UPDATE: This post was originally posted in December 2011.
The following is a guest post from Director of Trade Sales and Marketing Jenny Wesselmann Schwartz on all the work that goes into sales conference–presenting our books to our sales reps, so they can in turn present them to book buyers.
It’s that time of year again—and no, I’m not referring to the holidays. For those of us at AMACOM, it’s sales conference time.
In some ways sales conference is the culmination of a lot of our efforts. In other ways, it’s the just the beginning. Starting about 6 months before—if not earlier—we start the process of packaging each book. First there are the titling meetings where we search for (and hopefully find) the right title for each book. The type of title depends on the book and the market. Some call for an element of drama to grab your attention. Some need to plainly and simply tell us what they are. Bookish folk that we are, we wrestle with word choices—sometimes even arguing whether the subtitle should begin with “a” or “the”. Does it have the right tone? Does it flow? Have we worked in essential searchable terms?
Once we have the title, the jacket design is next. We want to make sure that the jacket speaks to that book. Sometimes, we see beautiful designs that we just can’t use no matter how much we admire them. If the book is a business book and the cover screams literary fiction, it’s not the right cover. We try to find that perfect combination: a jacket communicates the type of book, but still looks fresh. We look at cover from different distances to see how it will look displayed in a store and we consider how it will look as a thumbnail online.
Then there is the catalog copy. It should describe the book. If I’ve done my job, it should read well. It should make a case for why booksellers should stock the book and why readers will want to read it. Also, since the copy goes on to have a long life online we want to make sure that there are plenty of searchable words, but never in a forced way.
As we get closer to sales conference, we start creating the tip sheets for the sales reps. Each includes a short summary of the book followed by bulleted sales handles, relevant specs, an author bio, and an overview of competitive books. We try to give the sales reps all the key information they might need on a sales call on one sheet of paper that they can leave with a buyer, if needed. The sales kits also include the tables of content, excerpts, endorsements and reviews, relevant articles, publisher and author marketing plans—everything we can think of that will help someone understand the book and its potential.
One thing I especially appreciate is that everyone at AMACOM, from the publisher on down pitches in when it’s time to collate the kits, and much of the company volunteers to present titles at the conference as well. In the weeks leading up the big day, folks work on drafts of what they want to say—making sure they aren’t missing any key points, but trying to keep it as lively as they can.
After all, for months we have labored over these books. We’ve done everything we can to get them ready and now we are in a sense kicking them out of the nest and into the market. Sure as the reps present them, we can still supply new information. Sure, much of the actual publicity and marketing of the books is still to come. But those are the efforts that are visible to all. What most people don’t ever see is how much time and effort is invested in every book before it even hits the shelves.
I guess that is what moved me to write this now. Or maybe it’s sheer exhaustion on the eve of sales conference. But so much of the coverage about self-publishing these days attacks the publishing industry. Some imply people working for book publishers are lazy, or we’re greedy. Come on folks. No one in their right mind would choose a career in publishing if they were in it for the money. Most of us are just people who love books and want to spend our days working on them, trying to help each one reach its audience.
Jenny Wesselmann Schwartz is Director of Trade Sales and Marketing here at AMACOM. She oversees the sales and marketing of AMACOM’s books into bookstores and wholesalers around the country. One of the things she loves about her job is being involved at so many stages in the life of a book—from reviewing proposals to positioning and packaging to distribution and marketing. It’s always busy and never boring. Prior to joining AMACOM, she worked for six years at Random House. If you are interested in working with sales at AMACOM, visit our website for information on ordering books, our return policy, and customer service.