Swoon Reads Behind the Scenes: Sales
In order for our books to reach readers, stores have to agree to sell them in the first place. That’s where the sales department comes in. Here in sales, we meet with buyers from stores and retailers all over the country. In fact, there is one of us for every type of account you can think of! There is a sales representative who meets with buyers at the big box chains like Target, Wal-mart, Costco, and Sam’s Club. There is a representative for the buyers at national bookstore accounts like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Scholastic Book Fairs and Clubs. We have reps for book wholesalers, reps for all the little independent bookstores nationwide, and even reps for booksellers in other countries.
As sales reps, it is our job to pitch our titles to the buyers at every account. This means talking to them about how amazing our books are and why they are suitable for their store in particular. For example, if a title is holiday-themed, it is perfect for any store that is known for their holiday-themed displays. A rep must also attend every sales call with materials for the titles they are pitching. Oftentimes buyers will want advance reading copies, or ARCs, so that they can get a sense of a book and whether it is compatible with their clientele. If it is a picture book or graphic novel, a buyer will usually want to see the full-color interior, or at least some sample pages.
Perhaps one of the most important sales materials, however, is the cover of a book. Some buyers will accept or reject a title for their store based solely on what its cover looks like. What is the color scheme and is it too light or too dark? Does it give the reader a good idea of what the book is about? Is there enough action in the scene portrayed? Does it look like it would appeal to the audience it is intended for? Is the title easy to read? Some accounts like Target, for example, only want covers with the title placed at the top. This is because, due to the way their shelves are designed, browsing customers will not be able to read the book’s title if it is positioned at the bottom.
Once the buyers agree to carry a book in their stores, it’s up to the sales rep to recommend how many each buyer should take. This number will determine how many copies the company will print at first printing. So it is no wonder that sales calls happen long before pub—as many as eight months in advance! In addition, it is important that the rep suggests a feasible quantity of books for each account to take—that is, how many they think the store could potentially sell based on the author’s sales track with previous titles or the performance of other similar books. No store wants to have too much inventory because anything they don’t sell they will have to send back to us. But they also do not want to be short of stock when a title is selling really well. Therefore, the sales team not only recommends how many copies a buyer should take right off the bat, but they also monitor the stock at each account, making sure the store has enough books, particularly at times when people are buying more than usual. For example, people usually buy more books around the holidays, so we always make sure each account has plenty of stock from November through December. Another example is when a movie comes out that is based on one of our books. People will see all of the publicity for the film and be prompted to read the book, causing a boost in sales. Thus, we make sure stores have plenty of copies on hand as soon as the movie hits theaters.
There are a lot of other things we reps do to ensure that our books get to readers. Once the store decides to carry a book, we will push for opportunities for in-store promotion. Barnes & Noble, for example, has a number of themed promotional tables. Sometimes these tables are for books related to an upcoming holiday (right now there are numerous in-store displays featuring Valentine’s Day-themed titles for instance). Other times these tables might be devoted to themes like “Books that Would Make Good Movies,” “Books for Summer Reading,” “Great Fantasy and Adventure Books,” “Books for Back-to-School,” etc. These themed-displays could be tables or endcaps at brick-and-mortar stores like Barnes & Noble, or they could be pages or online caraousels at internet retailers like Amazon. Either way, it is the job of the sales rep for that account to nominate titles for these in-store/on-site promotions. In so doing, customers who may not know to look for the book in-section could stumble upon the table or webpage and learn about it that way.
Because the sales team knows how books perform at various retailers as well as the type of customers that visit each one, a lot of other teams in the company consult us for advice. The design team will frequently ask sales about potential book covers. Sales reps know how their buyers respond to covers and they listen to their buyers when they discuss their customers’ buying habits. Thus, we sales reps are a good resource when questioning whether a cover design will make or break a title. The editorial team also often consults the sales department when acquiring manuscripts. If the sales team thinks the book will not be popular with readers based on the sales at their accounts for other related titles, an editor may decide not to publish it at all. The marketing, publicity, and ad-promo teams might consult sales when designing their promotional plans. And finally, the production team might look to us for input on the size or pub schedule of a title. Sometimes sales will suggest moving a title to a different date because it increases in-store promotional opportunities. A book that deals with Halloween will usually go on sale around August, for example, because most in-store promotions for that holiday go up around then. In addition, the sales team might request a smaller trim size or thinner paper for a book so that it can fit more easily on the shelf at a given account.
When you think about the publishing process, the work of the sales team isn’t usually one of the first things that come to mind. But our work is an integral part of the process. So, the next time you are browsing the displays or shelves at a your favorite bookstore, or clicking around Amazon, think about what went in to getting those books on that table or posted on that page to begin with. Behind every title placement there’s a sales rep who put it there!
Want to learn more about the publishing process? Check out the other entries in our Swoon Reads Behind the Scenes series: