People often seem confused about the difference between sales and marketing, and they are very related. The difference is that a marketing person’s job is to get the books off the shelves, and mine is to get the books onto the shelves in the first place.
Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into that, especially for a relatively young company like Sweet Cherry, where we don’t have long-standing relationships with buyers or really famous authors on our list. I spend the majority of my time getting in contact with and building relationships with buyers from all levels – whether they’re tiny independent bookshops or gigantic online retailers. I also process orders when they’re received and invoice companies.
One thing which I really love about my job is getting to meet people face to face and chat about our books, whether I’m visiting them in their offices or running the Sweet Cherry stand at conferences and trade shows. This is my chance to show people just how enthusiastic I am about our books, which can be hard to do in emails. Conferences are great fun, although you can’t be afraid to embarrass yourself a bit – I recently found myself on stage, talking to a conference full of people about farting and vomiting (Danny Dingle fans will understand why!). This is also a great opportunity to get feedback on the books which can inform the editors and designers in the future, which is an aspect of sales that I wasn’t at all aware of when I started.
Another important part of a salesperson’s role is to select which books are appropriate for a particular distributor: what works for a school supplier won’t necessarily work for a bookshop. It’s key that I only go to people with things which are suitable; trying to sell every single book to every buyer is a waste of time for me and for them.
I don’t think sales is the first path people think of when they’re looking at publishing, but we can’t all be editors! If you’re looking to work in publishing but you’re not sure where you would fit in, sales might be for you if you’re outgoing, positive, persistent and have a bit of a brain for numbers. A bit of creative thinking also goes a long way. It also really helps if you love books and if you look at the ones you’re selling as more than just a product. People who work in publishing often don’t like to admit that it’s a business, so if you approach it from too business-like an angle, they won’t warm to you. On top of this, nothing sells a book like genuine enthusiasm!
You also have to be pretty up for anything, especially at smaller companies. Big publishing houses will have lots of sales reps who cover different territories, but at Sweet Cherry, I cover the whole UK, so I have to be very flexible. I tend to spend A LOT of time in my car: a while ago I did a nine-hour round trip to get to a meeting which only lasted half an hour. I also do a lot of things which would probably fall under marketing at a bigger company, but mucking in for every department is half the fun of working for a small business.
The best thing about working in sales is that I get to talk about books for a living, which is what I would be doing even if no one paid me for it!