Life of a Saleswoman

I was the Girl Scout who sold the fewest cookies. When my school asked students to sell Christmas cards for its building fund, I knocked on all of two doors. I could dance, act or speak in public without a flutter of stage fright, but facing a neighbor at her front door and telling her I was selling something filled me with dread. I was sure I was bothering her.

Needless to say, as a young adult, I planned my career in performing arts, not sales. Then I moved to Virginia to be with a boyfriend and we broke up. There I was, with a degree in theatre and dance and no money to move again. I passed the state insurance exam and went to work for a company that sold supplemental disability policies for auto accidents. The job sounded stable and professional. I had no idea what I’d gotten into.

My boss assigned me to ride around out in the country to hamlets like Frog Level, being trained in door-to-door sales by a huge mustachioed man in a plaid suit. I wish I could use his real name, it was so funny—I’ll call him Don Duck, though. It’s close enough. He drove under the speed limit, his big belly up to the wheel, serene as a smiling Buddha, teaching me the Dharma of Selling. “Ask for the sale.” “Agree with their objections. You’ll break down those objections, but do it so they don’t notice.” “Get them to agree with you.” People would pass him on those two-lane roads, giving him the finger for his slowness, and he’d say cheerfully, “Must be in some kind of hurry.”

He seemed happy. Our boss, though, was tense and smarmy, proud of the twists and turns he could take to avoid paying when people got hurt. (“Did you walk to your mailbox to get your check?” “Yes.” “Great, glad you’re feeling better. That’s your last check.”) When a policy had to pay out, he would grumble, “Don never should have sold those people.” If I found selling those cards and cookies hard, imagine how tough it was for me to knock on doors for a manager like that. I quit.

My next job was with a lingerie company as a model and salesperson, part-time with no benefits. We did fashion shows of elegant nightgowns—and also teddies and corsets-with-garters and thigh-high hose. Nothing showed that wouldn’t show in a bathing suit, but the setting had a whole different mood than a beach: hotel bars. I learned to twirl on my toe while shedding a sheer peignoir down my back to reveal the teddy, looking over my shoulder, the peignoir hanging from one finger—hokey, but I was an actor and it was a role I could play. Mingling with the audience to pitch the products after the shows, I was great at shooting the breeze, making jokes that were just risqué enough while still being a lady, channeling Mae West into my far from West-like form. My boss said I could, in her words, “sell ice cubes to Eskimos.” Not true. I could sell lingerie in a bar while wearing it.

One of the customers at a show thought I had such sales skill he offered me a job with his office supply company. I needed benefits, so I took it. This was before online ordering, back when sales reps and middlemen were the norm. Discouraging is an understatement—I was driving around gritty industrial neighborhoods with my catalog of office supplies trying to get office managers to place orders with us when I knew full well our company had nothing to offer that was better than our competitors. Hello. Our product line is limited and our service is slower and more expensive. Please buy from us. I couldn’t sell those ice cubes anymore, and I could see where I’d be headed once I was off probation and on commission.

I thought my selling days were over when I got a theater job and worked for ten years as actor and choreographer. Then, in one of my periodic self-reinventions, I went back to college and got two more degrees and my various fitness certifications, and eventually opened my own yoga and personal training studio. What was I thinking? I had to market it.

It started off well. Word of mouth was good, and I gave away some great T-shirts. (This was in a small North Carolina town, so they said “Down Om Yoga” on the back.) People are funny about fitness and stress management, though. When they get stressed out and need it the most, they stop. I forgot the Dharma of Sales and didn’t ask them to commit, though it would have been good for their health as well as my bottom line. I agreed with their objections and stopped there. It was a sad day when I closed my studio. A friend in Norfolk tried to reassure me that I’d done the best I could in that location, saying, “If you’d had a truck wash and gun-cleaning service along with the yoga, you’d still be in business.” But I couldn’t help thinking that if I’d been a better salesperson, I could have kept the place alive.

As a college professor, I don’t have to sell my yoga classes anymore. I don’t have to market anything. My selling days could finally be over. But no—I’m a writer. Unless an author is with one of the big publishing houses and has a publicist who does the shameless commerce for her, she has to be her own marketing department. Except for my peculiar genius for selling sexy nighties in a bar, I haven’t been a stellar saleswoman in the past. Why is this so hard? I need to get back in the car with Don Duck …

“Agree with their objections.” He eases off the gas, taking a curve past a bait shop and gas station. “They say they never heard of you? Yep. It’s true. They’re in for a good surprise, though, and they can brag about discovering you. What else do they say?” Don grins and loosens his tie. “They’re afraid they might not like it. Lordy. I know the feeling. I read a book I didn’t like once, and it gave me a headache. I read some I thought I wouldn’t like, though, and man, they won me over—kept me reading all night. I especially like those e-books that only cost me as much as a latté. I kick myself when I spend that much on a fancy cup of coffee, but not a book. I get into a book and my wife keeps saying say, ‘Don, turn off the light,’ and I say, ‘One more chapter,’ and it’s two more, three more … I never had a damned latté keep me up that long. Coffee wore off in a few hours. A good book—that’s forever. And I liked some of those characters better than my wife.” He glances my way, popping a mint in his mouth. “You got that? Agree with their objections. But then meet them and ask for the sale.”

I shrink into my seat. “Oh, Don, I’m sure you’re right … But I can’t. I’d be bothering people.”

“What’s the matter with you? You’ve won awards, you’ve got good reviews …” He sighs, shaking his head. “If you won’t get out there and sell your books, you’ll just have to give ’em away.”

Ah. That, I can do.

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You don’t have long—just a few days—so do it now. Send an e-mail to with the heading Blog Follower. Let me know which blog or blogs you follow (I have four*), and I’ll enter you in the give-away. I will reply confirming your entry. You can ask to subscribe to my new release mailing list at the same time if you want, but I will not automatically subscribe you. Fear no spam. It’s not coming.

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*The four blogs are: a blog about the mysteries of life and reviews of mysteries set in New Mexico. a blog dedicated to supporting and reviewing the work of indie authors who publish everywhere, not just Amazon. (It started as my Nook book shopping list and grew.) a group blog with seven other women who write mysteries. a book review blog covering everything I read, from yoga philosophy to cozy mysteries to literary fiction to thrillers and more.

6 thoughts on “Life of a Saleswoman

  1. What a funny post! I can visualize the lingerie modeling. But I’m sure I sold fewer Girl Scout cookies than you did. I lived in the country with only three houses in easy walking distance so those were my only customers. I’d be a washout in retail. But yes, as writers we’re also marketers as well. Maybe if I threw in a box of cookies with each book sale?????

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  2. OMG! I’m that bad about selling too! Only I was sent out alone in a very rural, unsavory area to sell vacuums. I didn’t make any money because I couldn’t sell expensive vacuums to the people who lived where they did because it was cheap. Great experiences to bring to your books!


  3. Amber, I LOVE this story! I can just picture you, driving slow in that teddy… Or something like that. Working in sales is not fun, not for me. I only wish I had your experiences!


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