the real problem is that we can’t visualize the whole process until it happens.

So having made these mistakes I’ve learned to practice. I visualize selling. I even practice negotiating into the mirror. Now when other editors call, I’m able to be excited and businesslike at the same time.

Which brings up the final moral: Learning the business of writing isn’t the same as learning to write. Prepare yourself so that when your phone rings, you can be professional on your first sale.

© Copyright 2008, Amy S. Hansen

Amy S. Hansen has sold half-a-dozen books and hundreds of articles, and one play, mostly writing for the children’s market. Her books How Things Work, and Wild Animals, can be found on Barnes and Noble, Amazon and in local bookstores around the country.

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