Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Book Sales

Editors usually attend sales conferences and may even present your book to a room filled with sales reps who cover key accounts, independent bookstores, special sales, chain stores, big box stores, and catalogs. There are other marketing channels, but let’s keep this explanation simple.

Even after a contract is offered, editors talk about your book to the sales reps they meet in the hall or at lunch or at meetings. By now, the reps have heard about a hundred other books in process at the publishing house. The key is for the editor and marketing manager to keep reminding them of your book.

A long time ago, I worked for seven years as both an inside rep and a field rep for the McGraw-Hill College Division, selling textbooks to professors and acquiring their manuscripts. Selling books is a grueling marathon, especially since sales territories are usually large. Lots of travel is involved. Reps talk on the phone a lot. They stay on top of orders because if they don’t, a buyer might forget to order your book.

Before the sales reps hit the ground running, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and a few other publications need the ARC (advance reader copy) six months in advance so that your book has a chance to be reviewed. These reviews start buzz and alert book buyers about future titles. Buzz is good.

This isn’t true in every house, but Abingdon sales reps want ARCs with final covers for every fiction book and they want them by sales conference. Our sales conference for the Spring 2011 list was held earlier this month. At the sales meeting, the reps heard details not only about fiction, but non-fiction, academic books, gift books, devotionals, Bibles, and other products.

As soon as the conference is over, the reps start calling on their accounts. Deals are made. Pre-sales numbers are tracked. The first print run will be determined by how much the book buyers like your book. We want them to like your book a lot.

How does a sales rep keep all that information in his or her head? They don’t. That’s why they have catalogs and folders. But what really sells a book is enthusiasm and a story. Your story about why you wrote the book. It should be short and carry an emotional punch.

When reps sit down with book buyers, they have a limited time to cover dozens of books in numerous categories. What will make the sales reps remember you? What story can they tell about your book?

Here are a few suggestions: Send an email through your editor, thanking the reps for their efforts on behalf of your book. Include a couple of anecdotes about how this story impacted your life or the lives of others who have read it. Tell them God stories about how He inspired you to keep writing. Keep it short and heartfelt.

Sales reps rarely get a note of thanks from authors. Make it a practice. The editor or marketing manager will forward the email to the sales director or his assistant who will then forward it to all the reps.

For the sales conference, can you afford to send some type of treat from your region of the country? Or baked goods from a recipe in the book? Or? Think creatively. Talk to your marketing manager about what you might be able to do for the reps.

After the sales conference, follow up with another email, assuring them of your prayer support. List whatever the Lord puts on your heart: safe travels, good health, safety for their families when they are on the road, favor with buyers. No one needs our prayers more than sales reps. They have the pressure of meeting financial goals and numbers for each book, including yours, in addition to the physical stress of travel. It’s a tough job but rewarding.

Experienced authors: Please share any experiences you’ve had with sales reps. One of the greatest honors is to be invited to speak to them at the sales conference. Let’s pray that the reps from every Christian publishing house will be inspired and encouraged this season as they help to put your books into the hands of readers.

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Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!


  1. I love learning this and am hoping it will be extremely useful in the future.

    I also like the idea of writing a story about why I wrote the book. Will work on crafting that.
    ~ Wendy

  2. Wow, this is great advice. Something I never considered. I love the idea of lifting the sales reps up in prayer and letting them know they're appreciated. Everyone feels better knowing their efforts aren't forgotten.

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  4. Barbara, Thanks for the heads-up. It's good to see the inside workings of a publishing house and be reminded of the importance of keeping the sales reps on your side.

  5. Excellent advice, Barbara. The publishing process is definitely a group effort and one worthy of prayer and support for all concerned.

    Thank you for your blog. You are a blessing!

  6. Great advice and timing on this post, Barbara! My Abingdon experience has been wonderful, mainly because it feels like a team effort rather than a lone venture.

    When I found out about the most recent sales meeting at Abingdon, I chatted with Maegan to find out what I could do for her to help promote my book. We brainstormed different options. I not only sent her the trailer for Sweet Baklava, I did a short author clip (took forever because I'm not used to seeing myself on video), and shipped a couple trays of baklava for the reps to enjoy while Maegan talked about my book. She said everyone enjoyed it.

