Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sales Rep Love

This blog posting by a bookseller, about how publisher sales reps interact with bookstore buyers is priceless information. Read it, learn it, live it.

32 comments:

literaticat said...

oh, thanks for the link. what a great article.

I am a buyer and I LOVE MY SALES REPS!!!

*heart*

honestly, authors for the most part have no clue how books get from their brains onto my shelves - this sort of article is a great window into our world.

Anonymous said...

I heard that reps now work for more than one company at a time. Can that be right?! It was bad enough contemplating them hawking all the books in all the imprints at a single giant company.

Anonymous said...

I have one thing to say with all the over analyzing of
marketing, promotion - the cream eventually rises to the top. If a book is really good it won't get lost.

literaticat said...

anon 9:35 -

some reps are in-house reps that work for one publisher. in the case of a mid-sized pub, they might rep ALL the publisher's imprints for a given territory. the scholastic rep, for example, covers PUSH as well as ORCHARD.

however in the case of larger publishers, like random house, they'll have a few in-house reps for a territory - perhaps one does all the hardback fiction and non-fic, one does paperbacks and cookbooks and stuff, and one does childrens books.

still other reps are sorta like freelancers - we call them "commission reps." some smaller publishers, like candlewick for example, hire commission reps rather than have their own in-house sales force.

these people may rep many small pubs at the same time. they are not better or worse, or even particularly different, than "regular" reps - they have to know the lines they represent, and the people that they are selling to, just as much as in-house reps do.

christine tripp said...

marketing, promotion - the cream eventually rises to the top. If a book is really good it won't get lost.

We all would like to think that but I'm afraid if that were true, publishers would save all that money they pay out to their marketing people and sales reps and just throw their new releases to the winds and let them fall where they may.

Anonymous said...

marketing, promotion - the cream eventually rises to the top. If a book is really good it won't get lost.

I have to agree with Christine. All of what's on the top isn't cream. Why would all of what's on the bottom be the skim milk? The whole point of marketing is to position books. If word-of-mouth in some form (of which marketing is one) wasn't necessary to prevent a book from tanking, nobody'd spend the money.

Anonymous said...

I so agree with Christine and Anon 8:52.

My hardcover book from a major publisher tanked big time because the only publicity it got was for it to be printed in their catalogue. Big deal. It had a specific audience and that audience was not tapped. In a few instances I received emails from a book reviewer and a school book fair organizer who said they'd love to read it but hadn't found it at the Book Expo or ALA. I sent many copies at my own expense and got very postitive responses.

Eventually, though, Barnes and Noble decided not to stock it on their shelves -- citing a lack of publicity!!!

Hard for people to buy your book if it isn't on a bookself, no?

It's great if a sales rep loves you book and you love sales reps but certain books get pushed and pushed while others fall wayside with nary a chance to even GET on a shelf, because of which they, gasp, don't sell!

I'm over it now, but part of me wishes that publishers stopped buying books they have no intention to market. Why bother? In hindsight, I should have saved that book for a rainy day and focused on writing a a big hook, commercial book. Those are the ones that get marketing dollars, regardless of how banal the writing.

I get tired of publishing blogs were glossy-eyed writers say such things as "the cream rises to the top" and everyone nods in agreement. No. The books that rise to the top are lead titles, that are pushed by the publishing house, because the writer was paid a huge advance and the publising house has to promote the book or they'll lose the money.

Anonymous said...

As with most things it's ridiculous to see this all one way or the other. The cream doesn't always rise to the top but neither do the sour grapes. It's is possible--and it does happen--that good books find their place with little to no marketing beyond cataloging. I work for a publisher with little to no marketing budgets and we have successful books that booksellers and librarians seek out. Sometimes books don't do well for reasons other than marketing, and authors aren't always able to be objective about those reasons.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Anon 10:08.

I went to my big-city Barnes and Noble recently after all the discussion here and checked to see which titles were "face out." I was pleased to see a range of books, some grossly commercial, some absolutely beautiful, and a surprising portion (almost half) from small publishers.

And I appreciate the link, EA. Very illuminating!

