by Tim Hepp, Sales Manager at Simon & Schuster
Hello authors, my name is Tim Hepp and I have a confession to make: I am the guy that could potentially make or break your book. As a veteran sales rep with over 30 years of experience, 25 of them working for Simon & Schuster, I am on the front line when it comes to facilitating the purchase of your book by several wholesalers and retailers in the Mid-Atlantic territory. Consider for a moment that with Simon & Schuster publicity you have one of the top 5 publishers in the country. As a sales rep for Summer 2017 (titles published from June-September), I am presenting some 1600 kids, adults, gifts, and/or calendar products to accounts in my territory — this includes titles that S&S owns as well as books from other publishers that we represent for distribution. Top publishers such as Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Hachette and Macmillan are sending reps or telemarketing to the same accounts I visit with what is likely to be as large or larger lists to buyers. There are also many other publishers contacting these customers to solicit new books so, needless to say, getting the attention of a buyer for one title on a massive list in a large ocean of possibilities is not an easy task. The more information a rep like me has about you and your background, your book and its message, and the potential audience for your material, the better that rep has a chance to position the book in the store. By, position, I’m referring to the number of copies reps can ask an account to order.
Things that factor into an order include editorial enthusiasm, book marketing, preview-copy availability, and in-house buzz based upon several people weighing in on the book and its message.
According to recent articles, there are around 2,000 independently-owned bookstores in the USA, over 600 B&N Stores, over 700 B&N College stores, 5000 or so Walmart stores, 1800 Targets, and numerous other colleges, online, gift stores, airports, and other transportation centers, supermarket, clubs, and bookstore chains that stock books. Variations in space, size, commitment and other products carried weigh into each buyer’s decisions when shelf space and quantity purchased is determined.
The better a rep can articulate the message of your book in a short time, the better the chance it has of gaining traction. Given the number of titles that a sales rep needs to discuss with buyers, having a pitch that is succinct is helpful as the longer the pitch the more likely you might be to lose the buyer. It is also helpful for stores to have a short message when the book arrives on the shelf so as to hand-sell the title to customers. Hand selling is extremely important and the best of the retail stores that I have interactions with have staff members who, with a passion, can sell hundreds of copies of certain books.
A buzzword I have been hearing a lot about lately is platform — as in what is the author’s platform? Platform refers to what that author brings to the table in terms of social media followers, people that are in their network, corporate clients, alumni outreach via their college and friends, teachers, and colleagues that can help get the word out and potentially generate pre-orders.
An author that has a book can also help the book stand out by reaching out to stores in their area and offer to do events that would help bring customers either to their stores or offer an ability to sell the book at a speaking engagement that the author has procured. Attending events that are put together by regional independent bookstore associations (such as NAIBA, SIBA, and NEIBA) is another way to stand out.
As a rep that sells both kids and adult titles typically that means seeing two separate buyers during either one or two sales calls per season. S&S sells seasonally and has 3 different seasonal lists each year. Spring titles are currently shipping, summer titles are being presented, and in about two months reps will be presented with the fall titles for 2017 we will be selling in the summer. As reps sit down with either an owner or buyer, it is safe to say for a kid’s list the interaction for just the titles is over 3 hours, while for adult titles it is usually over 4 hours. A rep has other responsibilities in that store, interacting with staff members other than the buyers being the most crucial. Learning the staff members and what they like to read and recommend to shoppers is imperative as reps want to make sure the books they want hand-sold are ones they get early to those staff members. An important tool in the sales process is the catalog which sorts titles by either publisher or format. The rep can give suggested purchases ahead of time for each title on the list if that is what the buyer prefers, and the recommendations can help facilitate the buying process as accounts garner which books the rep wants to be purchased.
Kid’s books for early readers — picture books, board books, early readers, and chapter books are tending to be the ones least hurt by economic or online competition. The coloring craze seems to have waned and on the adult side, I foresee books on being an activist and or highlighting important topics that are being pushed aside due to the President as books that will garner sales. Already sales of 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Silent Spring, and other similar titles are seeing a rise in popularity and I only see this increasing as more people become motivated to learn more about the dangers.
Authors are extremely important in helping. Reps are constantly looking for angles to get books into stores and the more involved authors are generally the ones helping reps generate sales. Many independent bookstores report to the New York Times bestseller list, so please keep that in mind when you are working with corporations and or book clubs who might be ordering multiple copies. Reps are very eager to help publishers place authors into in-store or off-site events, so please let the rep know if you are interested in participating. The events may not pay you a speaking fee, and no one can promise an event can be a success even given the best of efforts, but bookstores will remember you and your book for years to come if you engage them in the sales process, they are elephants in the best way.
[Simon and Schuster’s sales rep Tim Hepp is pictured above with author Allison Leota at the New Atlantic Independent Bookseller Association convention. He helps books with Simon and Schuster book sales.]