Selling Books to Bookshops

30th October, 2018

4 min read

Selling Books to Bookshops

Selling Books to Bookshops

Written by:

Jonathan White

Our Sales and Marketing Manager, Jonathan White, looks at the role of sales repping in modern publishing, and what advantage using sales reps to sell your book to bookshops can have for self-published authors.

The publisher sales representative (sales rep) is a role key within the publishing and bookselling world. Just about every publisher in the country either has a team of their own sales representatives (selling only their titles) or uses one of many independent sales repping teams (who represent multiple publishers). Sales reps visit every type of book retailer across the UK, presenting new titles to decision-makers (buyers and managers) to get orders. Sales reps use their knowledge of the bookshops they are responsible for (most work regionally, and build key relationships with the outlets in their region) to maximize sales for the titles they are presenting. No matter how much information a publisher sends out by other means, it is still these face-to-face sales rep conversations that persuade many a bookshop to try a new book or a new author. Sales reps know their patch very well and can identify the books that will do well locally, recommending them to the retailers they visit. Sales repping is most successful when carried out in advance of the publication date, giving retailers the time to order advance copies and plan their ranges seasonally, but sales reps also check stock levels and keep an eye on key performing backlist titles.

How easy is it for self-published authors to access sales repping?

Access to repping services may be difficult to access for self-published authors – and this can be for several reasons. Those electing to self-publish via Print on Demand (POD) models (where a book is printed as an order is placed) cannot work within the structure of a repping model – usually because of terms, discounts, and issues over returnability. Sales reps firms want to be able to maximize sales and have to be confident in the product they are selling. This means it has to be a high-quality product that can hold its own on a bookshop shelf. There has to be enough stock to meet possible demand (which rules out very short print runs). There has to be confidence in the distribution setup (reps might take orders but these are supplied out of a distributor or via the publisher themselves – this means that the self-published author has to be able to reliably supply any orders placed).

For these reasons, sales repping firms can be reluctant to take on individual self-published authors as customers – which means that getting access to the bookshops via this method is not always a possibility. We've been using an independent sales force to present Troubador's books to retailers for many years – and we see a clear lift in sales with titles that opt to use the sales rep service and those that don't. Our books can benefit from sales repping because we have strong metadata and book distribution systems in place (we supply the books we help authors to self-publish directly to the trade from our purpose-built warehouse), and we have a wide and varied range of books that the reps can sell in regionally. (Learn more about our sales rep service here.)

Are sales reps still used by mainstream publishers?

Yes! Today, some reps have been replaced by computerized stock control and ordering, especially by the chains that have more centralized, rather than local buying, but they still play a valuable role in the sales of books. One of the key roles they undertake is relationship building, they know their customers (bookshops, wholesalers, etc) and they build close working relationships to ensure they support the stock purchasing for the stores.

Even with all the digital information about books that are now used, the trade remains an extremely sociable and, in many ways, old-fashioned industry. For all the up-to-date ambience in bookshops, booksellers do what they have always done – tell customers about books, share their passion for the joy of reading, and recommend books that customers can't find alone. Sales reps are therefore an important part of the discoverability of new books and voices.

Sales reps now do presentations virtually as well as in person, putting together curated catalogues and collections for their trade customers. The role still relies on people skills and forming relationships to make pitches compelling. Quite a few publishers, after years of cutting back their sales forces, are re-investing in their reps. As well as visiting bookshops, the reps are also going into gift shops, craft shops, stately homes, museums, non-traditional book outlets, and anywhere else where books are now sold. There are now sales forces that specifically target non-traditional retailers and persuade them to take books to complement the other stock they hold. It is sales reps who are out there looking for these new markets for the publishers they represent.

As with any form of marketing or sales, there's no guarantee that using a sales rep will result in greater sales; but undoubtedly, a book that is represented by a sales force gets wider exposure. For us, sales reps are another invaluable tool in the diverse marketing arsenal for getting our books as widely seen by booksellers as possible, giving them the best chance possible of being stocked and selling – and this is why we offer a sales repping service to the authors we help to publish and market who see the book trade as the primary market.

Learn more about our sales rep service.