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:08 -- I'm the sour grapes Anon in the post above yours. Kudos to you if your small-press books are able to be successful with nothing more than a book catalogue as a point of marketing. Likewise, with the limited prints of a small press, your catalogues/sales reps have fewer titles to push, making them stand out.

But sorry, wanting a book to have a sufficent amount of publicity in order for a big chain to stock it on their shelves is not is not a skewed expectation of the industry.

And I'm not the only one. I know series' writers who have the second book in their series carried by a chain, but not the first. Huh? Someone isn't looking out for them...

Be philisophical all you want, until it happens to you.
:)

Anonymous said...

I'm a sales rep at a major U.S. publishing house. We publish very, very big name authors and so are able to take a chance on publishing the newer or more literary books too. The best of these make their way to the top eventually

Every book we publish is available to me to read for free, and almost always well before pub date. I read a lot and I don't read the books by the major authors much: they're going to sell themselves.

I read the manuscripts that interest me - and I read them before catalog copy is written or marketing and publicity gets planned. If a book is good and a bookstore can sell it, I get it on the shelf. When a bookseller loves your book too (and a large arc mailing doesn't have to do that, a sales rep's rec alone can turn into a handselling point) it will sell.

By the way: we sales reps know which authors are kind and respectful and which ones are not...

Anonymous said...

One more note from the sales rep, re: placement in the chains. Chain buyers have a lot of power. Why would the sales rep not want to make, say, their commission a little higher and get a bunch of your books on the bookshelf? A chain buyer has a reason not to place a book on the shelf - reasonable, or not. It is not the sales rep's fault - they've got incentive to get your book out there as much as possible.

Anonymous said...

sales rep said:
"By the way: we sales reps know which authors are kind and respectful and which ones are not..."

That sounds like a threat.

It also throws all the "cream rises to the top" business out the window, doesn't it? Apparently, personality matters. If it can tank book, then it can build a book, too. Saying things like this (and I've heard it from indie booksellers, too) implies that sales-end folks are not solely focused on the quality of the writing.

Okay, okay, I hear the holier-than-thous getting ready to say of course personality matters, it matters in all aspects of business. I don't doubt that. But you can't sell me the cream rises to the top argument, though. Unless you're saying, "cream rises to the top as long as you play nice and/or suck up."

Sarah said...

One man can sell his aelf-published books out of the trunk of his car and make a big enough wave to capture a publisher's attention. That book can go on to become a best seller.

Another can get a book published but not get a rise out of the buying public - with or without help from a publicity department.

Some things work and some things don't. And great writing alone or cream of the crop may not be enough to make it work. There are so many other factors including the economy, the season, the imp of the perverse.

Having a pleasant personality does help grease the skids in any transaction. People are more likely to go out of their way for you if you're nice to them and pleasant to work with. It's not about sucking up. It's about being professional.

I think it's easy for us writer's to forget that this is a business. We've sweated blood to get each and every word right and still the answer comes back as 'No'. When we finally get to 'Yes', it feels like a now or never proposition. All those years, all that rejection, all comes down to this one book, this baby that we let go out into the big, bad world.

Of course we get emotional about the whole process. Who wouldn't? But this is still business.

Anonymous said...

"By the way: we sales reps know which authors are kind and respectful and which ones are not..."

Um... I'm kinda wondering how? My efforts to make any contact whatsoever with my pub's local/regional sales rep (either at major bookselling conventions or through a friendly "hi, I'm so and so, the author of Book X next season; any chance I can buy you coffee sometime?" email, not stalking) have been completely unsuccessful/ignored. And from talking to other authors, I don't think this is a fluke.

As I'm finding sadly common, this seems like another example of the biz folks assuming that a few bad-egg authors (or slush-pile residents) are what ALL authors are like, despite the fact that we are professionals in a contracted business relationship with them, and therefore all authors are best kept as far away from everyone else in the biz as possible.

It's unfortunate and, frankly, insulting in so many ways. In what other business relationships are the poor behaviors of a few used to dictate how you work with everyone in that job title?

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 11:10. Again. One more post and I'm done, because I'm sick of myself at this point. :)

The writer only knows as much as the editor chooses to share with them, which isn't much.

