It’s Sales Conference Time!

by

Vanessa Di Gregorio

It’s that time of the year again for publishers: Sales Conference time! So I figured now would be the perfect time to talk about a crucial part of my job: what happens each season with new books? How does a selling cycle work?

Sales reps tend to work on a different schedule than everyone else in a publishing house. Editorial, production, and marketing all work together to whip a book into shape. From editing to creating the physical book to planning marketing campaigns, these departments are very much in sync with one another. They take care of the preparation – they develop a book. Once most of that work is well under way, us reps come in and start selling. And because we’re sales reps, we aren’t a part of this developmental process with editorial, production, or marketing; so we walk into a new season blind. Which is why, at the start of each season, we get together with the people who know the book inside and out at something called sales conference.

While I can’t really speak for reps who work in-house, I can talk about what sales conference is like as an agency rep. And though this doesn’t necessarily reflect what a day is like for other sales agencies (I highly doubt anyone devours as much food as we do), a day of sales conference tends to look something like this for me:

– Wake up early
– Eat breakfast, and then head to work early
– Makes notes on publishers’ lists
– SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS!
– Notes, notes, notes
– Eat lunch (yum!)
– More notes
– Then… MORE SNACKS!
– And more notes
– Sneak some snacks for the drive home
– Leave work with head reeling from all the new information
– Repeat each day for 2 weeks

Generally, publishers have 2-3 selling seasons a year: Fall, Spring, and (depending on the size of the publisher), Winter. And we always sell in advance. So, though right now it’s Spring (and I wish the weather reflected that!), we’ve already finished selling all the books coming out in the Spring/Summer. Right now, our sales conference is for the Fall season, which we start selling as soon as sales conference is over. Which, when you think about it, makes sense: we need to start selling books to our accounts, so that when a book DOES come out, the store will have already placed their order and will receive it in time for the release date.

So, just what happens during sales conference (other than copious amounts of eating on my part, and vague note-taking)? Well, as reps, we learn the list. We learn the titles we’ll be talking to our book & gift stores about. We learn what the big titles are, what the house faves are, and what these books are all about. Because while most of the work was being done on these Fall books by everyone else in-house, we were out selling the Spring list. So we learn these lists, and often from the editors. Even though editorial is probably already working on the next season, they are still the ones who know the stories and the authors the best; and they make fantastic presenters of new and upcoming books. But marketing and publicity can often end up presenting as well, because they’ll know how much media attention a book will get. And every now and then, we’ll even have an author come in and talk to us about their book – which is always fantastic!

For me, being an agency rep means I won’t just be selling one publishing house’s list this season. I’ll be selling multiple lists, from multiple publishers (over 50, actually). So sales conference can be pretty overwhelming, because for me it’s two weeks of non-stop information overload. Even as I scribble furiously away into my own catalogues (or type, if I’m using an e-catalogue), there’s no way I’ll know the list right away. Not with over 50 catalogues, and hundreds and hundreds of titles to know about! So even after sales conference, we tend to go over the list (and our notes!) over and over and over again.

How important are our notes? Very. Bookstores don’t need us reading catalogue copy to them: they are perfectly capable of doing that themselves. So our notes give them more information – information that can really be the deciding factor on whether or not they carry the book. And the notes are really crucial in helping us learn our own list(s).

And sales conference is where we can give our input. As reps, we’re the ones who sell the books to the retailers – so we know if a cover will work or not, or if a price is too high, or if something is missing. We are the ones who ultimately have the best idea of whether or not a book will sell. And though we’re the last of a publishing house to know about a book, our input is important. It’s also the time we get to talk to our publishers and report on our sales territories. We’re the middle man between bookstores and publishers. So our role includes letting publishers know what bookstores are saying: what’s selling, what isn’t, what they’re looking for, etc.

So really, sales conference is sitting in a room with other reps and publishing house staff for days on end, offering our feedback and getting excited and pumped for all the new books coming out – and then desperately trying to learn it all before we hit the road. It’s letting publishers know what bookstores are thinking. Sales conference is the start of a new season full of shiny new books – and there really is nothing better than being surrounded by enthusiastic people talking about them. Is it exhausting? Of course! But it’s totally worth it, because it means my job is always changing and always full of new and awesome books.

