Traditional Publishing

What’s the Selling Attitude?

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach – Saturday April 1, 2023

I had a client at one time (writing of course) who forever insisted she was going to sell. Someone must have told her to be relentlessly positive, but her words rang out a false note when she pursued that stance. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but not only did I disbelieve her, but I found her Mistress of the Universe tone somehow irritating. She seemed to be hammering away at the question of placing her work rather than the issue of how to write a novel that was worth selling—pursuing her craft.

Don’t get me wrong. After writing a good novel, the objective is placing the novel and receiving the payoff. We all want that. The money (some money, anyway), the accolades…the money. We want readers.

But is being positive enough after writing a pretty darn good novel?

Not really. Norwegian author Nobel winner Knut Hamsun in his ccelebrated1890 semiautobiographical novel Hunger gives us a protagonist who is not just ignored by the publishers but is literally starving to death. American Western writer Zane Grey wasn’t starving—he was a dentist—but the eventual author of the bestselling Riders of the Purple Sage fell into despair after several of his novels were rejected (still, he didn’t quit). And my favorite of the stories about the old novelists’ hardships comes in George Gissing’s 1891 New Grub Street about his struggles to be recognized alongside the hack writers in literary London. His novel among the other two mentioned above is still in print—impossible but true.

You can find plenty of contemporary stories as well of failing writers who came out on top—Stephen King, who didn’t have a real pair of shoes when he was in college, only galoshes, and who tried to throw out the first pages of his spectacular Carrie (1974), but then his wife rescued them from the garbage. J. K. Rowling, of course, was on British welfare as a single mother after a disastrous divorce. Now a billionaire from her seven Harry Potter books, another book Rowling submitted recently under a pseudonym was rejected (proving something).

The Selling Part
So now you want to know not how all these people failed, but how they sold, and sold brilliantly. I wanted to know, too. I had a pretty good couple of years, and for me “pretty good” was selling to places where other authors I knew would see my stories and where even if no one saw my tomes I would make a bit of money that could be cobbled together to earn a living. I explained this to a woman I pal around with who is something of a metaphysician—that is, she studies how the universe works, which is a science I’d dearly like to dig to the bottom of.

“I work hard at selling,” I told her. “I go through market lists and submit about 10 pieces of work—stories and novels—every week. But those aren’t the material that has been selling for me. I have a lot of exceptional works that haven’t sold. I mean exceptional—old, unsold tales that make me cry and that seem flawless. These sales I enjoyed more recently simply came out of the blue.”

I wasn’t defying her to explain my successes, or my failures, but I wouldn’t mind if she was able to. Perhaps going forward, I could have better stats. (By the way, for many years, I earned a decent living as a writer, but of nonfiction, not of fiction, fiction seeming to me a much harder expectation.)

“Out of the blue,” she said. “That’s what the sales seem like to you. But if you were actually able to see and trace the steps that led to those sales, you’d realize something was behind all those: the old editor who came to you for a story, how that friend of yours told you about a winning market… And maybe even how you could cultivate more such happy accidents out of nowhere.”

I thought about how these occurrences might have come about. My friend and I talked now and again, but regularly. Before Covid, we had met every couple of months for lunch and talked about the markets. I went out of my way to see her. I admired her writing and encouraged her honestly. She had a newer piece she was trying to sell that I thought had very sellable qualities. If she called and wanted advice, I gave her my honest opinion. After she shared the hot market with me and I was paid, I sent her an Amazon gift certificate. When I was asked for a story by the old editor, I shared that market with her. 

Regarding the story I placed with the old editor, I followed through on all the pieces of the puzzle and made the changes he requested. I told him about two writers (including my friend) who might want to contribute stories.

So obviously networking had very much to do with my sales. I had even gotten together with the old editor in the first place due to networking. Another friend of mine had given me his name when he was seeking stories previously. I’ve known this other friend for years and we, too, had lunch every once in a while.

But neither writing great stories nor networking will turn the trick in every situation. And some writers out of the geographic or social mainstream have no one to network with. So going back to my metaphysical friend, I asked her what I could do to foster more sales by having a peek at the nature of reality and applying that.

Working With the Universe
That was where she herself was coming from in her own line of working with clients. Unlike the woman I used to counsel regarding her writing, she goes low key, insisting on nothing, but sliding along with the flow. “Maybe you aren’t supposed to rely on your writing for your livelihood,” she said. “Maybe the answer is something else—though maybe a dazzling career in fiction does lie ahead. Inquire of the universe.” She looked at me to see if I thought she was crazy.

“Let it go, while feeling confident in your abilities and the ability of the universe to deliver. The contacts are out there, waiting for you. Nothing can stop those contacts from coming to be if you’re meant to go in that direction. Trust. Have faith as a mustard seed—tiny but complete and with enormous potential. Be positive and trusting. Nothing can stand in your way if this is what’s meant for you. Hold the thoughts easy, but without negative niggles. The right openings will flow along—can’t be stopped if they’re for you. Don’t push or pull, just accept that the best can come. Deep acceptance without insistence. That’s the attitude.”

I’ll let you know how it goes.

About the Author

G. Miki Hayden, who sold an action-adventure trilogy this past year, has a thriller class starting even as we speak at Writer's Online Workshops from Writer's Digest at Her two writing instructionals are Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional and The Naked Writer: A Comprehensive Writing Style Guide . One won an award, but buy them both.