Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Writer to Writer -- It's All for the Book

Sunday’s session at Writer to Writer was an enlightening look at the inner workings of children’s publishers’ sales staffs.  Catherine Linka of Flintridge Book Store invited Lise Friedman, formerly of Macmillan, and Nicole White of Penguin to speak.  They presented a point of view writers rarely hear, and shared a glimpse of what it is to be a field sales rep.

The number of lines they represent and the volume of books and tip sheets they read to prep for a sales meeting are amazing.  Publishers and editors might also provide audio tapes, describing their books and pitching their strong points.  At the meetings the rep acts as the author’s – no, the book’s – advocate in such things as how to position the book in the market (indies buy differently from big chains, etc.).  It was interesting to learn that when reps are involved in such issues as book jackets and the editor hears the dreaded phrase “Is that cover final?” it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Reps watch covers for – and point out – inappropriate things (pink on a boy’s book) and contradictions (the straight-haired heroine shouldn’t be pictured with curls).

After a sales meeting the reps review their notes, read more books, study catalogs and head out to stores.  They prep heavily so they can discuss and recommend books to help the buyer find the best match for their store.  They might not personally like a particular book, but don’t convey that unless they’re asked.  They also provide feedback to the publisher as to the response to books out in the world, and share with indie store buyers the experiences and reactions of their indie peers.

An interesting question asked was whether the size of an author’s advance has any relation to the amount of money spent promoting the book.  The response was ‘not directly’, because the belief in a book’s likelihood to sell big was the determining factor.  Unknowns as well as the well-knowns could prove to be a big sales opportunity.

Because of the economy, sales reps are being downsized and it’s frightening to think how large an area is sometimes being covered by only one person.  Some publishers are now going with phone reps!  Some indie stores no longer have any reps at all – not good news.  Print catalogs are endangered, too.  Many of those are going on line.

Lise and Nicole gave us some good links to industry resources for what’s hot with book sellers.  As an author you can get involved with your regional Independent Booksellers Association.  Find out what matters to them, show them you care!  Go to events and meet reps.  When you join the Southern California chapter (SCIBA) you can access a directory of reps.  There’s also Indie Bound and the Association of Booksellers for Children.  And, for industry news there's American Booksellers Association and Shelf Awareness.

I came away feeling more ‘in the loop’ about what’s happening with Abiah.  And with the feeling that sales reps aren’t just sales reps – they’re advocates.  It’s All for the Book.


  1. Yes, sales reps are a writer's advocate--as well as indies. That's why we love them.

  2. Terry Lim DiefenbachMay 6, 2010 at 7:41 PM

    Wow! Great summary - and I was there too! Looks like you started early with all this . . . Good going and congrats again with Abiah!

  3. Sunday's event with Nicole and Lise was very informative. You gave a great summary of it. Thanks.