FAQ – Sales and Marketing
I have just been called in to meet my new publicist – please give me an idiot's guide to sales and marketing
Publishing has undergone radical changes since the collapse of the 'Net Book Agreement' (NBA) in 1995. This abolition of retail price maintenance allowed retailers to use price as a marketing tool - odd as it now seems, discounted books and promotions such as Waterstones' '3 for 2' or Smiths' 'buy one, get a second half price' used not to be allowed, unless under restrictive circumstances (such as having to trade as a bookclub).
One of the consequences of the collapse of the NBA has been the proliferation of chain price promotions to the extent that smaller publishers and midlist authors now find it hard to compete.
For example, The Sunday Times (28 May 2006) reported that Smiths charged £50,000 to get one title on its recommended reading list for just one week in the run-up to Christmas 2006. Other chains, such as Waterstones and Borders, also charge for inclusion in their promotional schemes.
The effects of such price promotion has been intensified by the demise of the rep (or severe reduction in rep access) and the move towards centralised buying. Running in parallel are media slots with inordinate influence - the Richard & Judy effect
These trends have had the effect of polarising authors and publishers. On the one hand we have the mega-sellers published by large publishers - on the other the rest. According to figures published by the Authors' Licensing
and Collecting Society (ACLS) and reported by the Independent (11 March 2007), average author
earnings, when the mega-sellers have been screened out, are just £4,000.
Before you reach for the razor blade, at least this consolidation and centralisation in the booktrade is being offset by equally radical changes at the consumer level. The growth of the internet and digital printing, along with the mushrooming of grassroots marketing outlets such as festivals and bookgroups, has opened up routes to market just as others are closing.
So there are genuine alternatives to chain promotions/ the Richard & Judy bookclub/Start the Week - but only if you think laterally, plan early, and target both sales and media outlets.
Your starting point is to meet publishing contacts in both the sales and marketing departments (unless they are one and the same).
Marketing jargon is confusing at the best of time and especially when publishers use the terms 'Publicity', 'Promotion', 'Marketing' and 'Sales' in varying ways.'
Broadly, there are two separate departments, Sales and Publicity. The sales department 'sells in' a book (ie to the booktrade), while the publicity department 'sells it through' (ie to the end consumer). Larger companies might also have a separate department – 'Marketing' – targeting non-booktrade sales channels.
The activities of these departments should work in tandem. But all too often they don’t, leading to a scenario where the activities of one department are not reinforced by those of another. So, for example, you might end up being intensely frustrated when your publicity department generated superb reviews but your book was not in stock in many bookshops; conversely, there would be little point in your book being available everywhere if no potential book buyer had ever heard of it.
The mistake many authors make is to think of marketing only in terms of the end consumer. Understanding that there are in fact two distinct audiences – the bookshop/bookchain buyers on the one hand and the end consumers on the other- is key.
So what can you do to help? Here are a few thoughts.
- Author blurbs and AQs (author questionnaires). As early as a year before your book is due to be published you will be asked to produce blurbs and AQs for your publisher. This may seem like a distraction as you are probably still battling with writing your book. However, these documents are vitally important – they creep into all kinds of later material. So take time in getting your copy and selling points right.
- Meet your publicist and preferably also his or her counterpart in the Sales Department. Be positive and focus on what you can do to help. (Above all, do not come across as A N Primadonna).
- Ask to be shown draft cover copy before it goes to press (a good editor will do this automatically) as well as the draft press release, information sheet and catalogue copy (stress that you are keen to help, not that you wish for control).
- This meeting will also help you understand where you are in the pecking order and what is planned for your book.
- If you have celebrity contacts who rate your work, ask your publicist and/or editor whether they might be useful for an 'endorsement quote' – a quote which can be used on the book cover, on the book information sheet (the main sales tool) and press release.
- Cultivate your local booksellers and ask them what specific marketing activities would be most effective for your book. Some booksellers may look at you with glazed eyes; others will be pleased to be asked for their thoughts. Do choose a quiet time, though and learn to recognise 'do not disturb me' signals!
- Become an expert on the main print outlets where your book might be featured – from national newspapers to websites to specialist magazines. Be as specific as possible – identify the relevant section of a publication, for example and if possible, the section editor. Build up a list of your ideas/contacts (ideally in spreadsheet form) and use them to help reinforce your publisher's efforts.
- The same applies if you have expertise in radio or on television. Doing the legwork in terms of researching outlets and contacts will help your publicist enormously.
- If you enjoy public speaking, build up your experience. Start modestly with small groups and go from there.
- Read widely to build up your sales and marketing expertise.
Finally, do remember that each title will require different tactics. It is important for you to be realistic and not to impose impossible demands on your publisher – for example, it is unlikely that you will be a candidate for television or tube advertising at this stage in your writing career.
How important are sales reps in the publishing process?
’Sales reps’ stands for sales representatives and refers to those who call in at individual bookshop branches to present new titles on behalf of their publisher or publishers. Other tasks include to check stock, deal with returns requests, discounts and other queries.
In the past, sales reps were the mainstay of the booktrade. They were allowed to take away physical orders from the bookshops and ensure that they were processed. Today to a large degree this element of control has been lost and a rep will leave a bookshop with the promise of an order, not a physical order form. It is quite common for the bookseller’s verbal order to shrink when transferred to paper!
The trend is for the chains to restrict reps’ access to fewer and fewer individual stores and to fewer publishers and sales agencies. Smiths, Waterstones and Borders all fall into this category.
Publishers whose reps are not allowed to call on individual bookshop branches, instead either make presentations to the chain’s head office, or use mailings, or a combination of the two. Some chains also use the wholesalers to select titles from smaller publishers for them.
Although of course from the publisher’s point of view there is no substitute for a rep calling at individual branches throughout the country, this was becoming an increasingly costly way of operating.
We are committed to working within the new system and improving our relationships with key accounts. However, our salesforce Signature Book Services combines the best of both worlds in that it has reps who both call on key accounts and individual bookshops.
Any feedback or requests for further FAQs? Email us at editor@Publishing-Services.co.uk with your thoughts.