Every professional writer is selling.

Their work is their product. They have to build their brand, push their product, and get it in the hands of publishers and readers.

The Great Gatsby author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In 1938, The Great Gatsby author, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a letter to an up and coming author, Frances Turnbull about his work, advising him ways to write better and sell better.

There are 4 lessons a modern-day sales rep should carry over from this letter. Full transcript below.

1: Sell your heart

Fitzgerald understood the ability to connect with a reader — or in our case, a buyer. When we call prospects everyday, helping them feel the pain your product solves is vital. Do this by selling with your heart. Your product solves a problem, wrap that problem and the feelings associated with it, in a conversation so your prospect can feel what you do.

2. You only have emotions to sell.

When you initiate your first call, you don’t have a demo, marketing collateral, or anything else. All you have is yourself and your emotions. Sell them, get to the next step in the sales cycle…hopefully that includes marketing collateral, a demo, and a great product.

3. Tell stories to connect.

It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

Fitzgerald uses examples from Dickens, Hemingway, and himself as ways to tell a story to connect with the reader. In sales, stories are powerful. Learn how to tell them…with emotion.

4. Talent only gets you so far. 

You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

Being a great speaker or insanely smart doesn’t make a great sales rep. The ability to connect with your reader/buyer by developing an emotional connection does. Keep practicing your sales skills, use emotion to connect with your buyer and keep us updated on how it goes.

—- Full transcript —-

(Source: F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters; Image: F. Scott Fitzgerald, via.)

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

— End Transcript—

(h/t Letters of Note)