The Successful Agent


Knowing How. You have been appointed one of our agents, and we take it for granted that you intend to succeed. This is right. But you must also know how. We can show you how if you will let us. Will you do this? If so, and you will PRACTICE what you learn, we unhesitatingly promise you success.

Canvassing includes five progressive steps taken in the following natural order:
First:--Thorough preparation.
Second:--Securing influence.
Third:--Gaining a hearing.
Fourth:--Creating a desire.
Fifth:--Taking the order.

Something that will Surprise You. You think very highly of your book. Of course you do, or you would not canvass for it. You will be surprised, therefore, to be told that you do not more than half appreciate it. Yet the chances are twenty to one that such is the case. And this is no reflection upon either your intelligence or your good faith. It is simply another way of saying that you have not yet thoroughly studied your book. You must be interested yourself, or you cannot interest others; and the way for you to become interested, is to KNOW your book THOROUGHLY.

Command of what You Know. What an array of STRONG POINTS you will discover your book to possess! By "strong points," we mean interesting features, valuable features, features that will help you sell it. But can you properly impress your views on others? Unless you are an apt salesman, and have experience besides, you can not. You have yet to acquire perfect mastery of what you know, and this can only come from PRACTICE. Remember that in canvassing you must think rapidly, talk fluently, and show your book to the best advantage; and all this, too, without apparent effort.

Influential Names to Head your List. These you must secure, cost what effort it may. Right here is the GREAT TURNING POINT OF SUCCESS. Every old Agent understands this perfectly. Do not imagine that you are smart enough, or lucky enough to prove an exception to the invariable rule. You are not. Start right. Get a few leading names to head your list, and your success is assured. This is not theory. It is a fact, philosophy, UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE. Society everywhere follows its leaders. The great majority of people are afraid to trust their own unaided judgment about buying a book; but show them that Dr. A. and Rev. Mr. B., or Judge C. and Professor D., or Colonel E. and Esquire F. -- or better still, all of these -- have taken your work, and you will decide them immediately. They will feel really proud to be on your list in such company.

Keep a Good Heart and be Careful. Do not be discouraged if you should not get the names of all those you first selected to head your list. Perhaps you have enough as it is; if not, select others, and secure them. But on no account permit yourself to begin with inferior names; and if, by chance, any such should offer at this stage, have them put down on the third or fourth page of your order book. If one of the most influential "leaders" happens to be out of town, reserve a line for his name at the head of the list. When you at last find him, you can turn this to good account, and make of it an extremely neat and effective compliment.

Testimonials. Secure all of these that you can, from persons of influence at every stage of the canvass, but especially in starting. They carry the most weight when written on a separate sheet, but it will sometimes be easier to get them by handing your order book to the individual, and letting him write in that what he wishes to say. Testimonials should always be brief and to the point. Two or three strong, ringing adjectives, in characterizing your book, are worth more than a page of description of it. Always be ready to suggest the wording of a testimonial yourself, in case you should be called upon, or find it advisable to do this.

How to Carry Your Outfit. Gentlemen should have a large pocket on the inside of the coat, directly under the arm, in which to carry it. This will not only be very convenient, but serve to keep out of sight what might excite prejudice, by telling in advance what your business is, and thus preventing you from obtaining a fair hearing. To make such a pocket, without cutting the garment, make a bag large enough for the book, and put two button-holes hear the upper edge; then sew two buttons on the inside of your garment, and button the bag on.

Lady agents should carry their outfit in a satchel under a loose wrap.

Keep the Book in Your Own Hands. Possession is power. Surrender the book, and you lose the power of showing it. You will be led, instead of leading. This you must NEVER willingly permit. Strive to "keep the upper hand" all through. As nearly as possible, do all the thinking, talking, deciding, that there is to be done, yourself. Aim to make your INFLUENCE a controlling one.

