But Can They Sell It?
Yesterday, Pam sent a question about Tuesday’s post on The Process of Acceptance:
Rachelle said: “At Pub Board, the sales and marketing people usually have the final say about whether to accept the book for publication or not. They have to strongly believe they can sell it.” This is the part that confuses me. If a house has good sales people, shouldn’t they be able to take a book and sell it? After all, it’s their job. It seems that when a sales person says, “I don’t know if I can sell it,” that negatively reflects on their ability to be a sales person. I don’t mean to sound snarky – it really does confuse me. It’s my job to learn and grow as a writer, to write and rewrite until my words sing. Why isn’t the sales person’s job to be the best they can be? Take the books the editor thinks are good and sell them!
Let’s just be blunt here. The sales people ARE being the best they can be—by knowing their market. By anticipating what their customers will buy. By diligently searching for just the right products to make their customers happy. The job of a sales person (in ANY industry) is NOT to take any old junk they can think of and try to shove it down people’s throats. Instead, it’s to find out what their customers want, and provide them with it.
Now, you may not have thought of it this way, but I’m a sales person. Is it my job to take whatever detritus rolls across my inbox and “do my job” and sell it? Of course not. It’s my job to choose the projects I think my customers (publishers) are looking for, then try to sell them. The reason for almost all my rejections is: I don’t think I can sell it.
When a salesperson says “I don’t think I can sell it,” it doesn’t reflect negatively on their ability to sell. It reflects positively on their knowledge of their market. If a marketing person doesn’t believe they can adequately market the book, it’s because their knowledge tells them that this author and/or book may not lend itself well to the traditional avenues of marketing; it may not capture audiences’ attention and be able to compete in the crowded marketplace.
It’s not realistic to think that a “good” salesperson can just take any book the editor thinks is good and sell it. If you walk into Best Buy looking for a new computer, is it likely that a great salesperson could sell you a refrigerator? Perhaps the salesperson would be more successful if they FIRST found out what you wanted… then walked you over to the computer department.
The editorial folks and the marketing/sales folks have separate purposes. The editors determine that the book has merit, is publishable, and hopefully if readers were to pick it up, they’d like it. The marketing/sales folks have to make a more difficult decision, often harsh yet firmly grounded in solid business principles. They have to decide if they think bookstores will buy the book, and if the company will benefit from publishing the book. The editors often get emotionally attached to a project; the marketing/sales people can’t afford to do this. The company’s bottom line depends on their wise decisions.
As a writer, you may want to count your blessings and be grateful for this process. Selling a book to a publisher is only the beginning; if you want an actual career as a writer, consumers have to buy your books. When the sales/marketing people have input in the publishing decisions and they choose your book, you have a better chance of bookstores and consumers choosing it too. And that’s exactly what you want.
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.