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Pulling Back the Curtains: The Sales Process

This month, I was asked to write about sales calls and what goes into getting a book into stores.  My accounts are not traditional booksellers as they have many other departments in stores – electronics, grocery, toys, etc.  Since space is at a premium in their book departments, they are not sold in a traditional sense.  I don’t get to sit down with them and go through the entire list book by book.  It is part of my job to find the right titles for their customers.

My sales calls generally start with an email.  My accounts send out an email saying something like “we would like to hold publisher meetings the first two weeks of December.  We will be reviewing titles on sale between May and August 2015.”  Once the appointment is set, my prep work begins in earnest.  It usually takes 2-3 weeks to get ready for a sales call (or it does for me at least).  I would say 85% of my “selling” to accounts occurs behind the scenes.  Here are the steps I take to get ready:

1. Take all our tip/catalog sheets (these are title “fact sheets” that have a lot of information about each title including format, price, on-sale date, plot, author information and key selling points) for the months being presented and go through all my notes.  Since I’ve been through a few meeting on these titles already, I usually have titles flagged that will be of interest to my accounts.

2. Once I’ve pulled together the titles, I run a report that captures all titles we are publishing during those months to make sure that I didn’t overlook anything.  Then a quick email to the bosses to make sure title selection is good to go and then the fun begins.

3. Comp research!  This is probably the most important part of my prep work.  All titles being presented need to be entered into my account’s system with appropriate comp titles (what books can you compare this book to? In general I try to comp the title I am presenting to another title that has a similar subject, same format and has relatively the same sales that I’m hoping my book to achieve).  What’s appropriate you ask?  A comp title needs to have been published in the last 2 years. It has to have been in my account. And it needs to have sold well.  Finding an appropriate comp title can be very easy or very difficult… there is no middle ground.  Luckily, I like researching so it is a bit of a fun process for me.  (Fun fact: It is an unspoken rule that we are not allowed to comp anything to Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars or Divergent).

4. Once all titles are entered, I will run reports that dump everything into excel grids.  There will be a separate grid for each month and titles are sorted by category and format.  There is a comments/notes field which I’ll go and add anything important.  For example, any major marketing/publicity?  Bestselling author?  How many copies do I think they will sell each week?  Or is there a specific account I think should be taking this title?

5. Then I will gather all the sales materials – galleys/mock-ups for each title (Galleys are advance early readers. If we are not printing galleys or they are not available yet we will ‘mock up’ something.  We grab a book that will be similar in size and mock it up with the cover of the book being presented). Each title will get a sticker on the back that includes all my contact information,  all spec data such as price, ISBN, on-sale date and a few notes about that the title that I want to call out to them.

6. Everything is then shipped to my account so that I do not have to carry on the plane!

At the sales call, I’ll sit with my buyer(s) and we will go line by line through the grid.  I have about 1-2 minutes per title and in that time I make sure to focus on why they should take this book, if this book is part of a series I touch on whether they have taken previous titles and what those sales were.  We talk about what type of marketing/publicity support we have in place to drive sales.  They will let me know if there are any issues and will sometimes give feedback on cover, price, etc.  The meeting usually lasts 45-60 minutes.

Once I’m back in the office, I’m in follow-up mode.  Any issues raised during the meeting are dealt with and then my buyers get an email with answers/decisions.

And then it is a waiting game.  It will be a few months before I have final confirmations on whether they will take a title.  I will say that you get a feel for whether they are interested in a title in the sales call so while I have to wait for a final answer, in most cases I’m not surprised when I see the final list.

Though the process can be very technical, it is very fun.  And nothing beats seeing a book you presented make it on the shelves.

Have any other questions on the sales process?  Let us know!

Author spotlight

Jen E.

Jen E. lives and works in Manhattan as a sales rep for the completely awesome Macmillan Children’s Group. When she …

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