Making the Most of Your Points. Not all your points will tell as you thought they would. But some of them will, and this is all you want. Books are seldom bought for what they are as a whole, but for some particular feature or features they contain. And tastes differ. Acquire the faculty of judging beforehand what will most strike different kinds of customers. Many subscribe because their neighbors have done so. The array of signatures brings to your aid the mighty influence of example, and has a kind of mesmeric power. MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR SUBSCRIPTION LIST IN ALL CASES. It will generally do more than all your previous talking.

What Binding to Sell. If your book is published in several bindings, always sell one of the higher priced ones, if possible. There is no better evidence of good work in canvassing, than a large percentage of orders for the finer bindings. These not only pay the Agent far the best, but the CUSTOMER is invariably better satisfied with his bargain.

Your Manner and Address. Much depends upon these--more, perhaps, than upon anything else, or all things else combined. Your bearing should be open, frank, and manly, as of one who feels the true nobleness of his calling--never that of crouching servility or testiness, nor yet of overbearing and dogmatism. Show that you believe heartily in your book yourself, and are conscious of being engaged in an honorable and laudable undertaking in aiding its circulation.

The Secret of Large Profits. Canvass closely, thoroughly, exhaustively. This is the great secret of money-making in the book business. It may require much longer to canvass a given territory than you expected. Never mind; take the time. Your business is not getting over territory. It is selling books, and the more books you can place in a given area, the more money you will make. Nearly all beginners in this business work too fast. Guard this point. Do not slight one family, office, store, or shop because you think yourself hurried. And see that you spend enough time in each to show your book properly.

After canvassing a town or village, do not fly off at a tangent to some remote portion of your field, but continue working gradually outward, first on one road, and then on another. By this means you will keep constantly where your subscribers are well known, and where the INFLUENCE OF YOUR SUBSCRIPTION LIST will, therefore, be of the greatest value to you. Show a man the names of half his neighbors upon your book, and you bring to bear a tremendous leverage upon him; but twice as many names from another locality may fail to move him at all.


Do Not Be in a Hurry to Begin Delivering. New agents very frequently want to begin delivering books as soon as they have canvassed three or four days, or a week, and obtained from twenty to thirty subscribers. This is a grand mistake. The way to make the business pay is to do it on a wholesale scale, to the utmost possible extent, and not fritter away time and labor by doing everything in a petty way. The saving of expense (in freights, etc.) is only one of the minor advantages which you will gain by ordering and delivering in lots as large as possible. The greatest gain, perhaps, will be your saving of time. Remember, canvassing is your main business; delivering is an interruption. One delivery of a 100 books will yield you a net profit from two to four times greater than ten deliveries of 10 books each. Professional canvassers generally work up an entire town or township, before ordering books.


The Philosophy of Delivering. This is very simple, viz.: There is a contract existing between your subscriber and yourself. You perform your part of this contract by delivering the book. You expect him to fulfill his part by receiving and paying therefor. It is purely a business transaction. Never treat it by word, look or manner, as though it could possibly be anything else. Never say, "I have brought your book; I hope you are ready to take it;" nor anything of similar import. Never let a customer impose upon your good nature, or "back out" from his bargain on any pretext, except for reasons the most conclusive, and based on circumstances for which he is in no wise responsible.

Serving the Book. Let your manner be courteous, but thoroughly self-possessed and decided. In a word, be business-like. Never show the least misgiving that the customer will give you trouble. Say that you have brought his book, as per agreement, and he will find it a treasure indeed (or something of that kind). Look him full in the face and hand him the book.

If you are told that people won't buy anything now-a-days that they can't use, call to mind the useful and valuable features of your book.

If you are told that so many books are being canvassed for in this community, etc., set this down (if true) as an evidence that there is an interest in books there. All the better chance for the agent with the best and most useful book. Frequent buyers are the most intelligent buyers.

[From Hamlin Hill, Mark Twain and Elisha Bliss (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1964).]