Ah, publishing. The glamorous life of schmoozing with authors, publishing great books, lounging around in comfortable chairs reading for hours on end, and attending a whole lot of parties and events. Right?
Generally, when people think of the publishing industry, they think of writers and editors. When writers think of the publishing industry, they think of literary agents and editors and bookstores and that damn slush pile. And even if you don’t really realize it, all those ads on Goodreads, and book cover designs, and author blog tours, and reviews/book excerpts in magazines are the work of people in the marketing and publicity departments. Even production is visible, because without it you wouldn’t be holding a finished, bound copy in your hands. There is recognition in publishing; a book is not the sole effort of the author.
So just what, exactly, do I do? Half my friends don’t even know—except that I work in sales with books.
Cause after a book is released into the wild, then what? We all know sales from the retail perspective—just think of when you purchase a book from a store. But just what does a publishing sales rep do?
To be honest, when I first started out in this industry, I had no clue. My dream job was the same as the majority of other people who want to work in publishing: editorial. And when I realized an editorial job was near impossible with all the competition, I decided to open up my options.
And so I looked into working in sales. I don’t think I realized that publishers had sales reps who went to accounts (bookstores, wholesalers, gift stores, etc) and sold them their list. Sold them books that they, in turn, would sell to the general public. I don’t know what I thought—maybe that if a book was published, people just magically carried it. I didn’t realize you had to sell to the sellers.
Sales reps can either be in-house employees for publishing houses (often called house reps, and are often reps for larger publishing houses), or are commission reps working for themselves, or work for a commissioned sales agency that represents a number of publishers (like I do). I’m lucky to be working for a sales agency repping some of the best publishers out there. Over 50 of them. And my job is to pick out what books will work for certain stores, and which books deserve to be highlighted. My job is to get people excited. In a way, you could say that my job is to talk to people about books—a lot.
As sales reps, we are social—we have to be, since we’re constantly meeting with buyers and talking about books. But being a sales rep can also be a pretty solitary business, in that we spend hours and hours in our cars, traveling from bookstore to bookstore (which has led to many a solo dance party in my car). There are nights spent away from home at hotels (I missed my husband’s birthday this year, for example), book fairs that are crazy busy and utterly exhausting, and days where the only thing piling up on your office desk is dust while you’re away.
But selling is fantastic. Selling means talking to people about great books. It means getting excited about a new list every season (of which there are 2 or 3, depending on the publisher), and making an impact on the people who, in turn, impact your average reader just by shelving a book in their store. It means grabbing a coffee, chatting, going through catalogues and samples, and learning what some book and gift stores have preferences for. As a sales rep working for publishers, it’s my job to study our publishers’ lists and catalogues book by book and to find homes for books in stores. As a sales rep working for booksellers, it’s my job to help wade through the enormous amount of books being published each season, highlighting the titles they need. I put the books out there—I can give the little guys a chance. And I think that’s pretty amazing. Will everyone listen to me, or have the same taste as me? Probably not. But I can try my damn hardest to get a book on the shelves if I really believe in it.
So those editors who sit in a chair for hours and hours, working on an author’s manuscript? I might not be that person, but I am one of those people convincing stores to stock and sell books. And to all you published and soon-to-be published authors out there—on behalf of sales reps everywhere, I’d like to say, “You’re welcome”. 😉