    It's really important to partner with the editors and other publishing professionals to promote our books.

  7. I'm glad I was able to send my book trailer before the sales meeting. I wish I'd thought about sending something else to help promote my book. This is all such a learning curve. I'll know next time! Thanks for your post, Barbara! You're teaching us so much about the publishing industry!

  8. Great post, Barbara. I learned a lot and will use it in the future with my editors and those who've helped make my books successful. Everyone needs to know they are appreciated.

  9. Taking college students from backpack to brief case with professional polish and poise for over seven years, writing thank you cards is a key component I teach for out classing the competition after a job interview or social event. Your post today has opened this career coach’s eyes to see where to extend heartfelt appreciation. Thank you.

  10. Thanks, Barbara for all this inside information. Being a neophyte this all leaves me a bit breathless, but I'm squirreling all of it away for the day my book(s) get to this point.

  11. Thank you for this great post. When my novels were being published by Doubleday, my editors did a great job of introducing us (My husband and I work together as a PR team for my books.) to sales reps from various parts of the US. We stayed in touch with cards and notes. Wish I would have read the info on your Blog back then! We would have done even more.

  12. Wow. No one talks about sales reps on blogs--ever! Thanks for these tips and the insider information once again!

  13. One of my favorite days since the publication of my debut novel was the day I spent at Abingdon press for their Sales Conference. I even had a chance to speak tot eh sales reps about my quirkiness and books and it was great fun. I hoped I thanked them. I think I did. Anyhoo, it was so sweet to have the reps seek me out while I was there and introduce themselves and thank ME for writing a good book. I suppose one of the best things authors can do is write good books. Books that the reps can get excited about and feel good selling. They are on the front lines of publishing. So, if there are any sales reps out there reading this--THANK YOU. I couldn't do it. HEck, I couldn't sell a cherry pie to Agnes Sparrow!

  14. I'm so glad I wrote about the sales side of publishing. You're right. No one ever talks about how books get from the printer into the bookstores. Now you know. :)

    Sales reps are our unsung heroes. Thanks Debby, Sherry, and Joyce for sharing your Abingdon sales experiences.

    And thank you all for supporting this blog with your comments. It encourages me to write posts that will inspire you and help you to reach your goals!


  15. This was so informative. I've never thought about reaching out to sales reps with my debut novel. I'll try to remember it with the second book, Highland Sanctuary, when it releases. Thank you, Barbara, for such an informative blog!

  16. What a great post! It's always exciting to see the inside workings of a publishing house. Thanks Barbara for sharing this information.

  17. It has been some time since I did anything for the sales/marketing team but my fav. was little lunch sized grocery bags filled w/ southern goodies and done up as though they came from the small town market in the book - something that makes the setting or characters real is always fun and helps the team invest in the story. Thanks again for the informative post, I am pointed new and aspiring writers your way regularly. Annie Jones

  18. Thanks for this post. It makes me realize, once again, how many people are a part of the process. I am so blessed to have such a dedicated group behind my novels.

  19. Glad the info is helpful, everyone, and welcome new followers!

    Annie, that's a super idea for a sales conference! The reps would definitely remember your book and remember to talk about it with buyers. Thanks for recommending the blog to new writers.

    Our sales director said once at an author dinner that fiction people seemed to have a lot more fun than nonfiction. No kidding!(No offense to those who only write nonfiction.)

  20. Wow, I never even thought about the sales reps....good stuff to know. Thank you!

  21. I read the last chapter of my YA fantasy novel to my 17-year-old daughter and we both cried. Does that count when talking to sales reps? :)

  22. This is great, Barb. Thanks for reminding us about how hard the sales people work. There are so many folks involved in the creation and promotion of a book, sometimes it's hard to keep track. I would absolutely love to visit the Abingdon office before my next book comes out and maybe even hit a sales conference. How would I go about setting that up? Through Maegan?

    I love this blog! Keep up the great work :+}