How to Beat Yourself—And How Not To

By: Jeff Herman

People who are overly aggressive do get a bad rap. As an agent and as a person, I don’t like being hounded by salespeople—whether they’re hustling manuscripts or insurance policies. But there are effective ways to be heard and seen without being resented. Virtually anyone can scream loud enough to hurt people’s ears. Only an artist understands the true magic of how to sell without abusing those who might buy. And we all have the gift to become artists in our own ways.

Here’s an example of what not to do:

It’s late in the day and snowing. I’m at my desk, feeling a lot of work-related tension. I answer the phone. It’s a first-time fiction writer. He’s unflinchingly determined to speak endlessly about his work, which I have not yet read.

I interrupt his meaningless flow to explain courteously that while I will read his work, it’s not a good time for me to talk to him. But he will not let me go; he’s relentless. Which forces me to be rude and cold as I say “Bye” and hang up.

I then resent the thoughtless intrusion upon my space and time. And I may feel bad about being inhospitable to a stranger, whatever the provocation.

Clearly, the previous scenario does not demonstrate a good way to initiate a deal. I’m already prejudiced against this writer before reading his work.

Here’s a more effective scenario:

Same conditions as before. I answer the telephone. The caller acknowledges that I must be busy and asks for only 30 seconds of my time. I grant them. He then begins to compliment me; he’s heard I’m one of the best, and so forth. I’m starting to like this conversation; I stop counting the seconds.

Now he explains that he has an excellent manuscript that he is willing to give me the opportunity to read and would be happy to send it right over. He then thanks me for my time and says good-bye.

I hang up, feeling fine about the man; I’ll give his manuscript some extra consideration.

In conclusion, relentless assertiveness is better than relentless passivity. But you want your style to be like Julie Andrews’s singing voice in The Sound of Music, as opposed to a 100-decibel boom box on a stone floor.

Click the link to Purchase a copy of Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents

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