I went to the Society of Young Publishers Careers Speed dating event last night (25th February) as part of team sales. Each major area of publishing was represented, and attendees take it in turns to move to and talk to each table. What became apparent at my table was the lack of understanding about publishing sales.
Sales is too often seen as the end of the book process, and it is, but it’s also at the beginning and throughout the middle. If a large chain or company don’t buy in a title, the whole team have to think twice about how to market it and whether to produce a large quantity. Commerciality is at the heart of most publishing.
On a publishing list there are always a few sure-fire winners, that will get picked up and have success, but there are also the titles that the sales team have to find an audience for. Sales and marketing will be working together at this point.
Sales is also still focused on face-to-face trading relationships, from the local indie bookshop to the London Book Fair to subbing in at Amazon, there are now many different ways that a sales team needs to interact with potential B2B book buyers. And then there is discount- can a profit be made offset against the cost of printing and producing?
There are other publishing departments that work on commercial principles. Production teams work out the viability of what the editorial team wants to achieve. Publicity makes contacts with the media and ‘sells’ book content to them. Even in editorial a certain sense of commercial nuance is useful in noticing trends and what bookshops want for their customers.
Spreading the message
So sales is everywhere. Working in a junior sales role can be very rewarding as it’s all about being the product messenger - making sure all the booksellers in the land - and other lands - know about your publishing list, your top titles for each season and more crucially what your company is going to do to help push those books out there - whether it be author events or a library reading group pack.
At publication point the booksellers or online retailers or supermarkets need to have had as much information about the books as possible- this is the point which, although seen as the end process, is actually the beginning for a whole new set of tasks from consignment to returns management - it’s also when everyone at the publisher sees if the book has ‘worked’.
Also, there is always the backlist. This may not be at the forefront of the marketer's or publicist’s minds, but it will be in the hands of the sales team to keep the stock on the shelves or online, which in turn keeps the publisher’s market share up. The reps or distribution centres in the UK and internationally will also need relevant information, order forms and correct data. Sales is usually in charge of keeping databases up to date and making sure the warehouse has each frontlist in advance so they can load it onto their system.
Sales is a good area in which to look at the whole publishing process as it involves everyone is some way or form. Hopefully it become a more considered option. Some of what I have highlighted here may not be the same in every publishing house, where there are different priorities, shapes and sizes; but the one thing that will be the same whichever company you work for, is that their books are made to be sold, and not just by the sales team alone.
Maria Vassilopoulos is buisness development manager at The Bookseller. She tweets about publishing careers at Jobs in Books.