Life as a Publishing Sales Rep

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?

What sales reps basically do—talk books! Even Stormtroopers want to do my job.

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.

One of my (messy) office bookshelves—5 points if you can find the ARC of Shadow & Bone! :p

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”. 😉


30 Responses to Life as a Publishing Sales Rep

  1. Julie Mar 29 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Hey V, Great post! Your job sounds uber awesome, and I LOVE the (messy) office bookshelf (though I think it was a tad too easy to find the SHADOW & BONE ARC ;)) Thanks for sharing this with us. 🙂

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 29 2012 at 11:03 am #

      You know, I didn’t purposely put SHADOW & BONE there – I just realized it was there after I had taken the picture! 😛

      And thanks! I could’ve gone even more in-depth – maybe I’ll do a “Day in the Life of…” post in the near future!

      • Jill Jun 9 2017 at 7:11 pm #

        I would love to read a day in the life!

  2. katherine s Mar 29 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Your job sounds great! I thought I was the only one having a solo dance party in the car. The SHADOW & BONE ARC was too easy to find. I’m learning a lot about the publishing industry just from being on this site. Thanks for sharing.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 29 2012 at 11:05 am #

      Thanks! I’m really glad we get to share our industry insights 🙂

      And oh, solo dance parties in cars are A MUST! Especially when you’re on the road for hours, and your car is on cruise-control. It’s always a good time :p

      With the pic of my bookshelf, I just sorta realized SHADOW & BONE was visible after I took the picture :p

  3. Sooz Mar 29 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Holy crow, what an awesome post, V. I consider myself pretty knowledgable about the industry, but it looks like I fall into that lump of friends who “know you work in book sales”–I had no IDEA it was so complex. Or how much effect you really do have on sellers (and ultimately buyers).

    GREAT post. Super informative.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 29 2012 at 11:11 am #

      😀 Thanks Sooz!

      I always forget that there was a time when I had absolutely NO idea what a sales rep does – and now I just can’t picture the industry without them. So I sometimes forget that other people probably have no clue what I do.

      I’m thinking I might do a “Day in the Life of…” post about my job, because it really is MORE than just the vague notion of “selling”. I think the different ways we sell is pretty awesome (but… I suppose I’m kinda biased, haha!)

      Oh, and I wish I had taken a picture of my car – it is just ready to EXPLODE it has so much stuff in it!

  4. Erin Bowman Mar 29 2012 at 10:04 am #

    What a great post, V! Thank you so much for sharing all these insights, and, as a soon-to-be-published author, “Thank you for doing what you do best!” 😀

  5. JoSV Mar 29 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    We love sales reps! Seriously, I can’t tell you how much reps have made a difference for some of our books. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a few of them, and I couldn’t thank them enough for all of the hard work.

    Thanks for posting about this, V! I don’t think enough people realize all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on.


    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 29 2012 at 9:39 pm #

      Thanks Jo! 😀

      I’ve always thought my job was pretty awesome, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so!

  6. Yahong Mar 29 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    Um, can you say “new dream job”? I’ve always thought that I’d like to work in marketing for the publishing industry, and this one sounds (at least somewhat) up the same alley! 😀 (…Though I’m pretty sure I’d love any job in the publishing industry. Talking about books 24/7 = so much heaven.) Thanks for the description, Vanessa. Now I know what I’m heading for. 😛

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 29 2012 at 9:42 pm #

      Awww, thank you! And actually, your tweet to me was what prompted me to do this post!

      Before getting into sales, I thought about marketing as well – and I’m lucky that I get to do some for the sales agency I work for (I work on the website and do a lot of design for them). But sales is great if you don’t like being cooped up in an office 24/7 – plus, you build such great relationships with accounts!

      I’m really glad you found the post useful! 😀

  7. Leigh Bardugo Mar 29 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    GREAT post and I would love to see a “Day in the Life” type post as well. I still feel like so many areas of publishing are completely opaque to me. Very cool to get to know the people making it work!
    And hey, nice book shelf 😉

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 29 2012 at 9:46 pm #

      Hahahaha – thanks! :p

      Before I took a publishing program at school, I didn’t really know a lot about it – except that books were made. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes, and I’ve always been fascinated by it!

      And I definitely will do a “Day in the Life” type post – complete with a picture of all the catalogues I lug about! (And my car, which I basically live in half the time).

  8. Krispy Mar 29 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Vanessa! I too was wondering what exactly your job entails and while it does sound tiring, it also sounds awesome! I love talking to people about books! 🙂

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 29 2012 at 9:50 pm #

      I know it’s easy to think of sales people as being pushy and annoying, but in publishing, booksellers can return books – so it really does become a relationship where trust is important. And, of course, we gush about books. And I really can’t think of anything better, you know?

      The best part is when my excitement gets a buyer excited about a book. Or when we can exchange recommendations. It’s just plain awesome!

  9. Kaye M. Mar 30 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    Gah. Despite the time and effort involved, that still sounds like a dream job to me. I actually have a friend who has her heart set on doing something in the publishing industry, so I’ll send this her way. I’m pretty happy just being a writer, but it’s good to know that there are other awesome things to do with equally awesome books!

    Great post 😉

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Apr 2 2012 at 10:20 am #

      Awww, thanks Kaye! It definitely feels like a dream job, despite all the craziness 🙂 Plus, book people are the best people! It’s always a blast talking to them!

      I think it’s great that your friend wants to end up in the publishing industry! Her best bet is to take publishing classes, and get an internship somewhere – it’s really all about meeting the right people 🙂

  10. Barbara McDowell Whi Jun 14 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    Vanessa, I read Nina Amir’s post in which she wrote about talking with publishing representatives about her book ideas at BookExpo America which caused me to think about how these days we hear “author,” “agent,” “editor” again and again but don’t often hear about publishers’ reps. That prompted me to do the following Google search: what do publishing representatives do? Your post came up first. Thank you for tapping into my memory box.

    Before you and many of your readers were born I spent four years as an educational consultant working with textbook company sales representatives. We sold textbooks to schools. One of my responsibilities was to help teachers become familiar with our books. I had a car trunk full of books – and, yes, the catalogs (and brochures). Sometimes I gave presentations about the features of a reading or handwriting program. When I traveled on my own to small towns in nine states I used to locate the water tower as often a school would be near it.

    In closing, I must say there is something going on here. You ended your post with “You’re welcome.” Today – 40 years after the events in my previous paragraph were ending for me – a young couple left the table next to my husband’s and mine. She said, “Have a nice day,” to which I replied, “You’re welcome.”

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Oct 10 2012 at 11:33 pm #

      Hi Barbara!

      It’s amazing how reps are the most invisible in publishing, but are also the ones actively driving around and meeting people face to face.

      Today, there is talk of whether or not sales reps are even necessary anymore – publishers are cutting their sales forces, with the belief that the internet makes their jobs unnecessary. I disagree with that, and think that reps are just as important today as they were 40 years ago – especially with all the information overload!

      Anyways, I’ve started to ramble, but I wanted to say thank you for sharing your experience! I can definitely relate to full car trunks! 🙂

  11. Levi Sep 30 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Hey Vanessa! Thanks for the great post. I am currently a graduate assistant and teacher in a Spanish program here in Arizona. I am in my last year and exploring other industries that make sense for someone with my background (I do NOT want to continue teaching). Any advice on some of the best companies to work as a sales rep for? I am considering academic textbook companies like Pearson and Cengage Learning, but I would definitely venture out if possible…. Thanks!!!

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Oct 10 2012 at 11:37 pm #

      Hi Levi!

      Unfortunately, I can’t really offer advice on which companies would be best to work for – especially in the States (since I’m up in Canada). It also depends on what types of books you’re interested in. Enjoying the books that you sell can really make a difference.

      Academic publishing reps make a lot more money than trade publishing reps, and publishing isn’t where you’re going to find much money. So if money is important, textbook sales is the way to go.

      Sorry I couldn’t be of more help!

      • ahmed hafez Jan 8 2013 at 10:00 am #

        thats it …..vaness got the pict of reps life ….

  12. Jenifer Shu Nov 1 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    Hi Vanessa,

    I’ve recently been looking to get into sales for publishing companies and etc. Do you have any good advice and which route to go or even how to find the companies to apply for… any advice?

  13. ahmed hafez Jan 8 2013 at 9:57 am #

    so great post……………. me the same as you Vaness …..academic sales rep but specialised in higher education….it is extremely cool job.
    i wonder if there would b any kinda co business we can make.this is ma contact details

  14. Sriram Venk Sep 15 2013 at 2:54 am #

    Great post! I had a selfish motive to discover and read this blog.. here goes…

    I am working on a cause , which makes sales people look more human. As part of this we want some exciting stories which makes sales people look very very human. Have shared the link of this article in my Facebook page.

    If you want to support the cause , please do like the page , would love if you can contribute some interesting anecdotes!

  15. Michelle Hirstius Apr 16 2015 at 12:49 pm #

    Hello, great piece!!!! I am a New Orleans author/illustrator and self-publisher of the children’s book series “Juju the GOOD voodoo”. Being a self-publisher is extremely hard since you wear ALL hats! I am trying to find some help in getting my books out to a larger audience than South Louisiana… I understand since Katrina my hometown people have moved everywhere in the country, especially the Houston area… My books are like nothing else and I have a unique character… since the hype of “Swamp People” and “Duck Dynasty” I feel that my books would be of interest to all of USA!

    I can not pay a set salary but very willing to pay a commission on books sold, do you know of anyone that would like to work with a children’s book author in sales?

    I have been doing these books on my own since 2012 and have personally sold to customers directly and stores, my sales are well over 6000 copies. I have been on local TV, magazines, newspaper (online as well)….

    Would love to speak with someone… Also, can pay commission on books sold at school readings which average 12 to 30 per visit for just afew phone calls…

    Thanks so much…. /

    Any advice or help is much appreciated 🙂

  16. Chris Feb 1 2019 at 4:04 pm #

    This was so helpful for me. May I ask what your major (and minor, if you had one) was? Is an English major and Business minor a pretty good foundation for this sort of a career?

  17. Chris Feb 1 2019 at 5:37 pm #

    I forgot to add in the above comment, when you meet with booksellers, do you have to do a presentation and really be a salesperson about it, almost like a sales pitch? Or is it a more relaxed thing where the buyer more or less already knows what he wants, and you just help him find it? I understand it’s social, but it is like a live commercial?

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