AGENTS Closing the deal


Feeling despondent about the lack of response from agents or publishers? Or maybe you haven’t yet had the courage to submit your work to anyone? Having earned tons of money in a previous existence selling life insurance, Caroline Deacon explains how tried and tested sales techniques could help.


Everyone loves buying from the best salespeople, but what makes them the best? Independence, creativity, imagination, intuition and empathy; responsible for their own success, they’re remunerated on a results basis. This means they need to be self-motivated and self-reliant. Doesn’t that also sound like what you need to be a writer?

But what’s your image of selling? Does Willy Lomax, Arthur Miller’s quietly desperate character in Death of a Salesman spring to mind? Perhaps you imagine a sharp-dresser with enthusiastic banter, who’s going to manipulate you into buying inappropriate products? The truth is more mundane: we are all salespeople persuading partners to agree to a holiday or cajoling kids to help round the house. Learning good sales techniques will simply help you work more effectively.


That image of the arm-twisting smooth talker is part and parcel of the myth “a good salesperson can sell anything”. It’s utter rubbish. To sell successfully you must focus on what your customer wants; and believe in yourself and your product. So how does that apply to writing?


Believe in yourself


I know, I know, salespeople are brimming with self-confidence, right? Wrong. Even top salespeople need to work on their self-confidence. Here’s how they do it.


Start a scrapbook, with images of what you would like to achieve, who you would like to be. What’s your ideal home? Mine is a remote cottage surrounded by mountains and sea. Paste in a newspaper headline “Booker prize goes to….” On the cover of your scrapbook, write “all of this is already mine.”


Have a clear picture of what you want, claims Bruce King in Psycho-selling: Double Your Income From Sales in 8 Weeks, and your subconscious mind will make it happen for you. He calls this Psycho-dynamic Programming. 

It can work for you in other situations, too. Writer’s block? Imagine the perfect ending to your book coming to you in a dream. Picture your elation in the morning. Keep elaborating this mental picture, then go to sleep and see what happens.


You can programme yourself to have a positive mental attitude. Muhammad Ali told himself and everyone he met that he was the greatest, and guess what? That’s what he became. Don’t forget to praise yourself for what you’ve achieved so far – compile a personal record of success and pin it up where you can see it.


Ullapool, Scotland, by Caroline Deacon

Believe in your product


This is a bit harder. How can we ever know if our writing is ‘good enough’? The answer is, we can’t. And your writing can always, always improve. The trick is to put it out there when it’s as good as you can get it. Don’t rely on yourself or your family and friends to know when this is. That’s where SCBWI critique groups and writing partners come in. Get feedback, sit with the feedback, act on the feedback when you’re ready to take it on board. Send your work out when you believe it AND other people believe in it as well.


What your customer wants


Your product is your writing, and you know that’s good. All you need to do is to sell it. That means finding a customer (editor/agent) and selling it to them. And this will all be so much easier if first you do your market research to find out what your customer wants.


Don’t send your work out to hundreds of people. That’s like cold calling, and the odds are soooo stacked against you. All you’re going to achieve is disappointment and loss of confidence. Research the people you want to send your work to. Find out what they like, what they want and who they already represent. (This is a bit of a tricky one. An agent won’t want someone exactly like someone else on their books but at the same time, if their authors are all middle grade fantasy writers, then there is a good chance they want more middle grade fantasy writers not cutting edge urban YA). 

Assuming you don’t want to write to fit an agent/editor, you have to find one to fit you. (And don’t adopt the mindset of "well all their books are about fairies and magic, so it’s about time they took on someone who knows everything there is to know about the industrial revolution and the beginnings of the railways." You can’t browbeat people into changing what they like).


Once you’ve got a short list, then you need to stalk these people until they either get a restraining order against you, or agree to sign you up. (I am just joking of course, but there’s an element of truth here). Follow them on twitter/instagram, etc etc — get to know what they’re doing. If they call out for submissions, then leap in there and go for it. Otherwise, just lurk for a bit. 

Are they going to a conference that you were considering attending? Are they taking part in a pitch event? At the right moment, you want to get in there. You’ll probably only get one chance, so be ready. Tailor your submission to exactly what they want. Mention other authors they represent who you like and/or you are similar to.


 Siglufjordhur, Iceland, by Caroline Deacon

Good sales manner


First impressions are really important in selling. Even though you can’t be seen, you are projecting an image, and the editor/agent will (like all people) buy from someone who sounds like a winner. It’s incredible but true that people buy for emotional reasons, not logical ones. Your editor/agent is going to buy from you because you sound good, they think they can trust you to deliver, and because you sell your idea.




Last but not least, the most efficient and successful salespeople work with referrals, not by cold calling. That means when they’ve had a successful sale, they ask the customer to recommend them. So if one of your fellow writers is already signed up with an agent or editor who is on your list, ask to be introduced!

*Header image by Tita Berredo


Caroline Deacon has worked for a number of years as a journalist writing for popular magazines. She's also written five books on childcare, and Babycalming sold 65,000 copies. She is now writing Young Adult fiction. Read more about using sales techniques to hook an agent on Caroline's blog


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