Of course sales reps love books, and want them to succeed. But to suggest that all books get the same push isn't correct. Lead titles, books that got a large advance, get priority over all the rest. The sales rep pushes those books so the publisher can recoup the advance paid. And, in that instance, yes, I do believe books you only paid 5-10 thousand for get thrown under the bus, to push that big book.

I know this now, AFTER the fact. I would've preferred honesty from my editor up front -- we'll put your book in a catalouge, but that's pretty much all we're going to do for it. It'll be a small print run, you might not make it to big chains. What would be the harm in TELLING the author this?

Anonymous said...

" . . . able to take a chance on publishing the newer or more literary books too. The best of these make their way to the top eventually."

I have a question for the sales rep: How much time is allowed for such a book to "eventually" make it? Everything I hear says that if a book doesn't make an immediate impact, it's history.

Editorial Anonymous said...

"The writer only knows as much as the editor chooses to share with them, which isn't much."

I often don't know just how much marketing push one of my books is going to get until it's essentially finished. Yes, some marketing is decided at acquisition if the advance is especially high, but other marketing decisions are made after the book is fully developed. A lot can change in a title's market traction between the manuscript and the finished book!

"Of course sales reps love books, and want them to succeed. But to suggest that all books get the same push isn't correct. Lead titles, books that got a large advance, get priority over all the rest. The sales rep pushes those books so the publisher can recoup the advance paid. And, in that instance, yes, I do believe books you only paid 5-10 thousand for get thrown under the bus, to push that big book."

To suggest that marketing lets some things fall through the cracks in favor of the bigger-push titles has *some* validity. (It's not perfectly true; as marketing has a responsibility to all the books on the list.) Reps, however, are a different thing. The point of this article is that reps have a reputation to maintain as honest and as working in the bookseller's best interest. No rep can do this by pushing the publisher's big titles no matter the appropriateness to a bookstore's clientele and image. And no rep can do this without calling out the less-visible titles that the rep thinks would be great sleeper hits for each bookstore.

"I would've preferred honesty from my editor up front -- we'll put your book in a catalouge, but that's pretty much all we're going to do for it. It'll be a small print run, you might not make it to big chains. What would be the harm in TELLING the author this?"

Your editor may not have known. Except with a few books, we are not sure at acquisition that a book will or won't get picked up by B&N or Borders or TRU or Levy. We're doing our best to help the book get into the places that suit it best, but all we can do is try.
Editors (and publishers) don't get to *plan* what books go where. We publish the things that we think have a good chance in the market, and sometimes we're right. And sometimes we're wrong. Every publisher has seen a book that had everyone behind it fall utterly flat in the marketplace. We try to influence what people buy, but we don't control it.

Anonymous said...

RE: What editors do and don't know (and thus can share) --

I don't think Anon 11:10 meant that this info needs to be imparted at acquisition, EA. Your answer is actually indicative of the problem -- that the communication between editor and author pretty much stop, if not at acquisition, at acceptance of the ms., other than "here's the cover!" So there's like a year where authors don't hear much of anything, and then we find out on release when our relatives go to the store to buy it that the book isn't in the chains and has to be special ordered -- when the editor and marketing team must have known for months that the chains declined.

It's only one example, and hopefully most authors do get into the chains and don't face it, but it kinda stinks. Knowing in advance would be less painful (and embarrassing. "I thought your book was going to be published? It's not in Chain X! Did it get cancelled? What kind of a writer are you, anyway, if you're not in the warehouse store that carries a zillion books?" Not really. But that's what it feels like.)

Anonymous said...

I'm the sales rep, back again.

"By the way: we sales reps know which authors are kind and respectful and which ones are not..."
Um... I'm kinda wondering how? "


By talking to other people in the company.

This was threatening on purpose, by the way, because personality does matter, as it does with everything life-related. (Can you talk to readers nicely? This includes kindness to sales people, like booksellers, and yes, reps. You want money for your book, right? This makes publishing a business. Understand this to some degree, please, and we'll be friendly. Presumably, by reading this blog, we're both trying to understand the merger of art and business..writing and publishing...)

