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, Goodreads, Twitter, or writing for Paper Droids.