You have decided to be a Writer.
Perhaps you didn’t realize that, with that decision, you also became an entrepreneur. And as Sole Proprietor of your own business, you are responsible for:
• Product selection
• Customer service
• Legal and regulatory/health and safety
• And writing the book.
Unless you have had bottom line experience in a for-profit business, you might find yourself struggling with some of these areas, or, in fact, not even realizing they are a critical part of the job of Writer. Without these key skills under your belt, though, you will find it much more difficult to thrive as a professional writer.
Here are the top 5 business skills you will need to get your career off the ground.
1. Know your customer.
If you are considering a traditional publishing career, your customer is the publisher, not the child, parent, teacher or librarian (self-publishing is a different story). That means you should focus your attentions on publishers when trying to sell your book, not on wider marketing efforts. You don’t need a giant twitter platform. You need a focused email list.
2. Qualify the Customer.
This very sales-y term has a very simple meaning: are your potential customers buying what you are selling? It’s your job to find out. What kind of books do they publish/represent? How many per year? What’s the style, grade range, genre? Who is their primary customer – booksellers, schools, or libraries?
If you neglect to qualify the customer, you waste time, energy and money by trying to sell your product to a person or firm who is not in the market for that item.
Here are five proven ways to qualify the customer:
Study books on store shelves to find out who publishes ones like yours
Review next season’s catalogues
Follow what they buy on Publishers Marketplace
Learn about them through discussions with other writers and at conferences.
3. Understand the meaning of the word “Sales.”
Sales is not about pushing people into doing things. It’s about building relationships. It’s the art of understanding a person’s needs and clearly communicating that you have a product or service that meets those needs. As sole proprietor of a Writing Business, your task is to establish good relationships with all the people who can buy work from you, whether or not they buy the work. Sales is a long-term endeavor. Think in terms of multiple projects, not just this one, especially if you plan to have an extended career.
4. Understand the Sales Process.
There are six main steps required to make a sale. All successful sales people follow these steps. They are:
- Identify the key people who make the buying decisions: Editors, Agents, etc., and qualify them.
- Make contact.
- Re-Qualify them – are they still the right person (their job may have changed)?
- Learn their needs.
- Then, and only then, communicate what your project is (give them your pitch). Make sure to tell them how it fits their needs.
- Close the deal.
5. Making the contact (step 2 of the sales process).
Making contact is tough. Successful sales people know, too, that tough does not equal impossible. As a result, the best sales people have a level of determination that is shocking to ordinary people.
I personally set seven as my minimum number of attempts at making contact. An email that didn’t get an answer? That’s not a “no.” It’s merely attempt one out of seven. On occasion I have followed up repeatedly for two years or more before getting to yes.
5a. But don’t be annoying.
Treat the person on the other end as a human being who deserves consideration and respect. Then guide your actions accordingly. By following these five steps rigorously over the last twenty years, I have enjoyed a flourishing career writing - and selling - everything from picture books to nonfiction to YA fiction. So can you.