I'm a step away from a bookseller. I'm the link in fact between the publisher and bookseller. And the bookseller is the link to the reader.

I'm trying to emphasize that alienating readers won't gain you any new ones. And sales reps are your first non-biased readers. (Really. Reading the books with big advances - reading what I must - makes me feel like I'm back in school, forced to read something. I still like the good "big" ones, but I'm waiting to read what I choose to.)

"sales-end folks are not solely focused on the quality of the writing. "

Quality of writing and a book's sale-ability aren't really related. Well, OK, really, really bad writing matters in that no one will want to read your book (unless you're a celebrity).

Look at the New York Times' bestseller list, for example. Most readers like to be entertained. Some like to learn from their books. Different books have a different audience - and a different market. Books written for the sake of writing them - and not for their plot (or sometimes development of an established character) - have smaller audiences. But someone still reads them! (And reference my earlier comments for which books I and my colleagues tend to read.)

"How much time is allowed for such a book to "eventually" make it? "
I imagine it varies from house to house, and I'm not sure I grasp your question fully. But, yes, sell-in is important: it's when the reps are first convincing booksellers to put the book on their shelf. From there, it's up to the booksellers and publicists. Sales reps convince different booksellers to take different books..but, yes, the book has to be out there to succeed. Booksellers don't go back into backlist catalogs to re-stock, they're already looking at the new stuff and restocking what's already been selling. How to get sold upfront is the subject of this blog.

Etc.
I meet authors at conventions, readings I go to on my own time, and in the office. BEA and ALA are the huge conventions, by the way, and unless you're a known quantity, booksellers likely won't remember you at the end of the weekend. I do not have time to email with all my company's authors either. I like talking with authors, but when I'm at work, I'm talking with the people who are going to get your book out into the world.

More questions?

Editorial Anonymous said...

To: the sales rep
and to Literaticat

Would either of you be interested in doing a guest-blog here?

literaticat said...

to ed:

of course, anytime.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. or Ms. sales rep:

We writers get that the quality of the writing may have nothing to do with the sale-ability of books. We (unfortunately) get that personality matters. That's what we're trying to point out to those pollyanna people (or suck-ups) who keep saying that cream always, eventually, rises to the top. Writers talk about the quality of the writing because it's one of the only things we can control in this whole convoluted equation.

I guess I have to admit that the tenor of these blogversations is distressing -- it feels like on one side of the table, you have editors, booksellers, and sales reps, and on the other side of the table you have writers. (Agents are author advocates, but ultimately, they are beholden to their entire stable of writers and not individuals, so in the end, they can be a wash).

In none of these posts is anyone pointing out the assinine things that editors, booksellers, sales reps, and agents do. (Gasp!)

It is rare to find a blog where authors dis editors et al. A few high-profile authors have had the balls to do so, and opposing team blogs have gone on and on about what a bad idea this is.

There is something so condescending about this unbalanced dynamic. Although some bloggers are always careful to point out when they are speaking of exceptions to the norm, the "crazy writer" posts far outnumber the "look what this person did right" posts. And so many blogs imply that authors are the ones to blame when books tank (including some of the responders on this blog). We are too pushy. Not pushy enough. We don't have enough personality. We have too much. Our writing is not good enough to win awards. It's not commercial enough to sell many copies. Etc., etc., etc.

EA, you are always willing to tone-down or reconsider posts when readers have good rebuttals, but that is a rare thing. (It's why I sill come here when I have abandoned almost all the other industry insider blogs.) I just wish the condescenders would get over themselves. Either you have the ultimate power you imply, or you don't. If you have that power, take credit for the failures, too.

(I know, I know, this is the point in the blog where somebody says, if you don't like what you read here, don't come read! However, I think EA is earnestly trying to be helpful, and shouldn't be blamed for the obnoxious discourse of some of her commenters.)

Sarah said...

A large majority of businesses go under within the first five years. I wonder what the percentage is for writers who get published.

I do know the average amount of money writers make on any one book is probably in the range of pennies per hour given the amount of time spent writing that book.