But now… you’ll have to excuse me while I go run off and stick my head in a bunch of catalogues to learn hundreds and hundreds of titles before I hop in my car and start selling! Eeep!

Vanessa Di Gregorio works in publishing as a sales rep at Ampersand, a book and gift sales agency. She is also a former literary agency intern. When she isn’t out selling books and talking to bookstores, Vanessa can be found over at Something Geeky, GoodreadsTwitter, or writing for Paper Droids.


  

11 Responses to It’s Sales Conference Time!

  1. fishgirl182 May 4 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    thanks for the insight, vanessa. i’ve always wondered what a sales rep really does. it sounds daunting having to learn all of those books and keeping them straight. but snacks always help!

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio
      Vanessa Di Gregorio May 4 2012 at 3:58 pm #

      Thanks! I’m glad you found it interesting! I mean, I personally find what I do interesting… but of course, I’m SUPER biased :p Good to know that I’m not boring people, or talking about something people already know about.

      And YES! Snacks are an absolute MUST! (Only downfall is that I’ve probably put on a few pounds… but once I start lugging my samples around, I’m sure I’ll burn it off :p)

  2. Alex Lidell May 5 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    Thank you for the amazing insight. Question: as a debut author coming out from Penguin in jan, can I have any contact with the sales rep? Will anyone ever tell me who the reps are? Would the rep be annoyed, neutral or glad to, say, get a linkedin message from me. In other words, i would love to talk with a rep about the book and it’s sellable points (or to provide the rep with examples of whatever she thinks the sellable points are) but i don’t know if that’s allowed or one of those taboo things like calling a random editor on the phone and trying to pitch your manuscript!

    thanks
    Alex

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio
      Vanessa Di Gregorio May 10 2012 at 7:40 am #

      Hi Alex,

      Glad you thought so! 🙂

      As for contacting reps:
      Normally, reps don’t have direct contact with authors. Of course, this could be different depending on the publishing house, but the only time I’ve ever been in touch with an author is regarding a book launch event or a trade show – and even then, it’s only with smaller publishers and is incredibly rare. Often, publicists and editors are the ones who communicate directly with authors.

      I’m not sure if anyone would tell you who the reps are, because there are a lot of us. We each cover our own territories across the country, whether we’re US or Canadian reps. So you wouldn’t be talking to one rep only. You’d have to communicate with all of them.

      I will say, though, that sales reps do receive information from publicists and marketing peeps and sales directors. Since reps are often out of the office (or work from home), I’d say your best bet is to talk to your editor about it . If anything, you can always give them your sellable points, and they in turn can bring it up at sales conference, or pass it along to the reps directly. That’s really the best thing I can think of.

      I hope that helps!

  3. Amie Kaufman
    Amie Kaufman May 6 2012 at 8:27 am #

    This is fascinating! I can’t even imagine keeping all that detail in my head — it’s a humbling reminder for authors that there are SO many people out there pushing our book, including many we never meet.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio
      Vanessa Di Gregorio May 10 2012 at 7:25 am #

      It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but really – it’s just the most exciting thing ever, learning about new books! 🙂

  4. Kat Zhang
    Kat Zhang May 7 2012 at 8:33 am #

    Sounds fascinating, V!! I never knew how sales worked 🙂

  5. Susanna Leonard Hill Aug 29 2012 at 7:17 am #

    Wow! What an interesting glimpse into a side of publishing I knew next to nothing about. Thanks so much for showing us how it works, Vanessa! It must be hard to learn all those books every season, but it must be fantastic to have the heads up on everything and get to see and sell all those shiny new books before pretty much anyone else.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio
      Vanessa Di Gregorio Oct 10 2012 at 11:20 pm #

      Thanks Susanna! 😀

      It can sometimes feel a bit like I’m cramming for an exam, and the hardest is whenever we sign on a new publisher and I have to not only learn the new frontlist titles, but also all the backlist!

      And for the most part, I sell without the actual book (except if it’s a picture book, then I have something with me usually). But other than picture books, the only thing I really have to sell with is a catalogue and my notes! 😛

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