This is a business but a rather insane one. Where else would people put so much effort into their product for so little return?

Anonymous said...

EA, I've emailed you.

Anon. at 9:02, you seem angry, but I'm not sure what exactly it is you're angry about. Could you clarify, please? Maybe if you could give details about the "asinine" behaviors you view inside the publishing industry, I'd understand you better.
-the sales rep

Anonymous said...

I've had one YA published -- and I've never met my agent, previous editor, or anyone remotely titled a "sales rep." Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but most authors don't, do they?

(Therefore I would never dream of being direspectful to one, much less mean.)

I think the whole, book tour, meeting sales reps, schmoozing with people in the industry thing is reserved for big, lead titles. And while there may be a few snotty/entitled authors out there, most any published author has had to spend five/ten years+ writing/being rejected before they got a book deal, and would be thrilled to ever get to talk to ANYONE.

From some of these posts it seems like Sales Reps DON'T want to talk to writers much. But how many writers DO you actually talk to on a yearly basis?

Anonymous said...

(I have the day off - bring on the questions!)

How many authors have I met? Quite a few. But I don't know how I compare to any other sales reps. I work in the office with the rest of the company, so I get to meet authors who do in-office signings. A lot of sales reps work out of home offices and are on the road a lot. I also go to readings on my own time. I'm younger and have time to do this, but not everyone does.

I've met authors at conventions too, but as a published author, your escort to these things will usually be your publicist.

Yes, you're correct that the authors with lead titles get bigger tours. (Really big debut authors will also get pre-pub bookseller dinners very occasionally.) This doesn't mean you won't get to do other publicity, or can't work with your local bookstore/library/ school/church etc. to do your own signing. I see this happen all the time.

I love talking to authors. Why else would I work in book publishing if I didn't love the whole book culture? I've met some authors I didn't want to spend more time with, but meeting them was still interesting. But I don't have time to meet every author published by my house. We're publishing dozens of new books every month and still sending out copies of older books all the time. I don't have time to talk to every author published by my company - I spend my whole work week talking to the booksellers.

As an author, you don't need to talk to me. I'm flattered you'd want to, especially because your desire makes me think you're interested in your own professional development. Authors are much better off talking to booksellers and their actual readers.
-the sales rep

PS - My arc into this job included being an independent bookseller and published author.

PPS - One more thought: Books are both works of art, and a product. Authors tend to be a brand.

Anonymous said...

Open the floodgates, she has the day off. Me too. What better way to NOT work on my book than pester you.

Questions:
1) Will you further explain what you mean by "authors are a brand" but "books are product/art?"

I always assumed that a brand referred to the particular "type" of book the author writes, for example, J.K. Rowling, with wizards, John Grisham with legal thrillers. And that other authors -- like contemporary authors who write one novel as a road trip book, another with a sports theme, are by nature not really a "brand" because they don't write a series, etc...

2) What is an in-office signing? And again, is this something only done for lead titles? Who pays for the writers trasport there if the writer is not from NYC? Again, this is really for lead titles, correct?

3) You mention you are on the road alot. To the Barnes & Nobel headquarters or to INDIVIDUAL Barnes and Nobles?

4) How many people do you have to convince within the Barnes & Noble heiarchy to buy a book before they decide on purchasing it for the chain, and isn't this a direct result of how much publicity the publisher is providing for the book?

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

From the sales rep:

Keep asking questions for the next few hours, and I'll try to answer them in a potential blog post.

literaticat said...

Oooh, me too! If anyone happens to have questions for a buyer, I'll be happy to answer.

Yay procrastination! I mean, questions!

Anonymous said...

For the buyer --

1) How do you decide what types of books to buy? How many copies to buy?

2) What kind of percentages of first-time authors (mid-list) don't end up getting purchased for your store and what are the main reasons? Too bland of topics? Not enough publicity? In a price point for hardback when they'd fair better as a cheaper papgerback? Too similar in theme/plot to other, A-list named authors?

*EA might want to move this Question Opportunity for the Sales Rep and Buyer to a fresh post at the top of the page, I only scrolled this far down by accident.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Good idea.